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Mumbai Is India's New York


And let's go now to Suketu Mehta. He's a journalism professor at New York University and author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found," a popular book about India's financial capital. In the book he insisted on using the city's other name, Bombay, which might suggest the way the city means different things to different people. Mr. Mehta, welcome to the program.

Professor SUKETU MEHTA (Journalism, New York University; Author, "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found"): Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: I understand that one of the people killed in these attacks is a police officer who was mentioned in your book. Who was he?

Professor MEHTA: That's right. There was an officer named Vijay Salaskar, who I interviewed for my book in 1999 when he was an anti-extortion cop. And he had killed a number of people in what are called encounters or extra-judicial killings. And I went to speak to him in the police station where he told me that he wasn't very afraid of being shot because he got very close to the targets before he shot at them. And he showed me the gun he used to kill about 20 people, and it was basically no more than a revolver.

INSKEEP: But in this...

Professor MEHTA: This round of policemen got transferred to the anti-terrorist squad, and he was killed in action during yesterday's attacks.

INSKEEP: And this is one person among more than a hundred, we're told. This is not a death toll as large as New York City on 9/11, say, but I wonder if the effects of the attack could be the same.

Professor MEHTA: I don't know if it's going to be as dramatic as 9/11, but it is certainly the most important terror attack on Bombay since 1993. And it goes beyond just the actual number of casualties because of the nature of the casualties and the targets that were attacked. It would be equivalent to somebody going through the Waldorf Astoria and the Four Seasons in New York City and going from room to room shooting people, and then running out to Times Square and just randomly spraying gunfire. This would have a psychologically devastating effect on New York City, and that's what it's done to Bombay.

INSKEEP: What would make Mumbai, or Bombay, a target as opposed to any other city in India?

Professor MEHTA: Well, it's the throbbing commercial heart of one of the most vibrant economies in the world. And Bombay has a special significance to India. It is to India what New York is to the United States. That is, it's not the political capital, but it's the financial capital. And it symbolizes hope for the country.

INSKEEP: And what do you think about when you hear that the streets are suddenly quiet. How often does that happen?

Professor MEHTA: Almost never. Bombay has never been referred to as a quiet city. And I've been speaking to my family and friends and journalists on the ground, and they, too, agree that this is highly unusual. I don't think it will last long because it is a city that gets back on its feet quickly. And in previous terror attacks, as soon as the stock exchange has opened, it generally tended to go up almost in defiance of the terrorists' motives. So I suspect that the city will reopen tomorrow and get back to its feet, sadder and hopefully wiser.

INSKEEP: Mr. Mehta, thanks very much.

Professor MEHTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Suketu Mehta is author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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