The terror of footnotes

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Kasab’s story provides gripping reading in Rommel Rodrigues’ book, but how much of it is true, asks Anit Mukherjee

A BOOK BY a journalist on Ajmal Kasab — the face of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks — should have been something to look forward to. After all, it was primarily due to courageous investigative journalists that Kasab’s parents were traced and Pakistan was forced to publicly admit the involvement of its citizens and alleged “nonstate actors”. Since then the world acknowledges Pakistan and its support for militants as one of the biggest sources of regional instability. Kasab’s capture, in a perverse way, helped India in making its case (consider, for instance, that there is little focus on the nine other terrorists).

Rommel Rodrigues’ book offers much in its premise to tell “Kasab’s story to merely build up the plot and chart his journey towards becoming a coldblooded murderer”. However, it suffers from a single methodological flaw that renders this book to quasifictional la-la land. Simply put, we do not know where the author gets his facts. As he interposes facts with fiction and inserts his own imagination, the reader is forced to suspend his scepticism and rely completely on the author. We are not sure if the author had ever been to Pakistan to interview primary sources — a fatal flaw if 15 of the 22 chapters in this book are based there. The research seems to be gleaned out of media reports, including from the author’s friends in Pakistan, possibly the investigations carried out by the Mumbai Police and perhaps some primary research in India. The ambiguity surrounding research for this book deserves to be better addressed and it’d have been better served with two additions — footnotes and a list of people interviewed, if at all.

Kasab: The Face Of  26/11
Kasab: The Face Of 26/11
Rommel Rodrigues
Penguin
288 pp; Rs. 299

Despite the ambiguity, however, the book is at its finest in describing the actions of the Mumbai Police and of common citizens battling the terror duo of Ajmal Kasab and his boss Ismail Khan. There is little doubt that much of the actions described closely mirrored reality, and Rodrigues is at his best in recounting the encounters at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Cama Hospital and events leading to the capture of Kasab. But these well-told chapters beg a larger question — instead of feeding the media frenzy around Kasab, why not tell the story of Mumbai and its reaction to the travesty of 26/11? In doing so, the author would not only have been on firmer ground but would have been able to better tell the stories of heroes like Tukaram Omble, Sanjay Govilkar, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and many, many others. Or he could have dispassionately examined the effectiveness of the response of all our national security agencies. Of course, the brightest, as yet untold, story was the firm and public repudiation by the citizens of Mumbai and of this country of the message of hate and intolerance that some in Pakistan wish to spread among us. That story of courage and sagacity is one we mustn’t forget.

Mukherjee is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi

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