The explosion felt like a wave: the blast wave, the shock wave and the vacuum all mixed together. Our house, at the junction of Queens and Jail Roads, was 1.2 km away from the office of Rescue 15. The neighbours thought a gas cylinder had exploded nearby so they were asking if anybody needed help. Then the mushroom cloud became visible on the blue sky beyond the Salvation Army.
So everybody went home and turned on the TV. The anchorperson was talking about a major explosion but did not know much yet. Then it all trickled in. Two major security-related buildings had been attacked. The radius of broken windows was 4 kilometres. Carnage. Mayhem. And the usual display of post-factum expertise. All live and all banal.
When those institutions which are supposed to save the citizens feel vulnerable, the society has succumbed to what it was trying to avoid: violence without any procedure or due process. Therefore, I needed to remap the familiar city in my mind to create a semblance of security where none existed.
I left the house two hours after the attack and went to the latest ground zero. All the buildings around Rescue 15 had their glass broken. The shutters were forced out of their grooves like broken bones jutting out of torn muscles. The cars in showrooms were covered in dust and plaster that had come off the walls.
All the injured had been moved to nearby hospitals but there were four or five ambulances on standby while the debris was being searched for more survivors.
A throng of photographers, journalists, TV correspondents and cameramen were playing hide and seek with the police which was trying to cordon off the area where the forensic evidence might have been. Both the informers and the informed upon were persistent like a stubborn nightmare, difficult to shake off even after you are awake.
The crater at the latest ground zero was filled with muddy water seeping from the broken WASA pipes and people were busy developing conspiracy theories.
I looked at the damaged police buildings and started thinking. It is not safe to be near the police for different reasons now. Before the so-called war on terror began, it was for the fear of the police that ordinary people avoided them. The police was so corrupt that it was acting like the robbers it was supposed to protect us from. Now the police and the robbers were all at risk because a more sinister player had arrived on the scene.
So I created a map in my head thinking about the places that the terrorists would want to attack that fell on the way from my home to my office.
It went something like this: avoid the Temple Road police station, avoid the Mozang police station, the GOR I and II (how many are there?), avoid the traffic wardens like you always do, avoid government buildings, avoid the Governor House, avoid the Race Course police station, avoid any buildings with fortified walls and barriers and barbed wire, avoid the British Council, avoid the former American Centre now a British visa collection centre, avoid any buildings which function as secret investigation centres, avoid purity, avoid tobacco, avoid immorality, avoid moonshine, avoid coffeehouses, avoid the so-called Westernised elites, avoid the Westerners.
Basically avoid life for the fear of dying. In other words, with this map in my head I was supposed to live but die of cognitive torpor. Is this why all of us got together in 1947 and demanded the birth of a nation where we were all supposed to be free to go to our temples, to our mosques or to any other place of worship. Did we not start with this fundamental principle that we were "all citizens and equal citizens of one State."
Published in The News on Sunday
dated June 21, 2009