All through the 59 hours that the Mumbai siege lasted, I talked to a number of people: over the phone, via SMS, IM, Facebook and Twitter . I kept my inputs mixed - I didn't just focus on those who were social media savvy.
I watched as much of the Indian news channels as I could humanly take. Its a very punishing way to spend four days off for Thanksgiving.
When the city had been reclaimed, a lot of post mortems began. There was outrage - innumerable people doled out advice. A lot of searching questions were asked.
And yes, as is the case in circumstances such as these - people needed to hang the blame somewhere. I'm not being critical of the need to blame: its a fairly natural reaction. And its necessary to help with the outpouring of emotion.
Which is why I jotted down the most significant entities that were identified as culprits.
This is a no-brainer. Tremendous baddua for the perpetrators of terror and their progeny (although you have to assume there won't be any) poured out from the anya relatives I spoke with. One crazy uncle detailed an alarmingly violent method of punishment to be carried out immediately. But most of the terrorists are either dead or largely faceless (given that some escaped). As such they don't feel concrete enough for focussed wrath. Most of the junta feel the need to latch on to a larger target for their anger.
Most Indians assumed that Pakistan was integral to the attacks . What a lot of people were wondering was - was this a state sanctioned attack? The chances of that seem to be dim - Pakistan wouldn't muck around with something of this magnitude officially, not with the Americans breathing down their back. And increasingly, they have less incentive to do so. But as is well accepted, the state is scarcely in control of the country. Terrorism can still emanate from Pakistan without an overt state sponsored engagement.
But going down this route represents a no-win situation for India. Share evidence with them and the reportedly corrupt secret service will use it to plug their intelligence leaks. Get into a war of words and you'll lose valuable time and energy towards doing something meaningful. Deploy troops along the Kashmir border and it'll be downright madness.
Politicians are an easy target - they always have been and justifiably so. Once an incident like this occurs, no reconciliatory action seems acceptable. The people of Mumbai are pissed - especially when Netas call for the city to fight back. No one, it seems, wants to bounce back. They just want someone to start taking steps to prevent this from happening again. You can't counter terrorism with pure defense (and the aggressive approach - regardless of what criticism you level at it - is something the US has been largely successful with post-911).
But you need the right competence in the right places to solve this problem. And above all, you need someone focussed on terror intelligence and accountable for it.
There are a number of reasons people are pissed at the TV Media. First is the type of coverage: sensationalist, almost predatory. It felt like the media was spinning a mammoth tragedy for personal profit. Second, the media might largely be responsible for fulfilling the terrorists' eventual mission - large scale global exposure and mass hysteria. Third, the media's constant need to keep the story refreshed, which resulted in them breaking information on the air that was sensitive to the operation in progress.
There will eventually have to be parameters set up for the press to operate in at times like this. It should create a more responsible media. But for now, despite the detailed, constant and in some cases, innovative coverage - this wasn't TV Media's finest hour.
Scan through the Al Jazeera forums and you'll find plenty of people laying the blame at the feet of Zionism . What they are essentially asking for is a consideration of the entire ecosystem in place that gives rise to terrorism. Its not a crazy argument purely in terms of its systemic approach - although at a time like this it seems like one. Whether you agree with it or not, its a trivial bit of argumentation. Everything begins somewhere. Cause and effect is cyclical. It doesn't justify an act of this proportion.
When America tightened up security post 911, things started looking bleak for India. How so? Because starved of easy targets, the terrorists had to look elsewhere. And there is no country that is a big target for terrorists and full of security holes more so than India. For every security arrangement I see in the country I can think of two ways to circumvent it - and I don't have to think really hard either.
We the People
People may disagree about the Mumbai Siege on a number of things, but they all seem to agree on one thing: complacency will eventually set in. This apathy is what leads to lapses in security, an opening for terrorists to exploit. Give the Indians enough time, the thinking seems to be, and we'll prime ourselves for another one of these.
There is some truth to this: life goes on and especially in a country where you have to meet innumerable challenges on a daily basis, its easy to push national security on the back burner. In addition because Indians tend to apply a lot of topical and local intelligence to every situation, prescribed security processes seem almost impossible to implement uniformly on a large scale. Ironically this very nature of how our country operates means that the key to stopping terrorist activities, at least in the short term, may well come from the citizens themselves.
Raj N. Sippy
Ok, Raj Sippy didn't have anything to do with this. But in what we all hope will be a new era of accountability in India, shouldn't the director of Jimmy be held responsible for something?
BBC's timeline of the events, key site map
Dipity's video timeline
Tweeting the Mumbai Attacks