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Mumbai attacks remind local doctor of 9/11

SPRING HILL — The burning buildings and grief-stricken victims on his TV screen brought back memories of scenes Dr. Ravindra Nathan had hoped he would never see again.

But unlike the attacks that toppled New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the tragedy he was watching unfold has struck in a place that his family has long called home.

Last week's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, which killed at least 171 people, brought life to a standstill in one of the world's busiest cities as residents hunkered down to escape the violence.

For Nathan and his family in Hernando County, the 60-hour siege brought uncertainty for the safety and welfare of loved ones living near the city formerly known as Bombay.

"It was shocking, numbing," Nathan said. "When it happens in a place you know so well, you're aghast."

A cardiologist in Brooksville, Nathan, 67, is director of Hernando Heart Clinic in Brooksville, and is a guest columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Though he hasn't lived in India for more than 40 years, he and his wife, Susheela, visit the country annually for vacations and family reunions.

Upon hearing of the attacks on the eve of Thanksgiving, he immediately began trying to contact his uncle and niece, who live and work near the heart of Mumbai.

"It took nearly 17 hours to get through, and I was just so worried about them," Nathan said. Fortunately, no one in his family was injured, but his uncle described the scenario surrounding the city as chaotic.

"They announced on TV that it wasn't safe to leave your building," Nathan said. Indeed, a niece who was in Colaba in southern Mumbai, about 3 miles from the attacks, told of hearing gunfire and explosions as if they were right outside the door.

Nathan, who grew up in the Vypeen Island, Kerala, did much of his early medical schooling in Mumbai.

He said he believes the terrorists coordinated their attacks to grab the most attention by outsiders. Prominent landmarks, such as the palatial Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which was built in 1903 and the former Victoria Terminus railway station, which serves as a major travel hub, were among the structures that were severely damaged.

"Seeing those buildings on fire reminded me very much of 9/11," Nathan said. "(The attackers) wanted the world to take notice of what they were doing."

Though Nathan laments the loss of life, he worries that the attacks could signal the launch of larger wave of violence. He and other members of the Tampa Bay Indian community gathered last weekend at the Hindu Temple in Tampa to perform a "Shanthi Homa", a prayer ceremony for the peace of the victims.

Nathan said he fears that the attacks have forever altered the region's social landscape as well. A popular tourist mecca that beckons visitors to pristine ocean-side resorts, the city is also home to the world's largest movie industry, sometimes called "Bollywood."

While dismissing the notion that the government of neighboring Pakistan may have backed the attacks, Nathan nonetheless believes that ongoing tensions between the two countries may have been a contributing factor.

"There are many militant groups with other agendas that always play a role in politics in that region," he said. "They have been a source of trouble in the past."

Nathan said he and his wife, who is also a doctor, are planning a trip to the region in January for a medical convention. He's unsure how the political climate might affect the journey, however, he expects security will be much tighter in the wake of the attacks.

"It is my fervent hope that the government doesn't go overboard," he said. "No doubt the people are asking for more security, but they also love their freedom. I would hate to see that change."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Mumbai attacks remind local doctor of 9/11 12/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 7:28pm]
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