[7/11 bomb attacks on Bombay's train network have killed more than 180 people and injured 714]
The other day, we were browsing in the Bahris Book Shop in Khan Market when one nervous looking lady entered through its glass door and cried that Bombay had been hit by serial bomb blasts.
We were not shocked, being quite used to such news, but still there was a rattling noise inside us. Mr. M. Singh, the learned shop assistant in the Bahris, shook his head and swayed his hands. One foreign diplomat (he looked like a foreign diplomat, that is) browsing in the fiction section looked down mournfully at the floor. A young boy, who was presenting his credit card at the time of this newsbreak, swiftly took out his mobile phone and hurriedly dialed a number. But soon after, he blurted that the phone lines to Bombay were busy and he was unable to reach his sister. He said, addressing us as if we were his close intimates, his sister lives in Mumbai and commutes on the local train – the target of the attacks. He appeared extremely panicky. One gentleman consoled him by commenting that there were 8 million people in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, another lady contributed her share to the general excitement by declaring that she has received a telephone message informing her that more than 100 people had been killed in the attacks.
We were upset and had no further desire to pursue our browsing. We simply made our payments for the book we had already chosen (Strange Times, My Dear – The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature), postponed our contemplation (to buy or not to buy) on Fouad Ajami’s new book (The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq), and made our exit.
Our hearts were overwhelmed with outrage and there was something within that was weighing us down. But the outside world was showing all the pretensions of soul-warming normality: people standing by the foreign magazine stalls, young boys and girls – wearing outrageous clothes – walking hand in hand, serious-looking professionals busily typing on their laptops in the Barista coffee shop, the usual noise of horn-blaring at the parking lot.
Attempting to prevent the evening’s tragedy from affecting us too deeply, we tried to assure ourselves that it was okay, that such things happen, that people do die, that one can’t do anything, particularly when one was in Delhi and the blasts had happened in far-away Bombay.
While looking here and there, the monsoon rains started again, with a few drops falling on our heads even though we were standing under the shade of a stall. A young man was applying henna on the hands of jeans-clad girls, and we noticed the gradual dissolving of the news of Bombay tragedy seeping into the humdrum of evening shoppers. Mobile phones started ringing. Even we received a call from relatives asking us to hurry home since a Red Alert had been declared in the city. The beautiful faces of the crowd had suddenly transformed into wrinkles of troubling urgency, as if everybody wanted to leave at once. We spotted a group of khaki-clad Sikh policemen checking the market pavement for hidden bombs. They were also advising the guards, stationed outside the shops, to be vigilant.
We thought it was time to board the bus back home.
Our bus was stopped for security checks at two police barricades. We were ordered by the cops to look under our seats for suspicious objects. There was a thrill swimming inside us as we lamely followed the command.
Most of the commuters were discussing the Bombay news. One old man angrily murmured that India should bomb every Muslim country on the earth and wipe out the problem once and for all. There were different interpretations and different statistics as to the numbers of dead and wounded people. A sweaty, gruff-looking man claimed that 500 people had died, while a young man, his ear constantly to his mobile phone, counterclaimed that 83 people had been declared dead. A debate started. It occurred to us that numbers were the point of discussion the previous evening, too. Except that was about the World Cup football scores.
After reaching home and thanking the powers-that-be there were no terrorist attacks during the short bus journey and that we were still breathing and that our arms and legs were whole and in pair, we decided to skip our dinner to share grief with the loved ones of those who died during the train blasts. We also thought about the death of 6 people who were killed the same day in the grenade attacks in Srinagar, summer capital of the violent state of Kashmir.
We later retired to bed, on empty but not hungry stomachs, believing that it would be Delhi's turn now.