Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Mumbai Lost & Found" [more on the book at SuketuMehta.com] is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the city. During one of our webcasts after the Mumbai attacks, Mehta read out two sections that featured places and people that happened to be involved in the events of today. One about the Taj Mahal Hotel, and the other about one of the officers killed during the attacks.
The people I meet who are seeking position or money in Bombay often use this one hotel, this one citadel of Empire, as a mark or measure of their progress upward through the strata of Bombay. The Taj was born out of a slight; because a man was turned away from a fancy hotel. When the prominent Parsi industrialist Jamshetji Tata was refused entrance into Watson's Hotel in the nineteenth century because he was a native, he swore revenge, and built the massive Taj in 1903, which outshone Watson's in every department. It is less a hotel than a proving-ground for the ego. The Taj lobby and its adjoining toilets are where you test your self-worth; theoretically, anyone can come in out of the heat and sit in the plush lobby, on the ornate sofas, amidst the billionaire Arabs and the society ladies, or relieve themselves in the gleaming toilets. But you need that inner confidence to project to the numerous gatekeepers, the toilet attendants; you need to first convince yourself that you belong there, in order to convince others that you do. And then you realize that the most forbidding gatekeeper is within you.
Excerpts from the section about Vijay Salaskar, one of the policemen who were killed, and Mumbai's top 'encounter' cop (From the 'Number Two After Scotland Yard' chapter):
Husain asks him how many encounters he's been involved in, and what kind of gun he uses.
The cop thinks. "Deaths... twenty."
As Judge Aguiar wrote in his report on the recent encounter, "It is amazing that despite Sada Pawale having fired from a sophisticated weapon, namely, an AK‑56 which is capable of firing 600 rounds per minute and having an effective range of 300 meters, neither A.P.I. Salaskar nor P.S.I. Desai or any of the police officers, suffered any bullet injury... The police officers must surely bear a charmed life."
The gangs will never go after the policemen, says Salaskar, not even after a constable. "What you saw in "Satya" -- referring to a scene in a gangster movie in which a police commissioner is shot dead by the gangs -- only happens in the movies." He doesn't feel personally threatened. "I am fair. I know where the criminals' families are, but I never touch them."
"Do you want your children to join the police force?"
The cop shakes his head emphatically no.
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