Monday, November 26, 2018

The night that shook Mumbai, India

This day, ten years ago, around 11 pm, I was in the office giving final touches to the India pages of The Times of India, the newspaper I worked for then. Our attention was drawn to a news item on one of the TV channels.

It was about a suspected terrorist attack in Mumbai. The report said several armed people were on a shooting spree in the megapolis. Many were feared dead. There was not much clarity except that it seemed to be a very major terror strike.

As every minute passed, the enormity of the situation began to unfold. Unconfirmed death toll was mounting, as we followed the live footage streaming on multiple TV news channels. We waited for confirmation from police or the State government on what exactly was happening.


One of the scenes of the carnage was the CST Railway Station, which is very close to the The Times House, where our Mumbai office is. We got to know from our colleagues there that one of the terrorists had climbed over the foot overbridge beside the office to reach the railway station across the road.

Shriram Vernekar, our photographer, managed to click a photo from the window of our Mumbai office of one of the attackers going up the staircase. We got that photo (besides many others) in our office in Bengaluru, but only much later we knew that it was that of the lone terrorist who was captured alive, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani citizen belonging to the Lashkar e Taiba terror outfit.

Sebastian D'Souza, the photographer of our sister publication Mumbai Mirror, was at the railway station, and he too got the photo of the backpack-carrying, gun-toting Kasab walking in to the station.


Later, we got to know that it was the bravery of Assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, who had only a cane with him at that time, which resulted in the capture of Kasab. Omble, who followed the vehicle that the terrorist had hijacked, was fired at five times. He later confronted Kasab, managed to pin him down, and hold on to the attacker's weapon, helping Omble's colleagues to capture Kasab alive. Omble succumbed to the bullet wounds.

Kasab was executed on November 21, 2012, after the case went through a nearly four-year-long, due judicial process, with the terrorist being given the chance to defend himself. Since no lawyer was ready to defend him, the government provided him an amicus curiae.

The images clicked by our photographers, turned out to be critical in the case. Incidentally, Sebastian D'Souza won the World Press Photo award for the photograph.

Then came another shocking bit of news: three of the top police officers of the city had fallen to the terrorists bullets -- Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police (East) Ashok Kamte and police inspector and well-known anti-terror specialist Vijay Salaskar. We all wondered if any city in the world had faced such a situation where three of its top cops had been killed.

Then news trickled in that terrorists had entered the iconic Taj Hotel and that people had been held hostage there. The operations in Taj turned out to be the hardest and the longest: it lasted over three days.


While we all in the office were quite shaken by the unfolding events, at the professional level we were wondering how to get news on to the paper, considering that there was hardly any confirmed information coming by with the whole city under a siege at midnight. There was not much news coming in on this on the wires of the Press Trust of India, India's premier news agency. Nor our correspondents were getting any details how it all started or the extent of the carnage. The pages had to be transmitted to the press by at least 1.30 am.

Whatever we had got was just enough to be carried on the front page as the lead story. There weren't any details to be carried in an inside page. But we were getting many photographs. So, we cleared one page of the news items, and carried photos (the ones that were not graphic and could be carried) with a brief write-up of the terror that had hit the city.

The pages went to the press one-and-half hours late. Obviously, all newspapers faced the same challenge with such an important news breaking close to the deadline.


We all went to bed not knowing what lay in store for Mumbai and the country: scores had died, hundreds injured, three top police officers too dead. And, no indication that the attack had ceased.

It officially ended only on November 29 -- must be the longest terrorist strike anywhere in the world -- resulting in death of 165 people and injuries to over 300. Nine of the 10 attackers were also killed.

At the end of it all, many questions were asked: Wasn't there any intelligence input? If it was there, didn't anyone act on them? Why was the coast not being monitored? How could so many armed men wreak havoc so brazenly? How could arms be stored in such a luxurious hotel, and go undetected? Did the television media get carried away, providing live footage of the operations, thereby possibly helping the terror network?


Terror attacks in Mumbai; six foreigners among 101 dead -- The Times of India

At Least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks - The New York Times

Eyewitness Of Mumbai Attack - CBS TV news clip

Mumbai Rocked by Deadliest Terrorists Attacks - Headlines Today TV news clip

Mumbai’s Longest Night, With an Abyss of Terror -- The New York Times

Tracking the Mumbai Attacks - The New York Times

As it happened: Mumbai attacks 27 Nov - BBC

Mumbai Terrorist Siege Over, India Says -- The New York Times

35 photos of the Mumbai attack - Boston Globe
(Some of the photos have graphic details, discretion advised)

2008 Mumbai attacks -- Wikipedia

TOI photographer's iconic picture nailed Ajmal Kasab -- The Times of India

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Perseverance extraordinaire! Teenager crawls to complete relay race in Japan

Rei Iida is determined to complete the race.
This is an incident that happened on the 21st of last month during the annual ekiden (a relay race held on roads) for women in Fukutsu, Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan.

