By Dhruv Arora:
It was the evening of 13th September, 2008, and the television set at the mobile repair shop in Connaught Place informed me about a bomb blast that had just happened in Ghaffar Market. I knew my parents would’ve been worried, since I had mentioned I was going to get my phone repaired from CP, and was sure that they would’ve been worried about whether I ended up going to Ghaffar instead.
I popped my SIM card back into my phone as I walked out of Palika Bazaar towards central park to find an auto back home, which is when it happened. People often talk about how time seems to slow down in certain moments, but it always sounds like one of those exaggerated descriptions to talk about moments that words otherwise don’t do justice to, but I can tell you that everything around me slowed down to a crawl. Right in front of me, originating in Central Park, there was another deafening sound; and I realized I was looking at another explosion.
I’m not sure how long I was standing there looking, or what happened to me, all I know is that people were screaming and everyone was running around me. I remember frozen firmly in my spot for what I think was about five minutes, trying to let the realisation of what had just transpired sink in. The memories are blurry now, all I remember is complete blankness for the hours that followed. I wasn’t sure when I reached home. I found out later that a few other places in Delhi had been bombed as well.
For the next few days, I didn’t think or speak about what happened, and neither did my parents. Perhaps my mind wasn’t ready to deal with what it saw, or perhaps I was just not sure of what to think. About a week later, I heard on TV that one of the conspirators had been killed in an encounter and two others were arrested, in addition to the two who were arrested from Connaught Place. This was the last time I remember thinking about the blast at the time. It wasn’t because I didn’t care anymore, quite the contrary, I did not want to carry with me the burden of witnessing the sight of people crying in fear and pain. I wasn’t sure of how I felt about the people who decided to bomb these places, or why they wanted to cause pain to people they didn’t even know.
So, I didn’t bring it up, and a couple of months later, the news channels were talking about a shooting that was taking place in Mumbai. I had no choice but to remember, I had no choice but to watch as another group of people opened fire on hundreds and thousands of innocent people.
I just didn’t get it.
The live-broadcast of the massacre left a scar on the entire country, and there was justifiable contempt in the eyes of the nation. I remember distinctly looking at the interrogation sequences of Ajmal Kasab and hearing him talk about how the entire operation came to be, and it suddenly hit me how “normal” he seemed. I had always imagined “terrorists” to be inherently bad people, those who would be unhappy and look outraged. One of the witnesses spoke about how Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan looked calm, and even happy. This memory is one that has stayed with me since.
How does one derive pleasure from seeing other people die?
Ajmal Kasab was hanged to death later that year on the 21st of November, and the nation erupted in celebration. It was very unsettling for me, because suddenly, here was an answer to my own question staring back at me – revenge. Perhaps it was the same reason that brought these people to Mumbai. Perhaps it was the same reason why Delhi was bombed. Perhaps it is a circle, and we are a part of it. But then, how does it end?
I do not know the answer to this question, nor do I know of loss the same way that a few people who lost their loved ones in these attacks would. I do know one thing, however, that the way our judicial systems are structured, and the way we look at punishment, we are as much a part of the cycle as we would like to put an end to it.
I would love to forget this day completely, but in some way, the experience of witnessing the happenings of 13th September ’08 have played a big role in shaping the person I have come to be. All of this left me with a few questions to which I do not know the answer – is punishment really the same as reform? We killed Kasab that day, but did we kill the reason why there was a Kasab, or the circumstances that shaped him? Or was the death of Ajmal Kasab simply a celebration of revenge, an act of pacifying public outrage? I don’t know if there will be such a day, but the one execution that I look forward to over the course of my life is that of the circumstances that produce the kind of unadulterated hatred and contempt towards other human beings, that perhaps result in such acts of terror.