“…they’d realized they were far from the only people searching for a relative in the market: half of Delhi seemed to be out in this dung of destruction, though, in the end, the death toll would be only thirteen dead with thirty injured–a small bomb. A typical bomb. A bomb of small consequences.”
“That is an interesting title,” said my husband looking at the latest book on top of my TBR plie; one that I’d picked up from the library recently.
“It is,” I agreed,”But why do you think so?”
“Because there are no small bombs. The idea doesn’t make sense.”
That book, obviously, is the association of small bombs by Karan Mahajan. Talk of this book (mostly good) seemed to find me everywhere online, and I was tempted enough to get a copy from my library. Reading it has convinced me that the book deserves all the praise it has been getting.
The events in the novel are sandwiched between two bomb explosions, both in crowded Delhi markets. The first blast, in 1996, takes the life of the Khurana boys–Tushar and Nakul, and leaves their friend, Mansoor injured (physically and mentally). From here, the novel splits into three streams. The first follows Mansoor, through his childhood marred by phobia and an injured wrist, his brief stint in an US university, his return to India and friendship with Ayub. The second follows the Khurana couple–Vikas and Deepa, devastated by the loss of their boys. It describes their efforts at coping, attempting to move forward while staying firmly stuck in the past. The third stream follows the terrorist responsible for the bombing, Shockie. All these streams converge with Ayub, and culminate in the second bombing in 2003.
It is needless to say at this point that this book deals with terrorism and its after effects and therefore it comes with a bunch of trigger warnings. A brief search on goodreads reveals certain quotes, about 9/11, for instance that some readers may find deeply disturbing, or distasteful at the very least. However, it is a peek inside the mind of a terrorist, and it would be surprising if it did not leave one feeling disgusted.
There is a knee jerk reaction to Mahajan’s attempt to humanize the terrorists. We would rather see them as monsters and not care to see the world as they see it. However, Mahajan manages to humanize without justifying. He lays bare the destruction that they wreak, and lays the responsibility on their shoulders, but also shows the sort of misguided thinking that leads to such chaos.
It is not by any stretch of imagination a comfortable read –that is not the purpose of this book.
It is however an exploration of the far reaching effects of even so called “small” acts of terror. Where the world is quick to condemn terror attacks in New York or Paris or Brussels, it remains silent on some other bombings, outside the US or Europe. the association of small bombs is a story of these bombings. I say a story and not the story, because as it becomes clear, there is never one story behind an act of terror. The reasons, the people and the consequences may be different. The only constancy is the moment everything goes to pieces.
Mahajan’s writing is evocative and visceral, and his characters almost flesh and blood. He sets up scenes that are all too familiar–for example the discussion the relatives at the boys’ funeral have about Muslims, could have been lifted from any one of many conversations I have found myself overhearing. The absolute conviction of the characters in their prejudiced and stereotypical opinions, is so real, that on the pages it becomes a sort of black humour.
There isn’t as much discussion of religion in the book as I expected, and this is genius as it offers a narrative about terror that is different from the one we have been led to expect. What little discussion is there, offers a refection rather than an explanation.
For someone looking for a diverse book–an unfamiliar voice, in an unfamiliar setting, the association of small bombs is a must read. It is a disturbing but thought provoking read, that must be approached with an open mind.
I borrowed this book from my local library and chose to review it without any request for the same on the part of the publisher/author.
Author Bio: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/305935/karan-mahajan