Already the front pages are crowded: Air India plane buys are under fire, BJP leader LK Advani dares government to arrest him in the cash-for-votes scam and did Reliance violate government norms?
Two days ago there was no other news. The phone had started ringing minutes after the bomb blast at Delhi high court’s gate number five. Facts were still fuzzy: was it a bomb in a briefcase? How many injured? Any dead? Was there a second blast? Twitter was abuzz and so was my phone.
Lawyer Arjun Pant, my friend took my call just to say, “I’m ok,” and then hung up. I found out later that he had been busy helping the wounded, no time for leisurely fact exchanges. That moment, that precise moment when a bomb goes off is a call for action. When I spoke to him again later that evening, he told me he had returned home, his white shirt splattered with blood. He sounded weary more than shocked.
Within a few hours Arjun will be back at the courts. Apart from a full bench reference to those killed the previous day and an unusually high deployment of commandoes and cops, Delhi high court was going about its business: a bunch of income tax cases here, a Delhi Jal Board hearing there.
I am always slightly bemused when I read reports about a city’s ‘resilience’ after yet another bomb blast. It’s as if we have a choice. When your daily life is littered with conversations about red alerts, when a weekend trip to the local movie hall must be conducted through a metal detector, when frisking and searches become routine at community celebrations, when livelihoods must continue to be earned, and commutes negotiated hours after a bomb blast on a train, do we really have a choice but to go on?
Life is altered forever for victims and their families. I think also of people in Quetta where suicide bombers have just killed 20 people near the Commissioner’s office in the Civil Lines area. And those in Karachi where only days ago suspected terrorists on a motorcycle skidded and the explosive device they were carrying went off. In Iraq synchronised bombings in 13 cities on a single day last month left at least 74 people dead. LA Times reports that before 9/11 there had only been one suicide bombing in Pakistan. Ten years later that number stands at 290.
When you live in places like Mumbai or Pune or Kut or Baghdad or Malegaon or Suleja or Thane or Jaffarabad or Srinagar or Bali or Jaipur or Kirkuk or Benaras, chances are you have either witnessed first-hand a bomb going off, or know someone who has. My first bombing experience goes back to 1993, at lunch at home in Delhi. I heard this huge roar as if erupting from some primeval beast, and just knew, knew what it was – even though I had never heard the explosion of a bomb before -- running, frantically to my new-born daughter asleep in another part of the house. It’s not a sound you ever forget.
And yet, life goes on. That new born daughter is now 18, spending her summer months as an intern with a law firm, standing just months ago in the same line for an entry pass at Gate number 5, Delhi high court where 11 people were killed and 78 injured on Wednesday.
We are all citizens of disparate cities bound by our common membership as targets of terror, victims of someone else’s war and must continue with the business of life. Our children will go back to school. Our housewives will continue haggling over the price of vegetables.
Tenth anniversary commemorations of 9/11 are underway, newspapers have been carrying articles evaluating that one day that changed the world. But in our part of the world, we have an embarrassment of choice, terror as number soup. Take your pick: 26/11, 11/7, 8/9, 13/5, 10/2 and now, 7/9. How many anniversaries do we remember? How many days in our year do we set aside to mourn our dead? It is, as the LA Times observes about Pakistan, as if every day is our 9/11. We learn slowly to live in the shadow of death, assuming that we will survive another day.
Every bomb blast is now accompanied by a familiar ritual: shock, horror, recrimination and condemnation. We hear again and again words flung about like the debris of a blast, a litany of platitudes: ‘dastardly perpetrators’, ‘will be brought to book’, ‘refuse to be cowed down’ till we are numb to their impact or meaning.
Delhi High Court’s decision to reopen hours after the blast signals ‘resilience’, yes. But it also signals an acceptance that life goes on, the business of litigation does not come to an end because there has been an act of violence, no matter how horrific. Life goes on, because it must.
( A version of this blog appeared on www.asianwindow.com )