As dawn breaks, normality returns

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 1, 2008

The streets of the commercial areas in South Mumbai were, on Friday and Saturday, relatively free of traffic as drivers avoided the area around the Taj Mahal Hotel, as the fighting continued.

By Sunday morning, things were back to something close to normal: every empty parking area was occupied by young men playing street cricket.
On Monday, the frenetic Mumbai working week resumed; the traffic is now as intractable as ever.

On Sunday night, a Turkish television channel called me for an interview. "What will be the implications of this attack for Israeli tourists and Jewish organisations operating in India?” My automatic answer was that terror attacks have never previously deterred Israelis or Jews from travelling to all corners of the earth. It’s the wanderlust in our genes. After all, the series of attacks on synagogues in Istanbul hadn't stopped Israelis thronging to the city.

But after I put down the phone, I remembered a Friday night to visit to Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul three years ago, shortly after the attacks. An entire platoon of Turkish police was ranged in the small back-street. We had to turn in our passports at the door, go through a concrete reinforced entrance chamber and have our pockets turned out. Upon leaving, the police ordered us to walk away and not loiter near the shul.

That's not going to happen in Mumbai. This morning at the memorial ceremony at Knesset Eliahu Synagogue, Israeli security men were anxious as the Ambassador walked in, and would not allow him to be interviewed outside the building. But the local police did not think of blocking the small street and made do with two police jeeps and a half a dozen officers. Neither are the Chabad houses throughout South Asia going to become fortified outposts. Their whole point is the informal and open atmosphere, which attracts thousands of backpackers every year, most of whom would never dream of visiting a synagogue back home.

India's political establishment is in turmoil, tension with Pakistan is high again and there is mobilization on the disputed border. But life on the street of the largest city in the world is a force of its own and the latest attack will do very little to change it. That is what has always drawn a certain kind of traveler to the Mumbai shore and it is not about to change.

Last updated: 1:32pm, December 1 2008