One of the members of a relay team, 19-year-old Rei Iida, fell down and was unable to run. But so intense was her determination not to let her team down, she crawled the remaining 200 to 300 meters on her knees in order to pass on the relay sash to her teammate.

Besides the bloody bruises on her knees, she had suffered a fracture.

While the young girl's perseverance is admirable and inspiring, the unfortunate part of the story is that the young woman didn't know that her team officials, on seeing her fall down, had informed the organisers that the team was pulling out of the race. By the time that message reached the runner, she had already crawled her way, and was very close to sash-passing point.

Here is a report in Singapore's Straits Times news website, which also contains a 3.51-minute Youtube video clip of the incident. The point where the girl falls is after 45 seconds.


This is the not the first time someone is crawling to the finish. In February 2015, in Austin, Texas, a 29-year-old Kenyan marathoner, Hyvon Ngetich, crawled to the finish line, after collapsing just 50 meters ahead of the finishing line and declining a wheelchair. When she collapsed, she was leading the race, but she still managed to end the race in the third place.

Here is a video from the BBC.

Truly inspiring stories of determination to overcome challenges.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Trump vs Acosta: White House media relations plummet to a new low

Photo credit: Time
I watched the entire one-and-a-half hour press conference President Donald Trump had with the White House media on November 07.

There was nothing unusual in the way he responded to the journalists. That is the way he is. He snubbed many of them, and called many of them part of fake news.

But the extent of frustration and anger seemed to be unusual. So also the revoking of the press pass of a White House correspondent, and the seeming warning to other journalists not to ask uncomfortable questions.

Here is the full video and transcript of the entire press conference, from C-Span. The now-well-known confrontation with CNN's White House correspondent Jim Acosta is after 27 min 30 sec.

Trump has a history of quarrels with Acosta. In Jan 2017, Jim asked him a question about "Russian meddling" and the President-elect lost his cool. Then the confrontation with Jim when addressing a joint press conference with British PM Theresa May in London. In this presser too, Trump displayed the same sort of frustration with the questions.


When the President called Jim for his turn, and the latter began asking the question, it was evident Trump was getting irritated; more irritated than with other journalists. He remarked, "Here we go ..."

To be fair to the President, he was encouraging Jim to ask questions. And his early remarks looked sporting though sarcastic, as usual. Trump very patiently explained to Jim that the immigrants can come into America, but they can come only legally.

The point of contention was Trump's characterisation of the movement of immigration as an invasion. Trump said he and Jim had differing views on whether it was an invasion or not. Jim was trying to get an explanation from the President on why he thought that it was an invasion.

Trump wasn't able to convey himself clearly. Or he didn't have a clear answer. Trump then told Jim to let him run the country and that Jim can run CNN. Jim said okay, and sought permission for an another question. Trump didn't allow, and moved to the next journalist. That was when the White House intern came to take away the mike. 

There is nothing unusual in journalists wanting to ask supplementary questions. Each journalist feels lucky to be called to ask questions, and they want to ask as many as possible. Happens all the time with all the journalists and officials who address press conferences. Even in this one, others too asked or tried to ask such questions. Trump allowed some, cut many of them.

Journalists are paid to ask uncomfortable questions; and there was no need for Trump to lose his cool. The President should have just ignored Jim and stuck on with Peter Alexander of NBC, the next journalist. There was no need to say "you are rude", "you are terrible" etc. 

And to make matters worse for the President, Peter said, "In Jim's defense, I've traveled with him and watched him. He's a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us."


What followed was not just unprecedented, unwarranted too. Jim's pass that gave him access to White House premises was revoked. The reason cited was Jim had his hand on the female White House intern who tried to take the mike away from Jim.

CNN's Jim Acosta has press pass suspended by White House, Sarah Sanders announces (Fox News)

Trump Bars CNN’s Jim Acosta From the White House (New York Times)

Jim didn't look angry or rude; and Jim's arm did make contact with the intern's arm in his effort to keep the mike. But surely the contact wasn't intended.

