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Mumbai – Recovery is no song-and-dance number

12 January 2009 No Comment

ON Thursday, Karambir Singh Kang, the general manager of Mumbai’s signature Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, will return to work.

This will take considerable stoicism and fortitude, as during the 90-hour terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which began in the afternoon of November26, Kang’s wife and two sons were killed. These three tragic deaths were among the 178 fatalities in Mumbai that included Indian residents and visitors from the US, Britain, Australia and other countries.
Along with India’s tourism authorities, Kang faces a huge task in turning around the vast drop in foreign tourist numbers visiting Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in particular.
Conservative estimates suggest it will be at least six months until the old part of the world-famous hotel is open for business, while the new part, the Tower block that is contiguous to the old part of the hotel and which reopened on December 21, is only 50per cent full. This is at a time when the grand hotel normally would be experiencing an occupancy rate of 90 to 100 per cent.
Not unnaturally, the Taj Hotel group is focused on moving on from the terror attack, especially as the Mumbai landmark is a world-famous symbol of Indian hospitality and goodwill.
Tourism in India generally has suffered badly from the terrorist attack. To take one example, foreign and internal Indian bookings to the remarkable Taj Mahal monument, situated in the city of Agra, are down by at least 50 per cent.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that often during January the airport at Agra is closed to commercial traffic due to heavy fog. This situation is made even worse because the Indian Air Force stationed at Agra always has first use of the airport.
The political situation in India, and in Mumbai in particular, is extremely tense. Hindu politicians and Hindu rank-and-file militants are distressed that, on the one hand, Pakistani authorities seem slow to respond to the supposedly hard evidence supplied by the Indian Government about Pakistani involvement in the attacks and, on the other, that the situation in Gaza is taking priority as far as the world’s media is concerned.
This is why in recent days India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ramped up accusations against the Pakistan Government and its shadowy security services, which he regards as “the main sponsor of terrorism against India”.
The PM has in particular emphasised the direct involvement of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba in the attack.
The Indian Government is extremely distressed that the evidence it has supplied linking the Mumbai attack with Pakistani nationals appears not to have been taken seriously by the Government in Islamabad. However, last week it finally accepted that 21-year-old Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to be captured alive, is indeed a Pakistani national.
Hindu politicians and militants are annoyed that while Pakistan has in the recent past handed over terrorist suspects to the US Government, in India’s case it is refusing to do the same. This, however, ignores the pertinent fact that there is no formal extradition arrangement between India and Pakistan.
As if to underline tensions, travellers on the route from the international and domestic airports to the centre of Mumbai are confronted by huge illuminated red signs saying, “Together we shall vanquish the terror”. At the same time, Hindu pressure has forced some bookshops, including the famous Oxford Bookstore in the Churchgate area, to take off the shelves all books by Pakistani authors and all books about Pakistan.
This follows “friendly advice” from Mumbai police, who claimed that bookshops selling Pakistani material could be targeted by Hindu militants. And one bookshop employee stated: “After the recent attacks on Mumbai, why should we have any Pakistani material in our bookstore?”
Apart from the downturn in tourism following the attack, other Indian industries are being affected by the worldwide economic recession.
In particular the textile and diamond industries, as well as information technology — which last week was hit by a multibillion-dollar scandal — are suffering badly.
The same, however, does not apply to Bollywood, which is booming.
A rising star is 27-year-old Australian-born actor Nicholas Brown, who is filming an extravaganza in Mumbai.
Educated in Sydney at the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts and trained at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, the Hindi-speaking, singing and dancing, cricket-playing actor is managed by the noted Indian film producer Bunty Bahl of Carving Dreams Entertainment.
According to a leading industry observer, Brown could be Bollywood’s next big thing.
Just as during the Depression films and sport — especially cricket – took people’s attention off their economic woes, it should come as no surprise that the same phenomenon is today happening in India, and in Mumbai’s Bollywood in particular.

Article 12 January 2009 from The Australian

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