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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Picking targets at will

This is the first year we have flies in the house. I was trying to swat three different types of flies this morning. A blue bottle, a house fly and a massive horse fly. Nothing worked. Plastic swat, electric swat, nothing. The flies just flew lazily around and made their sorties picking targets at will. Eerily similar to those faceless people who walk among the innocent and bomb them at will.

India is walking on eggs. Last weekend has been a grisly one with serial bomb blasts in two of the most successful state capitals in the country. Yet we all seem to have got pretty blas̩ over bomb blasts Рin fact sometimes it gets difficult to remember the sequence of blasts in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, the one that blew up Rajiv Gandhi, or the Akshadhan temple. In the marvelous adaptability of the human psyche, we have become inured to terror strikes.

And we have to be seriously grateful to our great leaders for it. There’s security in routine and they follow a standard routine. First shock is expressed; next urgent pleas to stay calm, then they dip their hands into the public exchequer and dole out largesse to those who died, while those who survived living with scars, pain and impediments for life wonder why Death cheated them. Soon after our great leaders fade into the sunset, striking a defiant pose, saying we will not bow down to terrorists.

The police rush to the site, cart the dead off to morgues and the wounded to hospitals, they gather samples for forensics and hope they will not stumble over any unexploded devices. If they do, a bomb disposal squad man comes in, defuses it, focusing only on the job he has to do and trying not to think of the loved ones waiting for him to return home healthy and whole. The bomb disposal squad members do not even have accident insurance, yet they lay their lives on the line to save others. They move aside for leaders of all religions to condemn the terrorists as having no god and no religion. Muslims form their own little procession on cue condemning the incident. And the army is brought out.

Then the media takes over, headed by Barkha Dutt who has begun to show a regrettable Oprah Winfrey-type tendency to get her interviewees to weep into the camera. What follows is boring in the extreme, endless panel discussions on the state of security, absence of any plan, poor intelligence and poor communication. Newspapers are full of human interest stories of those who died and worse, those who survived. We watch the news while having our meals, and read the morning papers with growing boredom.

All this is good because it becomes so fake, it helps us build a powerful shield of indifference to the horrors that are planned by a group of freaks. Indifference is our armour against fear. You cannot be fearful if you are indifferent. So hoping for the best, you go about your daily work, traveling in buses and trains, visit crowded markets and malls, not because you are resilient, but because you have to. If you cower in your home, you and your family will starve and you might as well be dead.

One hopes the terrorists will finally satiate their hunger for the blood of innocents. That is the only time they will stop, because like the flies in my house, they strike at will. You can kill a few, but they keep coming. In a cluttered country like ours there is no way we can stop them, they use cycles, scooters, dustbins, cars, motorcycles loaded with explosives, outside temples, markets, mosques, now hospitals. They blow up trains and buses. Our borders both interstate and national are so porous it is child’s play for the killers and their aides to disappear. This is terrorism without borders. We just don’t have the awareness to foil them, or catch them. Their network is wide and strong with locals helping them attain the Will of the God they invoke before setting out to blow us to smithereens. And even if by some miracle they are caught, human rights activists come swarming in to protect them from harsh police treatment. Their trials carry on for decades; they become martyrs and a brand new set of believers step into their shoes.
In Goa we can take heart though, we have more chance of getting killed or maimed by a vehicle on our roads than being blown up by a cycle bomb.

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