An explosive tale

An explosive tale

An explosive tale

The Association Of Small Bombs
Karan Mahajan
Harper Collins
2016, pp 276, Rs 499

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet (1,4.) This is the memorable line spoken by Marcellus to Hamlet in anguish. Horatio applies a balm by saying, “Heaven will direct it.” Karan Mahajan’s realistic fiction explores the tragedy of today. It is not only Twin Towers in USA or Hotel Taj in South Mumbai, or Le Jardin restaurant in France, or Peshawar School, where 132 boys were killed, for this kolaveri goes on daily. Obviously, misguided or ‘well-guided’ persons handle bombs as if they are preparing goo-balls with peanut butter and honey, and in the process not only kill innocence, but maim minds forever.

Karan Mahajan has chosen this horrendous scenario for his second novel. He cannot be blamed if he wants to make a statement and at the same time sell. After all, literature thrives on life. Time was when poets could write odes to Grecian urns and evenings and nightingales. But now, the writer has to call out for themes of actual action on the stage if he aims at a prize or immortality.

The two world wars fed a Kurt Vonnegut Jr (Slaughterhouse-Five), an Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls) and a Joseph Heller (Catch-22). These days, terrorism comes with a million varieties. So, authors like John Updike and Khaled Hosseini have dipped in to take a spoonful to create memorable fiction. Karan Mahajan comes nearer home for us and makes do with a bombing in the busy Lajpat Nagar in Delhi. Among the dead are two Hindu boys; their friend Mansoor survives.

From now on, Karan has many angles to provide psychic interest for physical happenings, as when the grieving Khurana couple become parents of a girl child, one year after the deaths of Varun and Nakul. For the father this is no renaissance, as he sees visions. The grief of a fond parent who thought the world of his two healthy sons has necessarily to jump across births in search of a cause, so typical of the Hindu psyche of self-flagellation, courtesy Karma Theory. Blame yourself. This must be the result of a sin committed in the births past: “Was I Hitler in my past life? Did I massacre a million people and forget? Was I Stalin, General Dyer, Cortés, or Ashoka before his conversion? He looked into the mirror and saw his unshaven mouth and upper lip and felt deeply crazy, cracked.”

So much for the victims’ side. As for the killers, Karan tries to pilot the boat of terrorism away from religious fanaticism and finds the reason in victimisation — real or imagined — in the past. To have been the privileged rulers of this vast land and now reduced to being just ordinary citizens going through the everyday travails of all the Indians can be somewhat disorienting. There is plenty of Modi-bashing and quite a few of those ‘willing-to-wound-but-afraid-to-strike’ steps.

With the rich Hindu girl Tara getting involved with Ayub and Mansoor, we are all set for the expected. But Tara is tired of Ayub’s “delusions of grandeur,” and gets ready to go abroad for academics. Ayub is furious, feels helpless, and takes recourse to self-pity: “What was Tara but a lost monkey from a powerful family of monkeys, who’d fallen down from her tree and randomly played with a poor monkey far from its own family? No, there was nothing to do but feel sad... She had been pulled back into the thicket of her family.”

Tara is out of the novel, and we move forward as if travelling in a tumbril towards the guillotine. Ayub with the activists of terror. Ayub the chosen. No more for him the Peace for All association, “with toothy, smiling members with adolescent moustaches from Jamia and JNU meeting in Baristas and Café Coffee Days scattered all over the city.” And religion is not jettisoned either, certainly not by the terrorists. “Then they put their heads down and prayed.”

It seems naïve to argue that terrorism carried on always by misguided youth who nurse some insult or injury they have suffered in the past. Actually, it’s the devilish ecstasy of killing introduced by Hitler long ago. Once a tiger turns into a man-eater, there is no stopping the cat. This is clearly articulated by Tauqueer’s irrational logic: “Better to kill generously rather than stingily.”

So the tumbril moves on noisily and we end up at Sarojini Nagar blast: “The bomb had killed only fifteen.” Only! That one word contains the theme of The Association of Small Bombs. And so, Malik-Shockie-Ayub betrayals seem to be the only hope for the return of peace to humanity.

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