Just 48 hours—that was the difference. It has been reported that terrorists have attacked the hotel in which I stayed in Mumbai, killing and injuring more than 100 people and, as I write this, the hotel remains under siege. I shudder to think of the hotel lobby that I passed through being covered in blood. I barely missed the attack. Perhaps I should thank God. On the other hand, I can’t help but pray for those who arrived after I left only to meet this tragic turn of events.
This is the second time I have had an experience like this. As I wrote in a previous entry, “Notes from a visit to Jordan” (only in Japanese), the first such occasion was a terrorist suicide bombing at a hotel in Jordan’s capital, Amman, a week after I had stayed there. At the time, there were dozens of casualties, including one of my friends.
He was a Palestinian entrepreneur and a very kind person. We participated in the World Economic Forum held by the Dead Sea in Jordan, and we discussed many topics with each other. I remember quite well his telling me happily “I’m going to get married soon.”
On the day of the attack, he went to a prestigious hotel in Amman, the intended venue for his wedding ceremony, to make arrangements. The suicide bombs detonated while he was having his meal. Fortunately, his fiancé happened to be in the bathroom and escaped the bomb’s blast; my friend, however, was killed by the explosion. It’s unbearable to think about her being present at the violent death of her fiancé.
Now, it’s Mumbai. Immediately after hearing about the attacks, I sent an e-mail to an Indian friend there. He quickly replied, letting me know he was ok. I breathed a sigh of relief.
In this entry, I would like to share my observations of Mumbai just before the terror attacks.
I left Narita for Mumbai last Friday to participate in a “forum.” (I will write about details of this forum in a subsequent entry.) I arrived at the airport just after 7 pm. This was my third trip to Mumbai, and every time I am there, I feel the word “chaos” best describes this city.
The hotel is about 30 km from the airport, but there is no highway, and on my way there I always get caught in traffic. This time, it took two hours to get to the hotel. Every time the car stopped at an intersection, mothers with babies or small children knocked on the windows begging. I didn’t know which way to look. I didn’t have the heart to completely ignore them, but giving them something would encourage them to continue this dangerous activity, so I felt disturbed about that, too. As I was thinking about this dilemma, the car moved forward. This sequence of events was repeated several times during the entire trip to the hotel.
I looked out the window at what appeared to be nearly slum-like conditions. Some people were sleeping on the sidewalk along the road. Although Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is not Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), what I saw reminded me of Mother Theresa.
As my car approached the center of Mumbai, with the coastline known as the Queen’s Necklace on the right, I saw the prestigious Trident Nariman Point Mumbai hotel (formerly the Hilton International Hotel) straight ahead, where I had a reservation. The Oberoi Hotel was just next door. These two hotels, along with the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, are the most luxurious in Mumbai.
(These three hotels were the targets of terrorists. During our stay at the Trident, we had lunch at an Indian restaurant in the Oberoi and a poolside dinner at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, just two days before the attacks.)
It was deeply unsettling to see these modern hotels in the midst of slum-like settings; I was keenly aware of the vast gap between rich and poor in this country.
Our car pulled up to the Trident hotel, and we finished checking in under tight security. I noticed there were lots of guards everywhere.
The next morning, the Queen’s Necklace was transformed into a sweeping and beautiful shoreline. (Over the course of the day, I heard this area referred to not as the Queen’s Necklace, but as Marine Drive.) The coast appeared hazy. While I could see a clear blue sky above, the far side of the bay lacked distinctness. This was likely due to air pollution. As I gazed out over the bleary scenery, I decided to swim in the pool here every morning during my three-day stay.
During the forum, I went sightseeing with six colleagues to get to know Mumbai. First, we visited the Gateway of India spread out before the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel and historic buildings from the British colonial era scattered throughout the Fort district, including the University of Mumbai, an art museum, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), which is a World Heritage Site. All of the most prominent architecture is from the colonial era.
India is a diverse country with striking disparities. Last year, some of the wealthiest men in the world were Indian. Nevertheless, millions of people there live in unimaginable poverty. There are various religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. In addition, there are 15 major languages, including Hindi and Marathi (spoken in Mumbai). On top of all this, a caste system still exists there.
We could clearly observe this diversity during our sightseeing trip. After visiting a Jainist temple in an affluent residential area, we went to a Japanese-style Buddhist temple. We then took a tour of a laundry factory—it’s referred to as a factory, but in fact people were washing clothes by hand outside—where “untouchables,” people considered outside the caste system, were working.
We concluded our sightseeing by visiting the home of Gandhi (the father of Indian independence), which has been converted into a museum.
India is one of the BRIC nations and is projected to become one of the top three economic powers behind the United States and China, surpassing Japan, by 2025.
I’m a little skeptical of this forecast, however. The problems there are piling up, including a lack of infrastructure, a dearth of political leadership, a persistent gap between rich and poor, unequal educational opportunities, and discrimination as reflected by the caste system. We can now add terrorism to this list.
The sub-prime collapse has also impacted the Indian economy, and the terrorist attacks are likely to make things worse. Simply having a massive population doesn’t necessarily make an economy grow.
Of course there are many positive aspects of India, for example, a growing middle class, improved educational levels (led by mathematics), the rapid rise of the IT industry (such as outsourcing), and a pool of outstanding human resources.
Most disappointing for me, however, is that among those few capitalists who have made their fortunes, there is not enough willingness to return some of it back to the community. Mukesh Ambani, one of wealthiest men in the world and chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Limited, is spending his fortune to build a 60-story mansion and buy a private jumbo jet.
India is the birthplace of Buddhism. Why then don’t they try to help the poor in the spirit of charity? I believe this is a major issue.
As I write this, the terrorist siege of the hotels is still underway. I pray from the bottom of my heart it will soon be over.
November 28, 2008
At a hotel on a business trip