Nandita Das

Mumbai Attacks – A Stream of Consciousness

  • November 1, 2008

It hadn’t hit me hard enough till Thursday morning. At a friend’s place the previous night, I did see some images of injured people being taken on stretches, police looking around clueless, panic among people, TV anchor persons speaking in the same screaming, over enthusiastic, “exclusive” voice that they use when Rakhi Sawant hits her boyfriend.

I have to say, it had very little effect on me. My predictable response was, not again…more people will die, more fear, more prejudice and more hatred. But at some level the response was instant and cerebral. But this morning when I got up things felt different. Got a message from an unknown no. “See what your friends have done.” Strangely a close friend of mine got a similar message last night, but from an acquaintance. Just because Firaaq, my film, deals with how Muslims ‘also’ get affected by violence, the terrorists are supposed to be my friends! Today a common young Muslim man around town is probably the most vulnerable. I got many messages from my Muslim friends who feel the need to condemn it more than anyone else, who feel the need to prove their national allegiance in every possible way. They are begging to be not clubbed with the terrorists, a fear not unfounded. Then of course there were tons of messages from well wishers across the world who asked about me and my loved ones’ safety. I too did the same. And strangely that was when tears started rolling down my cheek, almost involuntarily. Guess the thought that if our loved ones were fine, it’s all ok, seemed like a bizarre way to feel. When will our souls ache when anyone is hurt, even those that we have never seen and will never see? The more I wrote back in sms’s and emails that I was ok, the more miserable I was feeling.

Catharsis or letting out of emotions is an amazing thing. It brings out things from all hidden corners. I always saw myself as being strong and so has everyone else perceived me as. And here I was bawling for reasons I myself didn’t understand. It was like a stream of consciousness flowing from somewhere else. At one level, felt like everything was futile. So much anger, hatred, aggression…what has the world come to. While talking about Firaaq I have often said, the one thing we can change in the world is our response to things that happen around us- violence, prejudice, hatred. The line rung in my ear and I felt ashamed of all the times I had been angry. Of course it often seems justifiable, from ones point of view, and insignificant as compared to the acts of aggression that we have been seeing all of last night. But isn’t there a seed of aggression in many of us and in varying degrees? Doesn’t it shock us sometimes what we are capable of doing or saying? We are horrified at a young man cold bloodedly killing people with a gun, at a man raping a small girl child, at a woman being burnt alive for dowry, but are they all just aberrations and evil people, or could they be someone we might have seen, or worked with or passed by? Individual anger also gives rise to collective anger and thereby to the politics of hate. Anyway, it is not about understanding the power of hate theoretically. I never want to water this seed of anger in me anymore. It may take a long time for the rippling effect to happen where each of our positive energies change the world. But the resolution itself is drying my tears and giving me a task to do, a reason to carry on.

But the question still remains, what now? Should I carry on with business as usual, not out of apathy, but to defeat the desired impact of the terrorists? Their agenda is to get us into a panic and create an atmosphere of fear. What if I refuse to give them what they want? But on the flip side, what if I am unable to go on with business as usual? What if it is anguishing me in a way that I cannot ignore it and want to engage with it. As there is always a danger of becoming self absorbed in our own narrow world. In fact that is what is increasingly happening to many of us, the privileged Urban class. Often that is the reason given to me for not watching “serious films”. Conveniently it is said, “I have enough tension, why would I want to see more of the reality instead of some escapist fun.” But then when other existing realities intrude the calm of our realities, we are unable to deal with it. So what do we do?

While struggling with this dilemma, I was at least spared the horrific images and news in the morning, as where I stay in Bombay, at a friend’s house which unusually neither has a TV nor does she get the newspaper. So I was blissfully ignorant of all the developing news. And then on the flight that I took to come back home to Delhi, I saw those horrifying images that most people must have seen all night. I could feel my stomach churn, but what churned it further were the other pages that surpassed all definitions of ‘business as usual’. One had a page about fringe hairstyle coming back into fashion. The other about some speculation about Monica Bedi wanting to marry Rahul Mahajan and other such earth shattering news. My head spun as I tried to process my emotions. Every day the paper is filled with all this and when the memory of this horrifying day will fade away, it will not seem grotesque any more to have all of that again. So then why leave it out just today? But isn’t there a day in a year that we can actually mourn and register our protest against such violence in a less matter of fact way? Isn’t there a way that we don’t celebrate for a week and somehow put all our resources to get our police better equipped with their bullet proof jackets and ammunitions? Isn’t there a way of feeling national pride by protecting innocent people from being killed with better security measures than using up crores to send our national flag to the moon? Can somebody think of a master plan by which we can all be engaged in making the world a better place? Isn’t there a way that aggression doesn’t ever take such strong roots to cause such violence?

When I see these 20-22year old boys, I am also filled with deep sadness and simple curiosity about what could have got them to where they are. Is it that we all want a purpose in life and so when a young boy caught at that crossroad is given a mission that suddenly increases his self worth, he grabs it? Is the world making them feel so small that when a particular identity is thrown at them, they want to cling on to it with all their might? No doubt that these are extreme cases and huge amount of strategic brain washing has gone into it. But as we know, no one is born evil and let’s say till 10 years a child is still a child. What is it that happens in this tender mind in the growing up years that gives him the will to even lay his life? Is there a way these misguided boys can be saved? It is not an act of charity, but if we have to save ourselves, we have to save everyone else. I got a strange message from a TV journalist that said “Forgiving a terrorist should be left to God. But fixing their appointment with God, is entirely our responsibility. – Indian Army”. Change the word terrorist to Americans/Hindus/Muslims and sign it off by the Terrorist and the meaning is not too different. Such anger, such hatred in a ‘common man’ to me is no less scary. There has to a way out of this vicious cycle, beyond an eye for eye.

I have no idea what I am feeling anymore. It is all muddled and contradictory thoughts are finding its little corners in the mind. All I know is that we can’t afford to be cynical, even in the face of so much hatred and violence, or else it will get only worse. In the morning making Firaaq seemed meaningless, but as I type away furiously, hoping to catch up with the speed of my emotions, I feel I want to share the film with everyone, more than ever before. Because I know this day will end but the residue it will leave, will linger long after, in the form of fear, anger, prejudice, revenge, and will slowly become part of our psyche. We have to save ourselves from all this and have to find a way to understand, empathise and love. All these beautiful words I know have lost their meaning and sound either clichéd or pretentious. We have to reclaim these and make it part of our life, with all our might.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11