When I was around ten years old, I watched a report on the possibility of a comet colliding with earth and wiping out all life on the planet on Prannoy Roy's flagship show, 'The World This Week'. Being somewhat more indulgent of my imagination than most people, I was scared to death by the report. That night I insisted on sleeping next to my mom because, of course, that was the foolproof solution to every problem, even a daunting one like the end of the world. For weeks after watching that show, I would scan the night sky for any sign of a comet bombing the world into oblivion. With the passage of time, the terror of the comet also loosened its vice-like grip from my mind, and life went on.
Now, suddenly, I realize that a comet collision sounds like pumpkin pie compared to what people keep doing to each other in this seriously strange world. When bombs go off in a crowded pre-Diwali market in Delhi, when people going about their business are blown to bits in Ahmedadbad, again and again and again, when Jaipur and Guwahati show the geographical spread of the new and efficient method of controlling spiralling populations by simply getting rid of a large chunk of people and when Mumbai's movers and shakers find that their distinguished lives are as much at the mercy of an unknown bullet as are those of the ordinary families trying to catch a train to be home for Eid. A shake of the head, a few pithy comments and condolences, breaking news spattered with blood, strategic thinkers and lobbyists on the news, muttering at dirty politicians trying to extract mileage. Life goes on, and the ones who have been hurt shed a few tears in the process. India is a soft target, Indians have notoriously short memories, and we all wear pretty yellow Post-its on our heads labelling us 'Muslims' and 'Hindus' and 'Jews' and 'Westerners' so that the next gunmen can pick out which ones they want to target next time. These days even the other side wears labels like 'Islamic terror', 'Hindu terror' and terror of other denominations, because maybe they kill people differently from each other. Time isn't really the greatest healer, apathy is. We continue doing our mundane jobs while somewhere another young man is taught that ending our lives arbitrarily is the way to set everything right in his world, to end the cycle of poverty, misery, misunderstanding and ghettoisation that he deals with everyday.
Who are these people who play with us so? Why are they so easy to 'brainwash'? Why are there so many of them willing to kill? How desperate are the lives of those who pick up guns to settle scores with unknown, uncomprehending victims of their rage? When you make people believe that a shortcut exists which will take care of all their problems rightaway instead of telling them that it takes hard work and years of it, to build schools and generate jobs and start businesses, to pave roads and build houses and make women feel a degree of safety on the streets, to give children an unblighted childhood and to make life what it should be, you create a bloodthirsty race of terrorists who are themselves too scared of their own reality and seek quick fixes for everything. Well, wake up and look around. Things won't change because you jump on a boat with a bag full of bullets and dry fruits with frenzied visions of martyrdom in your eyes. Every life that you take is an intricacy of nerve and vein, bone and muscle, complex beyond your imagination, something you cannot even comprehend, let alone give back. And yet, it takes you not a moment to tear it apart. I fervently hope that you live, with the crushing weight of possibility held by each life that you snuffed out so casually. I hope the guilt never leaves you alone, not even for a moment.
I look at the pictures on the screen, showing the very spot where I met A for the first time. I feverishly read every news update, in between assuring the relatives and friends that I'm okay. I wonder if I've been spared this time so that there's fodder left for the next strike. I wonder if I can ever feel safe again, even if I could insist on sleeping next to my mother. I wonder if I'll ever get my voter ID and actually do my bit instead of wondering how people like this keep getting elected. In the meantime, there's always next time, and life goes on.
Update: - Thank you for all the thought you put in your comments, it was a good exercise to read and debate all of your views with myself. However, this particular gem of a comment gets my vote as the final word. It made me crack up so loudly that I was the cynosure of all eyes at work for a while today. Please do read it.