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Mumbai is on alert. Terrorist alert. Mers alert. Ebola alert. But mostly, alas, the former.
The signs at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport tell their own story. So does the heavy armed police presence; the exclusion of meeters & greeters from the terminal; and the barrier-studded road into the airport.
Yesterday cleaning staff at the airport noticed some threatening words scribbled in a men’s toilet in the new Terminal 2, alluding to a terror strike by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this Saturday. “The writing is on the wall: Stay alert”, was the resultant headline in today’s Hindustan Times.
The airport was already on alert following hijack threats made against national carrier Air India in New Delhi last week.
[Passport checks outside the DFS/Flemingo duty free Arrivals store]
The Australian government has issued a security advisory for travel to India and particularly Mumbai. “Information of mid-December 2014 indicates that militants may be planning attacks against upmarket hotels in Mumbai,” it warned. “We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in India overall because of the high threat of terrorist activity.”
The people and authorities of this magnificent city have the right to be jumpy. It’s just over three years since the terrorist atrocities committed by Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba occurred, killing 164 people and wounding over 300.
Yesterday’s shocking attack on the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (front page news here alongside the Mumbai threats) just adds to the general mood of unease. Security in the city is at an all-time high. It needs to be. We live in times of casual barbarity, where slaughter of the innocent, allegedly in the name of God, has become commonplace.
We must all say “Je suis Charlie” – the cry of defiance that has gone viral all around the world in condemnation of the Paris massacre and in defence of free speech.
Footnote: On a more positive note, I am here (along with many people from the airport food & beverage and retail sectors) to celebrate the wedding of Karan Kapur, son of Travel Food Services Chairman Sunil Kapur and his wife Neelu, to Vidhi Chopra. It promises to be a spectacular three-day affair of colour, exuberance and joy – a welcome antidote to the darkness of so much of today’s world.
The panoramic view (below) from my room at The Four Seasons underlines the old cliche of there being two Indias. While guests here reside and dine in five-star splendour, just metres away tenement apartments and shanty towns full of rickety dwellings with flat, rusting corrugated iron roofs sprawl out endlessly into the vast morasse of India’s most populous city.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2, meanwhile, is a wonderful new facility, though now’s not the best time to visit it. The huge and Flemingo/DFS Arrivals shop (what a contrast to the Mumbai stores of a few years back) was doing roaring business when I flew in earlier today, though I’m sure it would do even better if international passengers such as me armed with Indian Rupees were allowed to spend them (bizarrely only Indians can use the national currency). I’ve not seen passport checks in front of a duty free shop before either. That may be related to the current security tensions.
But you know, none of that seems to matter much right now. Je suis Charlie.