Update: Salil's look at Bombay Burning in Far Eatern Economic Review.
(My own take is somewhat different, and I'll post that later.)
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It isn't that the Taj Mahal Hotel looks like Healy Hall. If you squint, crinkle, and squish you might find a passing resemblance but to do so is to miss a much larger point. Diversity. We all celebrate it at some point. It might be at Pluralism in Action during NSO, or just in meeting the international students on your residence hall floor. Mine include men and women from Jordan, Spain, the UK, the UAE, and the Phillipines. Diversity enrichens everyday life. From it we learn that while Rangila is beautiful, just wait for that summer abroad to India, to see Nariel Purnima on Chowpatty beach in Bombay.
Before I leap into a proclamation about Georgetown, Bombay, and diversity, a note on why I won't call it Mumbai. In 1996 Bal Thackeray, a fan of Germany's most infamous leader, as the head of the then-ruling Shiv Sena party renamed the city. He cast off its colonial name, one bestowed upon it by the Portugese, to tell fellow Hindu fundamentalists that this would be a Hindu city, in the state of Maharashtra. That diversity was not exactly welcome here. He chose Mumbai after Parvati, a Hindu goddess. We in Bombay won't spit in the
face of those who are different to us, and Thackeray renaming the city after a Hindu goddess was spitting in the faces of the city's Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
So what of Bombay today? How is that riotious, raucous, tantalising, and turbulent city faring these days. As we saw over the course of this afternoon, not so well.
I was born in Bombay 19 years ago. The neighbourhood you see on CNN, blood splattered across its dark deserted streets is mine. The glass shards from Padminis, Ambassadors, and Mercedes Benzes lie strewn across paving stones on which I have walked. The rumble of army trucks has shaken the foundations of century-old buildings minutes away from my birthplace.
And my birthplace is Bombay Hospital, tonight just one of the locations beseiged by AK-47 wielding youths. Alan Jones, quoted all over the BBC World Service talks of them in their jeans and t-shirts as they sprayed bullets across the magnificent lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel. A lobby which I can picture, right now, from memory. I know which ornaments are probably lying across the ground. Across bodies. And the leather sofas and the granite desk with its Hussain mural and the LVMH store and the rug too. Blood-stained? Bullet-ridden?
I was last in Bombay in June. That trip changed my life, and the city played no small part in doing so. Victoria Terminus, the Taj, the Oberoi, Bombay Hospital, and Chowpatty beach all made that week incredibly special for me. It hurts emotionally and physically to know what happened in those beautiful buildings tonight.
We at Georgetown are familiar with the ominous shroud of potentiality that looms over campus. Minutes from the White House, Capitol, and the Pentagon, we perch over a city right in the crosshairs of terrorists. Just like Bombay.
We marvelled at the fortitude with which our city leapt up from that smoke stenched Langley morning seven years ago. Between now and then, bits of Bombay have been blown apart thrice. The city will rise again, it always does.
We celebrate diversity at Georgetown because cosmopolitan places like our campus, like Washington, and like Bombay are the greatest places on earth. When we arrive as ambassadors from faraway lands - be it
Baltimore or Mirpur, the land of the Balti (a type of Pakistani cuisine) - we bring the exotic to one another. We enrich each others' experiences with sounds, sights, spices, and scenes from home.
Bombay just blew up, so I'll take a moment to look back at the city in which I first spoke, stepped, and stumbled and give my thanks this Thanksgiving for diversity. Because diversity: strength in variety, strength in commonality, and strength in sharing experiences is what will pick this city up from tonight's blood-stained memory.