The Bravehearts of Mumbai

It is hard not to notice the contrast between the heroism of ordinary Indian citizens and the seemingly inept official governmental response to the terrorists in Mumbai. In the Mumbai train station for instance, over 60 policemen (admittedly, underarmed) were on duty; the gunmen were out in the open; yet, not one of the policemen attempted to shoot the terrorists. In the hotels, about 10 gunmen, up against a force of over 1000 commandos and other law enforcement officials, were able to stay alive for over two days and wreak havoc.

In the same train station, hotels and in restaurants, ordinary Indian citizens behaved heroically risking and in some cases giving their lives to help their countrymen and foreign nationals. In contrast, those in the military and police forces were bound by their “rule books” and bound by a rigid command-and-control hierarchy that was issuing the plan. Their response was slower and less fluid than the situation demanded. How could it have been otherwise? The terrorists were not operating under a central command.

This is not a post written to criticize the Indian military. In the United States at the Columbine High School massacre, innocents were slaughtered or died of their injuries while the SWAT team “staged” outside the high school for an inexcusable amount of time before responding. Unresponsive bureaucracies know no national boundaries.

But this is a post about the heroism of ordinary Indians and the great cosmopolitan city of Mumbai—a city of Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Jews—where tolerance is the norm.

One of the targets of the murderers was the Chabad House—an orthodox Jewish outreach center located in a poor, Muslim neighborhood—run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Immediately, Mumbai taught the world of the character of its citizens—residents in the area, presumably Muslims and Hindus, pelted the terrorists with stones in an attempt to stop them from entering the Chabad House. Some of these residents may have paid with their lives. I wish I could tell you more of their heroic actions, but no account I could find—Indian or American—had more details.

The terrorists entered the Chabad House. Two Indian nationals, employees of the House, Sandra Samuels, a Christian nanny to toddler Moishe Holtzberg (the son of the Rabbi and his wife), and Zaki Hussein, a Muslim, were able to escape the initial carnage and hide themselves away.

The next morning, Sandra heard little Mosihe crying out for her, “Sandra! Sandra! Sandra!” Leaving her safe nest, Sandra made her way up to the second floor where she found two-year old Moishe crying over his parents’ wounded or dead bodies. She scooped up Moishe; and then with Zaki standing watch at the door, Sandra fled the building.

“This baby is something very precious to me; what else could I have done?” Sandra said rhetorically as she tried to explain why she was not a hero. Indeed, Sandra, Zaki, and the neighbors of the Chabad House had functioned as human beings were meant to. There was no time to consult a rule book, there was no one to issue commands, they had no thoughts of “what is in for me.”

Bryon Katie in her book A Thousand Names for Joy has written: “To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what’s right is insane… Love is action. It’s clear, it’s kind, it’s effortless, and it’s irresistible.”

In our own lives today, we can honor the bravehearts of Mumbai by doing what we truly value. Doing what is precious to us and not what is expedient or easier, because Love is indeed effortless.

In a Mumbai synagogue, Zaki comforts an inconsolable Moishe at the memorial service for his parents.

In a Mumbai synagogue, Zaki comforts an inconsolable Moishe at the memorial service for his parents.

Sandra is now in Israel living with Moishe. Since Mosihe only responds to her, she has vowed to remain with him for as long as he needs her.

Sandra is now in Israel living with Moishe. Since Mosihe only responds to her, she has vowed to remain with him for as long as he needs her.

In 1970, Neil Diamond wrote a song “Done Too Soon”—a simple song that may well have been about the common humanity that the victims of the Mumbai murderers share. The last verse is:

And each one there
Has one thing shared:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon.


5 Responses to The Bravehearts of Mumbai

  1. igli1969 says:

    It seems to me that both the terrorists and the police have an “Only Ones” mentality (with apologies to David Codrea Police “Only Ones” believe that they are the only ones that know how to handle, among other things, dangerous situations. The terrorist “Only Ones” believe that they are the only ones who know the will of an alleged supreme being on how mankind must live.

    There is not a lot that I am sure enough about to bring me to either kill people who are not trying to harm me or my family, or to stand by while such innocents are being killed. I literally cannot understand either mindset. (Full disclosure: I am a libertarian anarcho-capitalist, and an atheist. I don’t have a dog in either fight here. However, if either group invades my home, I will do my best to bestow a Darwin Award on them.)

    Unfortunately, one cannot be reasoned out of a position that was reached without recourse to reason. Or, as John Wayne’s Marshal Rooster Cogburn said, “You can’t serve papers on a rat.” But, like rats, sane people will always have not-sane people around them. Hopefully (though not very likely), a solution will be found to allow these interactions to be less fatal that the Mumbai murders.

  2. James D says:

    A friend recently sent me a picture of a piece of graffiti that said “Stop believing in authority and start believing in each other. Humanity’s ability to step up to the plate and help each other out when everything around them is going to hell in a handbasket is one of our greatest strengths. It is sad to note that it takes an event like this to make us realize what truly happens everyday–we rely on each other. Maybe not to the extent of a terrorist attack, but in all the little ways, each and every day. I am involved in Emergency Preparedness at the State and County levels, and let me tell you, follow the Boy Scout’s motto: “Be Prepared”, because your government isn’t.
    Professor Brownstein, you also mention the government’s numerous failures, like Columbine, so aid its citizens. What should worry everyone more are the Supreme Court decisions that basically relieve government actors of any responsibility whatsoever for doing their jobs. Horror stories of people who called the police while being robbed weren’t helped, and the courts have said that police protection is a general service and that they are under no compulsion to endanger themselves to protect any one member of society. An abused woman got a restraining order against a physically abusive spouse. He showed up, she called the police, and they did not show up. She sued (from a hospital), and the courts responded that the police could enforce the restraining order as they saw fit. Governments around the world promise (if not demand) that they will provide cradle-to-grave security for their citizens, but when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, pretty much universally, the citizens get screwed.

  3. Here is a link to a New York Times article about the bravery of ordinary Indians: “For Heroes of Mumbai, Terror Was a Call to Action”

  4. Bob G says:

    Some thoughts:

    1. heroes are for the most part unknown by most

    2. they always respond to an inner voice that is indifferent to pre-conceived plans and “what-ifs”

    3. no one knows if they are a heroe until the moment they arrives that tests

    4. a heroe indeed tastes death but once instead of many times due to the tendency to be authentic in the moment

    Bob G.

  5. Bob,

    Your comments brought to mind Admiral Halsey’s words: “There aren’t any great men. There are just great challenges that ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.”

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