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   There was a time when Bombay was the safest city in the world. (June 24, 1998)

You could carry lakhs of rupees (well, thousands, there were no lakhs of rupees in those days) in a cloth theli and walk around and nobody would rob you. You could stop a taxi in the middle of the night, women could walk around unmolested, children were safe, little tykes could take a BEST bus to school.

All this changed. The common man was still safe, he could walk about the city and nobody would touch him, so also women, and children. But thieves were not safe any more. Thieves were killing other thieves, the underworld gangs were at war with one another. But that did not matter; bad characters were eliminating other bad characters, people used to say.

Then, when the underworld could not handle its own law and order situation, the police took a hand and started shooting down notorious bad characters in what were known as 'encounters'. Still, it did not concern the ordinary, law-abiding citizen, nobody was going to shed tears over a criminal's death in an 'encounter', though, sometimes, some innocent person got eliminated through a confusion

of identities.

Then builders were not safe any more. If you were an ordinary citizen who was a builder, then your number was up. Professional killers in the underworld were being hired, probably by rival builders, to kill builders. Builders were being picked off in spite of police protection and private security. Still, the violence did not touch the ordinary man, who, forget building houses, did not have a house for himself to live in.

Next, Bombay was not safe for people in the film industry. They were given what was known in the underworld as supari via Dubai. Those who borrowed lakhs (crores) of rupees to make a movie, and the movie failed, they were 'living corpses', to use a phrase from the movies. Still, how many of us made movies? So how did it matter?

Then the jewellers started getting robbed and killed. The ratio became one jeweller every alternate day. Jewellery stores became easy targets, jewellers went in a morcha to the home minister, and went in a morcha to the police commissioner.

And restaurant owners were not safe. Gangsters entered their restaurants, had their meals, then shot the staff. Sometimes walking away with the cash, sometimes without, depending on whether it was a killing for robbery or revenge.

Still, they say the ordinary man is safe in Bombay. If he is not a restaurateur, a jeweller, a film producer, a builder, a millowner, a businessman, he has nothing to worry about. Which is true. If he is not all these things, his life is safe. But if he is not all these things, is life worth living?

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