Monday, September 15, 2008

Terror... err...error

unable to resist, i went this morning (at about 8 am) to GK I, M-block market, the site of one of the blasts that ripped through Delhi on Saturday evening.

and it was business as usual, with the early morning sweepers casually emptying dustbins (in which bombs had been planted in other targeted parts of the city) as i just drove slowly past all the familiar shops that have been an inseparable part of my life since i came to Delhi over 15 years ago. for M block is one of my favouritest places in the city. love it. can't live without it. and can't go too long without paying obeisance to its haphazard existence every once in a while (tempered from the almost-daily visits of our college days).

the only reminder of the terrible tragedy was a signboard put up by Aaj Tak news channel which had a backdrop of a nuke-type explosion, saying something like "aage bhadhenge... (and) aatankvad se nahin darenge..." (we will move forward (and) we will not be afraid of terrorism) or thereabouts.... for couldn't read too well from the car.

and driving past that semblance of normalcy in a city jolted by five bombs, i thought: fear is one thing and escapism is definitely another. we are a nation of ostriches, ever-believing that if we bury our heads in the sands of denial long enough, what we refuse to see and acknowledge will all go away somehow. but the one thing that these most recent terror attacks did seem to shatter was our smug sense of 'untouchability' with a horrific threat too close for comfort. i thought about this as friends from all over the country and even from around the globe called me to ask if i was ok, often with a common concern: "It's a Saturday evening, we thought you might be at GK for your favourite golgappas!"

the truth is that sometimes work comes to the rescue, for i was in office and heard the blast rip through CP (the one at Barakhamba road, i'm guessing, barely 500 metres away). and promptly dismissed it for thunder, curiously looking out of my window to check if i would have to make a dash to my car later on. and then ten minutes later, i was on the phone to my family and friends to assure them that i was ok before they saw it on TV and before mobile networks got jammed...

and for the first time ever, it seemed real. too real and too close. very loud and crystal clear. terribly scary. and for a while, as news poured in about yet another blast at Central Park, barely 500 metres away again, i looked into a kaleidoscope of anxiety, fear, confusion, horror and eventually sadness mixed with relief, mirroring my own, on the faces of my colleagues... we were safe. for now.

but the one thought that i know was running through all our minds was, this could have been any one of us. we park in CP, take those same roads home every evening; often spend aimless hours over weekends browsing shop windows, sipping nimboo-banta from Prince Pan and stopping to collect trinkets from the little "shoplets" at GK M-block; and do a bit of our wedding shopping in the crowded bylanes of Karol Bagh.

yet we refuse to acknowledge that we are, collectively, a nation under attack. perhaps that's because the shattered lives that we read about have been far removed from our zone of reality (and here i mean the sense of false security that envelopes the upper middle class), and we are quick to turn away from the bleeding faces and horrifying images, only to repeatedly shrug them off as yet another 'blip' on our close-circuit radars. i admit to having done that in the past, and i also admit that i am finding it difficult to be quite so blasé about it this time around.

so i keep asking myself why? and i have no clear answer but an all-pervading sense of sadness, outrage and vulnerability. beginning with the fact that i saw a colleague crying silently in the bathroom minutes after the news of the blast, for she couldn't get through to her family, and also because she was feeling the way i did: confused, angry, shaken and somehow, attacked and affected and curiously dazed... and then because another colleague, quite shaken, informed me that her mom and sister had just left GK market an hour ago.....

and because two of my my brother's best friends were on their way to GK when they heard the news.... and especially because had my brother been in town, he would have been sipping coffee with his fiance at GK.... and because i shared a plate of chaat with my mom and sis a few weeks ago at the same spot the bomb went off.... and also because, i was in Pallika market last week and, more immediately because, i heard the blast just as i was reaching for my car keys to make a trip to Wengers in CP to pick up pastries, while wondering if the trip would be worth the effort in a downpour.

and that was the extent, the sum total of my troubles, the evening when so many people lost their lives to the senseless logic of a handful of maniacs, and for that triviality i feel guilty somehow. guilty of losing patience with security guards who take too long to check my handbag at the movie theatre, guilty of finding an excuse to delay removing my car from a no-parking zone, and of numerous other little infractions that add up to a big catastrophe, just because we refuse to empathise with the fact that we all are potential victims, live targets who are lucky enough to see a few more dawns, eat some more golgappas, to shop, laugh, love and live another day.

the average Delhiite has had to discover, three years after we were last hit, the survivors' "spirit", much as the Mumbaiite has been forced to muster the same on countless occasions now. we are told that it is our spirit, our courage, and our bravery in the face of all odds that the terrorists are targeting. all this by a Home Minister who is on the warpath over a wardrobe 'malfunction', despite changing more clothes in one evening (while he made polite appearances at various blast sites) than he has tactics, to counter the moving targets who have us all in their cross hairs today. and they have brought the battle right to our doorsteps over his last four and a half years in office.

oh, i'm terribly sorry to burst your bubble of banal banter, Mr. Home Minister, but its your incompetence that they are leveraging. in not winning the battle against our own complacency we're losing the war to those who know, perfectly well, that we're not even warming up to the challenge yet.

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