India in Mourning: My Week in Mumbai and Goa

Mumbai, India--My wife Deborah and I arrived in Mumbai at 10pm on Wednesday, November 26th. We were spending the night in Mumbai on our way to Goa early the next morning, where I was being honored and Deborah was giving a Master Class at the International Film Festival of India. There was the usual crowded confusion at the airport and we were unaware of anything out of the ordinary. A man was holding a sign with a list of names, including Deborah's. He drove us to the hotel listed on our itinerary where the desk clerk told us that our reservation had been canceled. After the 20-hour trip from LA, this did not make us happy and we called our Indian contact who said he was at the airport waiting for us, to stay put and that he would come and get us. He moved us to the Leela Kempinski Hotel, closer to the airport.

Our car was greeted at the hotel gates by armed guards, flashlights, and what struck us as rather intense security for a luxury hotel. As we stood at the front desk, with an influx of airline flight attendants, an Indian hotel guest turned to me and said, "Somebody is shooting up the Taj." When we arrived in our room, we turned on the television where the horrifying events around the city were "live" on all channels. The reality of the just next-door ongoing terrorist attack was profound. The hysteria on the news made our hotel seem quiet and surreal. Uneasy and starving, we went down to the hotel's 24-hour restaurant. It was well after midnight. When our food arrived, our smiling waiter asked in the most neutral way, "How long will you be in Bombay?" We said we were leaving early in the morning. He said, "That's very good, you shouldn't be here." After the bloodshed and chaos on TV, this was not at all reassuring. The next morning we got on one of the last flights out before they shut down Mumbai International for the day. As we were in flight, the terrible events in Bombay were still unfolding.

In Goa, the mood at the International Film Festival of India was somber and most of the gala events canceled. However, the Festival, with its international offering of films, soldiered on to great success. Goa was quiet, although the Anjuna flea market was filled with Russian and European tourists. Despite the heat, humidity and gunfire, our Indian hosts treated us royally at the India Film Festival. The local government insisted we have bodyguards our entire stay in Goa. We had two alternating bodyguards, a quiet Goan plainclothes cop named Johnson, and a sari clad village woman who proudly showed me her Colt 45 that she kept in her handbag. With two members of the international jury (and our security), and we took the rusted flat-bottomed car ferry across the Mandovi River to Divar Island to visit an old Portuguese church. We were surprised to find that a big service was in progress in the middle of the day. Goans dressed in white massed around the church entrance and every pew was filled. A flower-laden hearse arrived and within moments, we heard the sounds of a small brass band leading mourners into the church. This was the funeral for the first casualty of the Mumbai attacks, the young chef of the Taj Hotel, murdered in the hotel kitchen. All of India is in mourning.

Deborah and I have returned to Mumbai to speak at a film school and visit Film City, the largest Bollywood Studio. We considered not returning, bombs were found and defused at the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station yesterday afternoon, but we are certain we made the correct decision. Otherwise, the terrorists win.