It was very clear that that his pass was revoked only because Jim has been asking unpleasant questions, not just at this press conference but in others as well. It might also have been a warning to other journalists that they might too risk losing their pass.

Then another twist in the tale. WH Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders retweeted a video which is said to have been doctored to emphasise the arm contact.

Sarah Sanders accused of circulating 'doctored' video of Jim Acosta’s interaction with White House intern (Fox News)

White House defends doctored Trump-Acosta clip used to justify reporter's ban (The Guardian)


President Donald Trump's problems with the media is now many years old. Right from the campaign days he has had the belief that a good majority of the US media are liberal, left leaning, and against him. He used all sorts of words from "scum" and "dishonest" to "sleaze" to describe the "70 to 75%" of the media that are critical of him.

On the day he was sworn in itself there was an ugly spat -- Trump said the media selectively showed vacant areas to illustrate that the crowd that came for the Trump swearing-in was smaller than that for Obama swearing-in.

He has been using the word "fake news" for news articles that either he doesn't like or those that are critical of him. His anger took on a new dimension with his expression that media are "enemies of the people".


Though media is not formally recognised as a part of the political system, it is an important social platform that carries all types of information: both plain news as well as interpretative, analytical and opinionated views.

Traditionally, news by definition is all about that is not going right in the society. Journalists by definition are skeptical and they are there to ask questions and seek answers; and sometimes they have an adversarial relationship with centres of power, especially the government. Journalists are always trying to catch officials in an spot. Conversely, the officials are aware of what journalists are up to, and they ensure that don't fall for the journalists' bait.

Trump calls spade a spade, and most of the time he doesn't care much for traditions, courtesies and diplomacies. So, his run-ins with the media are no surprise. Though he generally doesn't like most of the media, from what I have read, he keenly follows all the media. He knows the power of the media, and is quite conscious of the way he is portrayed in them.


Confronting and attacking the media doesn't help. It only makes matters worse. The best way that is adopted by smart and clever leaders when they handle media, especially a belligerent one, is to be transparent and inclusive with them. But when there are uncomfortable or difficult questions, the smart leaders parry them, if they can't come up with a diplomatic answer.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review -- Irish Shorts: Nora's Escape and other true stories of love, loss and resistance

Irish Shorts: Nora's Escape and other true stories of love, loss and resistance
This is a small book of six lovely real-life short stories. The author, Maria Hall, grew up in Ireland and now lives in New Zealand.

The stories -- about Agnes, Nora and Patricia, three generations of Irish women in the family of Maria Hall -- have historical references as well as a strong Irish Catholic underpinning.

The stories have no complex plots and subplots; but they are so full of life, weaving the disparate emotions centred around everyday joys and tribulations. This is the first book of this kind I have read. The story I liked the most was The Intruder.

My rating on Goodreads: 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review -- Fear: Trump in the White House

Fear: Trump in the White House
Another highly publicised book on US President Donald Trump, this one by the acclaimed journalist Bob Woodward, who is a great inspiration for countless journalists around the world.

Like similar books, many extracts appeared in the media before the book hit the stands. Everything in the book is about recent events. So if you have been keenly following the current developments, there isn't a lot you will find startling or new in this book.

What the book does provide though are a large number of anecdotes: conversations between the President and multiple White House advisers, high and low in the hierarchy. They all show how Trump is out of sync with what is generally believed is acceptable.

These anecdotes also reveal the sort of person Trump is: someone who is not only passionate about what he believes in but also determined to put to practice what he wants to do. Most of the official government policies are not thought-through, and stem out of Trump's personal beliefs, irrespective of whether they make sense in the political, diplomatic, economic or social sense.

He doesn't care whether others agree with him or not. What he thinks right is right. So we have many advisers countering Trump's suggestions with facts and figures. But that makes little impact on Trump, who just brushes them aside.

For example, one extract from the book:

"The president clung to an outdated view of America—locomotives, factories with huge smokestacks, workers busy on assembly lines. ... Several times (Former president of Goldman Sachs and the president's top economic advisor Gary) Cohn just asked the president, “Why do you have these views?” “I just do,” Trump replied. “I’ve had these views for 30 years.” “That doesn’t mean they’re right,” Cohn said. “I had the view for 15 years I could play professional football. It doesn’t mean I was right.”

While the author has done a lot of meticulous research to gather data -- just as a journalist would do -- this book only adds to the surfeit of anti-Trump lowdown we are already deluged with.

I really liked the book only because of the extensive research Bob has done to put this together, which will prove invaluable not now but many years later when Trump is history.

View all my reviews in Goodreads