Friday, November 28, 2008
Mumbai & the Taj Mahal Hotel
In the summer of '06, in the company of 14 other American educators I was privileged to travel for six weeks throughout India. Of course, in Mumbai we visited India Gate, on the Arabian Sea, standing for a while across from the architecturally magnificent Taj hotel. I had a Taj hotel story to tell, involving my mother-in-law and her family, Jews who fled Vienna when it came under Nazi rule in March 1938. They went first to Paris, where her father re-opened his business as an agent who booked entertainment for venues all over the world (much later, as a refugee in New York, he arranged for all of those European jugglers and acrobats who appeared on the Ed Sullivan show that I watched as a kid, unaware of course that I would eventually marry his granddaughter). Needless to say, in Paris they needed to rebuild their lives and resources. Before I went to India, my mother-in-law ("Oma" to my children), told me about a "Mr. Bannerjee" who was a Manager at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. He played a key role in money transfers to her father, avoiding the Austrian banks that were now "Aryanized" by Nazis who,led by the infamous Eichmann, immediately began to terrorize and incarcerate Jews (My father-in-law and his brother were sent to Dauchau; he survived, but my wife's uncle was eventually transferred to Buchenwald and murdered by his captors). So, as I stood before the Taj, I couldn't help but marvel not only at the site but also ponder my personal connection to its past. And now, we hear of the victimization of Jews in Mumbai as well. As a survivor of terrorism myself, I would hope that readers of this post understand that just as the Holocaust was no "mystery", as some would have it, neither is the source of the violence that has been plaguing India, Israel, and other parts of the world for years if not decades. Whatever the injustices of the past and present, there is nothing that justifies these atrocities committed in the name of religion. And what will it bring? Further atrocities and a cycle of revenge? What, I ask, is "the first cause" of this cycle? The answer lies in insane ideologies, especially religious but also nationalist. To be sure, we may all, for justifiable reasons, be driven to madness. But now I also wonder: what will the apologists for those who have committed this violence in Mumbai write in the coming days? That it is "senseless" and has nothing to do with "a real and true" religion? That it is the "natural reaction" of disaffected and victimized youth? That it is a conspiracy hatched by you know who you know who and you know who? Everyone but the guilty are guilty, it seems. Enough already. Of course, I don't have an answer. But it seems now that the Indian Government must, in a unified way, act hard on two fronts: one, against the sources of this violence, no matter where it leads; and two, to prevent its own citizens from rising up against one another in communal violence. This is a new chapter, a new phase, and it demands action.