Interview: The editors of 'To India With Love' rethink counter-terror ops
When friends Tina Bhojwani, Waris Ahluwalia and Mortimer Singer got together for a drink in New York around Christmas last year, they decided to add Mumbai to their gifting list.
Mumbai, We Got Your Back! (WGYB!) could be a fragment of the conversations we all had when reeling from the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks but for these three New Yorkers, the conversation metamorphosed into a spirited endeavour to bind two similarly traumatised metropolises, with hope, through art.
WGYB! was founded as a non-profit for "Thinking locally, acting globally -- raising spirits, awareness and funds for traumatized areas of the world." Their first joint venture -- a beautifully packaged collection of photographs and memories about India.
"To India With Love" is like a scrapbook diary of that exotic trip you took with your friends -- that is, if your friends populated the global 2009 who’s who list. Thoughts and snapshots from Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Wes Anderson, Adrien Brody, Silvia Fendi, Diane Von Furstenberg, Liz Hurley, James Ivory, Padma Lakshmi and their ilk are pressed among its vibrant pages.
Here we discuss the whys -- and some who’s -- with one of the book's curators and creators.
CNNGo: How do the book and your foundation help bridge the distance between 9/11 and 26/11?
Mortimer Singer: WGYB! stands for solidarity and friendship. We treat the world as a village. A catastrophe in Brooklyn or Boston is no different than one in Bombay. We are a local support group; thinking local and acting global. Only by highlighting the positive can we overcome negative misconceptions. A whole country and people should not suffer due to the hateful actions of few.
CNNGo: How can the 'think local, act global' attitude cross over to traumatized nations that aren't tourist friendly?
Singer: This is not something you wish for, if you see what I mean. If there is a need for a sequel it means that something terrible has happened somewhere. So, I hope [there isn’t a need], but if we are asked to do something for somewhere, we will absolutely help out.
CNNGo: Apart from directing funds to the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust, what do you hope 'To India With Love' will achieve?
Singer: We want westerners to visit India. After the attacks, westerners who know little of Mumbai, lumped it in with other trouble spots that are "over there." We want to make sure they understand that Mumbai is not a dangerous place but on the contrary, one of the most welcoming places anywhere. They [tourists] bring millions of dollars to Indian shores and tourism has waned significantly since the attacks. If I remember correctly, two of the five million tourists to India are from the US. We don't want them to stop coming!
CNNGo: Did your stay at the Taj hotel play a part in the inception of WGYB!?
Singer: I love the Taj. I feel as though I am in a different time period. Living a movie. The Taj was also a client of mine for many years. I had friends there and I am very fond of those people. For Tina, it was far more emotional as her family is from Mumbai and she grew up visiting Mumbai and the Taj annually and I think those emotions run very deep.
CNNGo: What did you find lacking in the response of the international community in the aftermath of 26/11?
Singer: The west is slow to respond to catastrophes in the emerging markets. That has always irked me. Media coverage stopped quite soon after the initial sensationalist spin in America; therefore keeping the viewing public shielded from the ongoing trauma suffered by victims and their families. I believe that America is far too isolated from the rest of the world and needs to be made aware of what is happening in far off lands...not just down the street.
CNNGo: But 'To India With Love' only addresses terrorism obliquely...
Singer: We want to once again prove that the pen (and even the camera) is mightier than the sword. We believe that a shared community through the arts will bring us closer together and allow us to celebrate our differences. Community, globalization, education and the arts can, over time, extinguish the hatred that fuelled last November's chaos.
CNNGo: Did any themes emerge across the photo/essay contributions?
Singer: I feel that there is a certain organized chaos to the book. It is a scrap book which it full of energy and surprises, not unlike Mumbai. I think that was the idea, for it to be transportational.
CNNGo: A bikini clad Elizabeth Hurley appears beside a bedecked elephant. What’s the take away?
Singer: Why do you need to take anything away from it other than a surprise and a smile? We were trying to have fun and to show many different Indias through one medium. We made a concerted effort to reach out to individuals in varying fields so as to have greater appeal (politics, art, film, fashion, media, business, etc.). We asked many people and most not only sympathized with the cause, but also have a passion for India and thus agreed to help. It took on a life of its own and we are hugely grateful to all those that took the time and effort to contribute.