Book Review: 26/11 Mumbai Attacked

‘This book is an attempt at understanding the enormity of 26/11’ says its editor Harinder Baweja. But haven’t we already understood that enormity, given the 60 hours of non-stop TV coverage and reams of newsprint which covered India’s worst ever terror attack? Don’t we know about the ruthlessness of Kasab & Co. as they ravaged the Chabad House and Café Leopold’s? Have poignant eyewitness accounts been forgotten so soon that they need to be retold in a book? Aren’t we already sick of those ghastly visuals of the Taj and the Oberoi that we need a scene-by-scene recollection of the events there?

These are just a few of the questions that come to mind as you read 26/11. No doubt, the book is well-researched, meticulous – at times, even poignant – but then it fails to provide any new perspective about those 60 gruesome hours. Chris Khetan pens a moving chapter about the lives of Salaskar, Karkare and Kamte and the void their death has created – not only within their profession but also in their family. But since their better halves and colleagues have already paid their tributes, why would we want to read about it again? During that 60-hour siege, Julio Ribeiro often spoke about the need for police reforms which he articulates yet again in the book. Ashish Khetan meticulously details the Taj and Oberoi crises while tracing the terrorists’ journey from Mumbai to Karachi. Rahul Shivshankar skilfully combines the importance of Chabad House with an account of the carnage that was to unfold later.

Harsh Joshi’s compilation of eyewitness accounts range from anger to horror while Bachi Karkaria informs us how the “like-that-only” spirit is infused in Mumbai’s DNA. Harinder Baweja travels to Muridke – the town which houses the genesis of this attack. Baweja also reminds us of how incompetent Shivraj Patil was as Home Minister because his action (or inaction) delayed the NSG departure by 45 minutes. Facts which we already know – and wouldn’t like to remember.

But that’s just about it in 26/11. Go looking for anything new and you’ll be left highly disappointed. At best, it could serve as a guide to aspiring journalists and political commentators who’d like credible information on the subject. It’ll be found in college libraries and Mumbai’s tourist hotspots. In fact, as I write this, I see copies of the tome on sale at Café Leopold. Another evident but disappointing aspect is the hurry to publish a book just for the sake of publishing. On a subject like 26/11 – which offers immense scope for new perspectives and stories – an edited volume loaded with facts leaves a lot to be desired. In their hurry to be the first to bring out a book, Roli Books has published a stillborn product.

Overall, 26/11 is not a bad read. It’s just that it isn’t too good to buy.

(A shorter version of this review can be read here)

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