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The anatomy of a bombing

Diya Kohli | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on November 11, 2016
Mayhemand themiddle class The book opens with a bombing in Lajpat Nagar market, a higgledy-piggledy mess of fabric shops, street food kiosks, and pavement stalls that sell everything under the sun. Photo: S Subramanium

Mayhemand themiddle class The book opens with a bombing in Lajpat Nagar market, a higgledy-piggledy mess of fabric shops, street food kiosks, and pavement stalls that sell everything under the sun. Photo: S Subramanium   -  The Hindu

The Association of Small Bombs; Karan Mahajan; Fourth Estate; Fiction; ₹499

The Association of Small Bombs; Karan Mahajan; Fourth Estate; Fiction; ₹499

Karan Mahajan’s second novel is on the vicissitudes of lives blown to smithereens

The central event in Karan Mahajan’s Association of Small Bombs takes its cues from a bomb. Shrapnels from past and present explosions mingle with the effluvia of unrequited human desires, aspirations, and relationships to create a deadly cocktail. These big and small bombs leave in their wake a damaged body, spirit, and psyche for successive generations.

Terrorism is the central preoccupation of the world we inhabit and in The Association of Small Bombs, Mahajan takes this global issue and breaks it down expertly into its various local components. The book opens with a bombing in Lajpat Nagar market, a higgledy-piggledy mess of fabric shops, street food kiosks, and pavement stalls that sell everything under the sun. The Khuranas have given their TV to be fixed in one such nondescript shop and it is this mundane errand that takes brothers Nakul and Tushar, and their friend Mansoor to the market on the ill-fated day. The unremarkable nature of their chore emphasises the event’s believability as well as its pointlessness. Life is determined by luck and death misses its target by a hair’s breadth.

With his second book, Mahajan returns to Delhi, a city that he puts together adroitly from his own years here. He makes a wide sweep from the Punjabi heart of Maharani Bagh to the posh bungalows of South Extension and the middle-class markets of Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini Nagar, painting an intimate portrait of neighbourhoods and families. This is a city that is grim, and yet there is occasional humour and a pop of surprise.

“Delhi — flat, burning, mixed-up, smashed together from pieces of tin and tarpaulin, spreading on the arid plains of the North — offered no respite from itself. Delhi never ended. The houses along the road were like that too: jammed together, the balconies cramped with cycles, boxes, brooms, pots, clotheslines, buckets, the city minutely re-creating itself down to the smallest cell. From one balcony a boy with a runny nose waved to another. A woman with big haunches sat astride a stool next to a parked scooter; she was peeling onions into a steel plate and laughing. Before municipal walls painted with pictures of weapon-toting gods — meant to keep men from urinating — men urinated. Delhi. Fuck. I love it too. ….”

The Association of Small Bombs stitches together the individual stories that emerge from these houses and neighbourhoods, brought together and torn asunder by these terrible acts of violence. These are the householders, artists, academics, businessmen, political activists and ordinary young men and women who form the various spokes of the wheel of terror — those who commit these acts and those who are its victims. The author traces the entire trajectory of the event — from the very inception of the idea of a bombing to its long and painful aftermath. What is interesting is his focus on the little bombs. While these might make less noise both physically and on a policy level, the devastation left behind is no less in its magnitude. The lives of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds are imprinted by a collective grief and the senselessness of it all. In the beginning there is a bomb blast and what follows thereafter is its anatomy laid bare. Mansoor’s life is indelibly linked to the ever after as are the lives of Shockie Guru, Malik Aziz, Mr and Mrs Khurana, Mr and Mrs Ahmed, Ayub, and Tara. Mahajan takes an incisive look at their lives in the run-up to D-Day. It is about what strikes people in the seconds before everything disintegrates into sound and fury. It is about memory and how it is forever linked to this one moment — striving to remember as well as forget it throughout one’s life. The Association of Small Bombs is about the cold facts, the science of bomb-making, medical examinations, and statistics of the dead. At the same time it delves deep into the psyche of each character as they unravel and implode, sometimes with a bang and at others with a whimper, just like the bombs themselves.

Those who are alive carry the scars of death and those who are dead hover throughout the narrative like unexorcised spirits. The singlemost defining event in the life of a character is the fact that “… He had survived, witnessed, walked through a bomb blast.” Or that he had not. And this association with bombs is what carries the narrative right through to its bitter end, leaving us shaken by an intimate encounter with death.



Published on November 11, 2016
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