Reality Show: Terror Mumbai

I got home at around 10pm on Wednesday night. The television was blaring its usual cacophony of detergent operas and soppy suds. Then a relative called to tell us that ‘something big was happening’. We flipped through the channels in quick succession, passing a panel discussion on the consistency of chewing gum (or something that seemed to stretch on similarly), an 80s potboiler complete with gyrating Govinda hips and a tear-jerker selling the benefits of pension plans.

Then we landed on the news channel band. And there it stayed and hasn’t moved since.

Of course we started watching something described as a gang war. This built up into a chase behind the elusive truth of what was happening, trying to piece together the tracks of someone (some people?) who’d turned up at C.S.T. station with guns, popped up five minutes later at the Taj Mahal hotel and then apparently transmogrified a few meters away at the Oberoi/Trident. Abrupt cut to assemble a whole lot of other details.

Nariman House

Grant Road station

Rubber boats




Stolen Skoda

JJ School of Art


Hijacked police van

It was well past 1 am before I realized I hadn’t budged from the seat in front of the television set. In those three hours we’d absorbed and internalized all the starting details and figured out enough to relay them to others. By 2:30 am, I was tweeting away, weaving myself intricately into the drama that the whole city, a few minutes later the whole country and within a few hours the whole world would become a part of.

Well past 3:30am I collapsed into bed from sheer exhaustion. Emotional roller-coasters are tiring and I’d been riding for over 5 hours nonstop.

I awoke four hours later and for a virginal 20 seconds, my consciousness was devoid of any sensation. Then I remembered and raced to the living room where the television was already on. I’m not normally a TV person, even less in the morning and I only meant to get a fix on the day’s situation to take a call on going to work or not. I looked away ten minutes later to find four hours had passed.

The day is otherwise a blur to me. I don’t remember eating or sleeping. But I do remember flipping channels when one started going on a loop and finding another angle on the story within a fraction of a second. I remember phone calls and left-hand-typing SMSes with the right hand tapping out on the TV remote control. I remember watching a video shot on a cellphone, reading the ticker text at the bottom of the screen, listening to my caller at the other end and relaying a super-quick analysis of it all to my family. I remember tweeting, retweeting, replying, reading tweets, following tweeple and all of it on that woefully inadequate application called m.twitter on my superslow GPRS connection. I remember shifting into gmail every couple of hours for quick checks and having to reload each time since the phone doesn’t allow for multiple windows. And I remember feeling enraged at my computer internet connection going down at such a time.

The day ended around midnight for my family as they retired with the news that the Taj Mahal hotel had been recovered. I stayed glued to the set and Twitter. When 45 minutes later, came the news that it had been a hasty wire and there was still unidentified gunfire coming out from Taj, I actually rushed back to wake everyone up. Finding them asleep, I hastened back to my couch-seat, unwilling to miss even a minute of the drama. My brain gave out at 4 am.

In this interim while I watched a panel discussion among semi-celebrities being intellectual and socialist about the attack.

I (with a number of other blogger/tweeters) panned the politicians and sneered at the PM’s address. I had a lump in my throat as I watched the minute-to-minute battles of the firemen, the cops and the NSG commandos.

I watched replays of the highlights of the feature like the firing from the police van, the interview with the Navy chief, the soundbytes from the British hostage who’d escaped.

I tsk-tsked at Barkha Dutt’s insensitive questions to the relatives waiting outside for their loved ones trapped in the buildings. I listened with an almost indecent glee to the frenzied statements by celebrities and the dead-toned voices of the junta on the roads.

I processed numbers of hostages, prisoners, casualties, terrorists, commandos and mulled over them all.

And I also contributed to the mass panic, the collective griping, the unified expression of support, the unanimous indignation. I dissolved into and became one with everyone around and outside the terror situation – the media; the social media.

This morning my frenzied participation was interrupted by having to get out to go to work. Even so, I found myself holding my phone camera ready to capture anything that might contribute to the drama. Zilch (mercifully, in retrospect). The minute I got to office and was connected, I was back. Twitter, email, blogs and the news streaming feeds kept us very much plugged into every nuance. With every fake rumor, we reverberated along with the collective panic in the city and breathed a synchronized sigh of relief when they were proven false.

This might have continued ad infinitum. After all, I can’t see any end in sight just yet. From what I hear, hostage situations in terrorism aren’t quick-and-dry deals and rather tend to drag out to exert pressure on both sides. But I spent an hour with a friend. Though our conversation started with our sharing our fears, our mutual outrage and our common jaded-by-now analysis of the situation….it gave way smoothly into the more mundane details of our daily lives, our own little soap operas.

And as I made my way home, I realized I was breathing smoothly for the first time in two days. Reality shows are tricky things. They’re interesting and engaging simply because of how well we identify with them, how involved we get with them. And we get our emotional adventures as we swing up and down and get rattled about by the situations we find ourselves in, by proxy. We connect and we’re thrilled to the bone. Yes, I said thrilled, not chilled. It’s an adrenalin rush.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as outraged by the indignity of fear perperated on us as a city and as a nation by a handful of terrorists. My heart still aches for the bravery of the people who fell defending us yesterday as it does for the broken people staggering out of the Taj, Nariman House and Trident. But I can’t stand anymore thrills from chills. I’m disconnecting from the most vivid reality show I’ve ever been a part of. This is too much reality for me and I’m ODing. I think I’d rather go live my own mundane, selfish little existence for little while just so I can survive. Enough, already.

2 Comments so far

  1. arZan (arzan) on November 28th, 2008 @ 11:29 pm


    its sad and ironic that life reflects a reality show. As much as reality shows are meant to depict the real, its always a show on the other side of the tv. In this reality show we all somehow become actors and players involuntarily. That was never the intent of reality shows.

  2. Terrorism, televised and twitted « Kafr al-Hanadwa (pingback) on November 30th, 2008 @ 10:14 pm

    […] positions and twitter updates could be followed by terrorists and used for their benefit. This account echoes much of what one heard from folks in Bombay, the sense of powerless fascination and hunger […]

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