Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai on Devon Avenue

“It’s finished,” says Kanu.

He’s standing behind the counter in Al-Mansoor Video, on Devon Ave. at Rockwell St. A TV suspended from the ceiling plays news from an Indian network, received here by satellite.

“Now that it’s over,” he adds, “now we are relaxed.”

It’s about 9:15 p.m. Kanu, who has closely-cropped hair above a round face, stands with a friend by the counter, surrounded by Indian DVD’s of fanciful Bollywood productions and other segments of escapism. The brightly lit store, which has mostly DVD’s and CD’s and tapes, along with phone cards in the back, has no other customers, leaving Kanu and his friend with their eyes looking upward.

Another man walks into the store, and then a man and a woman. They all have dark skin.

“How’s your family?” the woman asks Kanu. “Everyone’s okay on your side?”

He replies in an Indian language.

Everyone stares at the TV.

The broadcast, an Indian version of a CNN or Fox News, has a shot of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. Suddenly, the camera shows a man tumbling out of a ground floor window, as if he had been shot out.

Then, the Director General of India’s National Security Guard gives a new conference in Hindi.

“So, how many people were in there?” asks one of the men.

“I think 20,” replies Kanu.

It’s now 9:26 p.m. on November 28. The screen reads 8:56 a.m., 29 Nov 08.

The woman, like the man who accompanies her, has an Indian skin tone but speaks English with a good American accent. Her dark hair is long, and she wears a nose stud to one side.

She says she grew up in America but— and she insists on being paraphrased here, not quoted— India is still her country, wherever she goes. She adds that she just hopes everyone is safe. (Everyone, presumably, means the people that those around her know.)

The screen shows the tag line “Taj Reclaimed.” The words “India’s 9/11” flash intermittently among segments.

The couple joins Kanu in the back of the store, by the phone cards. When they all return to the front, the couple is smiling and laughing. They’re still smiling when they head for the door and say good night.

his is more than 103 years old building,” says Kanu, pictures of the Taj Mahal Hotel flashing on the screen. “It is ancient building.”

Kanu grew up in the city of Ahmedabad, some 300 miles from Mumbai. In Ahmedabad, he worked in a small barbershop. He says he visited Mumbai’s Colaba neighborhood, in which the hotel is located, just once.

He came to Chicago as opposed to another American city, because, like so many immigrants, he had family here. He got a job at the video store, because he knew the man who runs the place from when they lived near each other in India.

We’re also, ahh, seeing images— if you could replay that, as well— of saluting our martyrs. The ATS chief, Hemant Karkare—

Kanu shakes his head slightly.

—was one of them, ahh, who’s been killed. Two hundred and fifteen policemen, we know, have been killed, ahh, in this battle against the terrorists.

“They killed chief of the anti-terrorism squad,” he explains to a visitor as the TV announcer goes on.

And that’s the funeral—

“Hmmm,” he exhales, shaking his head.

—of, ahh, Hemant Karkare, a very sincere, straightforward, no-nonsense officer…

How do Kanu’s friends feel about what’s been happening?

“Oh, my God. I mean, already it’s really hard to live in India. Even where I live, it’s all same thing like this. I mean, just I told you, like, uhh, a few months ago that there was, like, uhh, 20 or 30 people in a blast over there. A lot of people were killed.”

“What they are doing,” he adds, “also, we don’t understand.”

A phone in the store rings, and Kanu answers it.

“Well, now it’s time to go,” he says after hanging up.

It’s now almost 10 o’clock, closing time for the store. Kanu turns off the TV, puts the remote control down on the counter, and walks to the back of the store to prepare to get on with his evening.

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