India

Paris attacks: Mumbai relives 2008 horror

Mumbai's main railway station, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is lit up in the colours of the French national flag on November 15, 2015 to express solidarity with victims of the deadly attacks in Paris. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Of all the monuments and structures around the world that lit up in solidarity with Paris, this was perhaps the most poignant.

On Sunday evening, Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) station was bathed in red, white and blue. Although they may have got the colours a little mixed up, the fact is that of all the monuments and structures around the world that lit up in solidarity with Paris, this was perhaps the most poignant.

It is a building that has known terror and the bloodshed, and heard screams and gunfire.

CST station was among several other locations, including restaurants and five-star hotels, attacked by ten gunmen in Mumbai on 26 November 2008.

As more details emerge from Paris, striking similarities between the two attacks are coming to light, and for so many people here in Mumbai, it's bringing back painful memories.

Striking similarities

In both cities, the carnage began around half past nine at night. In 2008, as I rushed to CST station to cover what was happening, I met a group of scared people running out. Hidden behind two large pillars, they described what they had seen - two men, wearing black clothes, carrying big assault rifles, mercilessly shooting at anyone and everyone.

In the news yesterday, a survivor at the Bataclan concert hall said he had seen two of the gunmen in black clothing, "very calm, very determined" and firing "randomly".

Mobile phone footage from outside the concert hall shows people hanging out of its windows trying to escape. In 2008, many people fled Mumbai's famous Taj Palace Hotel from its windows, after four gunmen opened fire there.

Belle Equipe, a popular bar and the Comptoir Voltaire cafe were targets in Paris. In Mumbai, it was Cafe Leopold, a tourist hotspot.

Old wounds

Rupen Doshi, a Mumbai resident who had just driven off from Leopold before the firing began and who lost a close friend in the massacre at the Oberoi hotel, calls the similarities "eerie and chilling".

"It's opened up old wounds," he says. "Looking at photographs of those who've died in the newspapers, it's heart-wrenching. I can identify with it. I feel angry again."

It is with a sense of horrific deja vu that I have been listening to people recount the terror from Paris - of how there were bodies and blood all around, how someone played dead to survive and how people were lined up and shot.

Image copyright AFP

But reassuringly, what has also been quite similar is the reaction of the cities to these brutal acts. Mourning but, in equal measure, a show of strength and unity. Tens of thousands of Parisians came out at Notre Dame cathedral, and seven years ago a sea of people gathered at Mumbai's Gateway of India.

For cities around the world, there is no choice. They must move on. So Mumbai did, even as the 60-hour siege was under way, as will Paris.

'Terror blueprint'

But some things will change. In Mumbai, there is a reminder of those terrible days every time you go to a cinema hall, a hotel or a shopping mall.

Your bags are put through an x-ray scanner, you walk past a metal detector and you are often frisked by a security officer.

"We're not scared on a day-to-day basis anymore, we've slipped into our daily lives," says Mr Doshi. "But something like Paris does make me wonder, could we be a target again?"

Image copyright AFP
Image caption For cities around the world, there is no choice. They must move on. So Mumbai did, as will Paris.

Investigators and security experts are already calling it a Mumbai-style "terror blueprint" and there are questions about when and where it may be used again.

In Mumbai, security has been tightened post-Paris and the government is reviewing the measures in place.

On November 26, there will be tributes to those who died in 2008, tinged perhaps with a little more sadness this year.

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