We did not go out the night the bombs exploded in Delhi, cancelling a prior social engagement — because we were scared? Or because we thought it might not be appropriate to enjoy ourselves when so many in the neighbourhood had so horribly died? Whatever our guilt (about still being alive?) it certainly did little to prevent us from going out the following evening for a film (ironically, about terrorism), nor did it prevent us from calling friends home for dinner where, perhaps inured of all that violence, we spoke about more pleasant things. Those deadly explosions might never have happened at all.
Phones rang all over the house on the night of the bombings as those who saw the news around the world rang to ask our wellbeing, but almost as a perfunctory gesture. Were they perhaps disappointed that we were safe, had nothing to report, not having been anywhere in the vicinity of the areas where the bombs went off or were diffused that dusk? Did we call friends perhaps too eagerly, or surf the news channels too closely, searching among the injured for signs of familiar faces? Were we saddened because we had been deprived of a personal narrative, our own little drama, knew no one even remotely closely who had been affected?
Among ourselves, we cautioned each other about outings, murmured advisories, not intending to follow them in the least. Friends and colleagues and family wound their way to shopping malls and entertainment districts the very next day. Was it resilience — or indifference? Sarla went out that night with her husband for dinner, not because it was too late to cancel but because, she told my wife later, “It would have been too depressing to sit at home.”
Years before, when an Indian Airlines Airbus had been hijacked to Kandahar, we had held our collective breath, sympathising with those whose families, friends and acquaintances teetered between life and death. But it was the end of one millennium, the start of another, and a party had been planned at a farmhouse, complete with buntings and balloons, music and a dance floor. The hijacking had gone on for days, the grief was now wearing thin, and when the children pointed out that perhaps we should cancel the celebrations (already paid for), we were cross with them and tried to explain that life must carry on. In any event, a deal was struck, and the hijackers released the passengers and crew, and so we did not have to bear the burden of guilt any longer. We were celebrating their return to India, weren’t we?
That guilt has worn more thin now as random acts of terrorism have become commonplace. So we watch the television for news when the trains in Mumbai are attacked, or Varanasi, Lucknow, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Bangalore burn, thankful we’re far from the epicentre, while someone — the hostess? — discreetly removes the ketchup and replaces it with mint chutney: we may be unaffected but we’re also squeamish.
The gory images in the newspapers, the heart-rending clips played back again and again on television have numbed us, so we flip the cover, nod sagely (or disagree violently) with an editorial, then turn the pages for something a little more palatable: the cricket scores, the launch of a new restaurant, reviews of the latest films and books.
Having stayed home last Saturday, we’re no longer planning on being home this weekend — we didn’t, in fact, deprive ourselves of company or festivities even in the interim weekday week. There were places to go to, champagne to be drunk, music we liked, people we wanted to meet, and if we had to do it in the shadow of ricocheting shrapnel, so be it.
7 months ago