When 26/11 happened it was unnerving to see the drama that was being shown live on televisions. During the attacks I was with a colleague at a national security agency to discuss an academic journal. Before beginning the meeting, we spent a few minutes watching the drama being shown on the television. It was a little disconcerting to get a running commentary from the security experts on the tactics, the guns being used by the armed forces etc. They were analysing the situation and figuring out what to do next. They had been trained to assess and act under such situations. But what happens when many ordinary citizens are ambushed by armed gunmen? You get a glimpse of it in The Siege. The panic and chaos exists, but also how well individuals can behave under extraordinary pressure.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark have written a “non-fiction thriller” called The Siege. It is a reconstruction of the events of 26 November 2008 (or 26/11 as it is popularly referred to) attacks in Mumbai. This is a book based upon innumerable interviews, reports, conversations, audio files, mobile phone text messages etc. They even obtained “audio files and transcripts from the wiretaps placed on the gunmen’s phones from India, US and British security sources, the most complete to be assembled, which includes matter never published before.” (p.297) Later they add — “Inevitably, some of these reconstructed events will jar with individual memories that placed a person somewhere else, at a different time, as might some of the dialogue, although we have tried to show some accuracy. A few quotations have been compared to or directly extracted from interview survivors gave at the time to cable news channels and newspapers, so as to capture the authenticity of that moment – the thoughts that they had back then, rather than with the benefit of hindsight.” (p.299)
In an interview to the Outlook ( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?288414 ) they say “It would be wrong to rewrite the truth but one thing is clear that a whole lot more of the threat was known than anyone let on. Incredible details were provided because, as we now know, the US intelligence community, was all over Lashkar-e-Toiba. Hotels, especially wonderful historic hotels, like the Taj, are theatres. They need to balance the desire for spectacle, being the House of Magic, with the safety of their guests. In this case, the hotel, the upper echelons of the police, and the intelligence services fought each other, and undermined the value of the early warnings they received. That is undeniable….A truth that emerges here is the police on the ground did what they could with the resources they were allocated. But in reality there were insufficient — shoes, bullets, helmets, guns jackets and patrol boats — to protect this one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, where private money builds sky scrapers and is not ploughed back into the municipality — that teeters.”
The Siege is not easy to read. The writing in the first few pages is stodgy, but after a while it is forgotten, and it is easier to read. For a lay reader it is a fascinating document that reconstructs the events of 26/11. Of the many recent attempts (including accounts in newspapers and magazines) are retelling or attempting to fathom what happened in the terrorist attacks of 26/11, this is a book that will often be referred to since it marshals together evidence in one place. A technique that the authors are familiar with, having applied it in their previous book, The Meadow which was on the kidnapping of the ten western journalists in Kashmir. But The Siege needs to be read/reviewed by security experts for their comments.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark The Siege: The Attack on the Taj Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 320 Rs. 499