”Come here, partying, dancing, express your love, live … be happy. Do not let terror and threats destroy the joy of life. Only then darkness prevails. ”
Yesterday, April 7, 2017, I was part of a big migration, a large current of walkers, that would take us home from work, although commuter trains, buses and subway in Stockholm was totaly shut down due to the terrorist attack in Stockholm City Friday afternoon, while traffic flowed like cold syrup, which is almost not at all.
I walked about 10 kilometers in an arc around the town, to avoid the chaos in City, to take me from the suburb of Solna, where Vagabond Magazine has its editorial office, to the neighborhood in central Stockholm where I live. Over the bridges we went quiet, calm – and constantly connected to internet. Virtually all had earphones in their ears and was listening to the public service radio’s live reporting about the horrific event.
We came home, unharmed and grateful for not being at the street where the truck plunged in to the crowd and killed at least four.
When I was walking there on the bridges among thousands of people, I began to think of India, for the simple reason that so many people at the same time in a public place is pretty un-Swedish, but very typical Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata or some other Indian city. I also thought of India as my second hometown, Mumbai, also suffered a terrible terrorist attack for almost nine years ago. The attack resulted in nearly 200 lives and lasted several days, since ten heavily armed terrorists took the city and held hostages at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel. And so they murdered people in the cafe, which I for the last 35 years visited more times than any other coffee shop in the world.
Shortly after the Mumbai attack the culture editor at Dagens Nyheter, Swedish leading national newspaper, called and asked me to write how the authors in Mumbai and the rest of India has reacted?
I wrote that the terrorists, who came from Pakistan, could not have chosen a better target. Mumbai is all earnest believers peeve. The city puritans love to hate. India’s least traditional, least religious and most tolerant and most ethnically diverse city.
And so I told him about a fellow author I once met: Ashok Banker, born and raised in Bombay, a city created by the Europeans but managed by Asians, who sees himself and his city as a hybrid and a contradiction. Christian mother of European descent, Hindu-Indian father. Author of a hard-boiled detective novel about a female mob chasing police with a steel bra and also a series of popularized versions of the religious epic Ramayna, the essence of Hindu-Indian tradition.
The young terrorists who fired wildly in Mumbai in November 2008, was tempted by the city’s tolerant, composite image. Many young and old in South Asia – from Kabul to the north to Male in the south – has dreamed of ”Paap-you-Bhoomi ’, the sinful country, the city of big money and even bigger hope – not at least thanks to the films of Bollywood.
And so I wrote about Suketu Mehta who moved from Mumbai to New York when he was 14 years old. In adulthood, he moved back with his wife and children. In the nonfiction book ”Maximum City” (2004) he described how his childhood tolerant city lost its innocence in connection with the violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1992-93. After the recent attacks – which Indian media called 26/11 – he wrote in the New York Times about his meeting with a Muslim man in Mumbai’s slums who love his city because it is a golden songbird. ”It flies fast and playful,” said the man, ”and you have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, your life will be filled with happiness and prosperity.”
The terrorists who fired wildly in Mumbai, Suketu Mehta said, tryed to catch and kill that songbird.
And so I wrote about my favorite place in town, Café Leopold, which was also attacked. In a picture I saw the blood from six murdered men and women floating over the stone floor, and imagined the pain, panic and fear. Leopold – the symbol of the wide open, shameful and liberal Mumbai. The mix of guests who comes here reminds me of an old spy novel. Sheikhs, sailors, East African businessmen in robes … plus middle-class Indians, Western backpackers and five star tourists. I have eagerly been here at every visit in Mumbai for the last 35 years to take a breath of the cosmopolitan la Belle Époque atmosphere.
With Gregory David Roberts bestselling novel ”Shantaram” Café Leopold stepped into the world of literature. In the book the main character, a slightly disguised Roberts, is spending his evenings at Leopold, drinking beer, talking to prostitutes, gangsters and travelers. After the attack Suketu Mehta wrote: ”Their hard partying and shamelessly flirting must have offended the faithful jihadists”.
The bombers came from the chaotic neighboring Pakistan and was trained by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba. But what was their motive? To destabilize India. Yes. But more? The Indian author Pankaj Mishra wrote in New York Times, that hindu chauvinism has created a new generation of young South Asian Muslims angry, with a solid hatred against India. Or, as British writer William Dalrymple put it in The Guardian: while Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is the subject of Muslim suicide bombers in the Middle East, India’s handling of the conflict in Kashmir has become subject of terrorism from South Asian Muslims.
Although only 0.01 percent of all those who feel alienated use violence, they can ruin the lives of the rest of the population. Sure, but I promise, it will not happen in Mumbai, it was in the air before and after the attack. In Bombay people after a bomb attack usually does not run away to a place of safety, but to the center of the attack, to help the victims.
The attack in Stockholm in April 2017 showed that the inhabitants of acted likewise.
And now? What happens after the Mumbai attack? many wondered. The whole world, said Suketu Mehta, should travel to Mumbai and spend their money, ”… dream bigger, make even more money, visit the city more than ever … turn up the forbidden music and dance, work hard and party harder.”
The same advice applies for Stockholm in April 2017. Come here, partying, dancing, express your love, live … be happy. Do not let terror and threats destroy the joy of life. Only then darkness prevails.
The blogger is co-founder and editor of Vagabond Travel magazine and author of the bestselling nonfiction novel ”The Amazing story of the man who cycled from India to Europe for love” (Oneworld Publications 2017). Read more!