Read The Association of Small Bombs Online
Authors: Karan Mahajan
The train from Gorakhpur to Delhi could take anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours, depending on the mood of the driver, the state of the tracks, accidents, and random occurrences. Meraj and Shockie settled into a third-class non-A/C sleeper compartment. Shockie was in a tired, despairing
mood. He always got this way before action. It was like an advance mourning for his life. The vibrating bunks, stacked three to a wall; the mournful synthetic covers of the bunks, torn in places and looking smashed, with the webbed look of smashed things; the racing wheels underneath, like ladders of vertebrae being whipped; the sense of abject stinking wetness surrounding a train's journey through the universeâall these things filled Shockie with futility. The bogey was a jail cell ferrying him to a destiny he did not desire, his jaw on edge like the stiff end of his mother's iron.
Bougainvillea bloomed insanely here and there in the landscape.
Meraj kept waking up and falling asleep on the bunk across (they both had top bunks) and Shockie considered him with pity, surprise, even tenderness: people were closest to animals when they were sleeping and fighting for wakefulness. Or dying and fighting for life. What is Meraj dreaming about? he wondered. Probably the same thing as meâhis own deathâonly through the obfuscating membrane of sleep. Meraj had been pulled out of a chemist's and beaten and tortured by the Jammu and Kashmir Police a few years before.
At desolate stations in the depths of the subcontinent, Shockie got out and smoked, observing the blight of mildew on the walls, kicking away the twisted, disabled beggars who crowded around his feet cawing about their Hindu gods.
At the Old Delhi Railway Station, twenty hours after they had set out from Gorakhpur, an agent met them. The agent was a tall, hippy, pimply, nervous fellow in tight black new jeans. Shockie disliked him immediately. He had the slick, proprietary attitude that small men from big cities sometimes bring toward big men from small cities. He lorded everything over them. He didn't help them with their cricket kit bags. He asked them if they had ever been to Delhi before.
“Yes, hero,” Shockie said, setting his emotional lips in a smirk.
“Let's go in different directions and meet at the car. It's parked behind,” the agent, whose name was Taukir, said.
“Why do you want to do that?” Shockie said.
“You never know about the police these days.”
“No,” Shockie said. “What's safer is that we go together.”
The key to not being caught, Shockie knew, was to behave confidently.
They walked through the annihilating crowds to the car. From the high steel roofs of the station, birds raced down, avoiding a jungle gym of rafters and rods. People pressed and pushed as the trains hurtled through their routes of shit and piss, plastic and rubber burning weirdly in the background, spicing the air. The station was so bloated with people that the loss of a few would hardly be tragic or even important.
When a Sikh auntie leading a coolie into a maroon train jostled Shockie, Shockie shouted, “Hey!”
“Move!” the woman shrieked at him.
“You move, you witch.”
And with that, she was gone, swallowed up by the dark maw of the train.
Invigorated, he lit a cigarette, broadening his shoulders as he brought the light to the Gold Flake hanging from his lips. He had always enjoyed the rudeness of Delhi.
A few minutes later, in Taukir's Maruti 800, Shockie gripped the plastic handrest above the window and looked out. Delhiâbaked in exquisite concrete shapesârose, cracked, spread out. It made no senseâthe endlessness, the expanse. In Kashmir, no matter how confusing a town was, you could always shrink it down to size by looking at it from a hill. Delhiâflat, burning, mixed-up, smashed together from pieces of tin and tarpaulin, spreading on the arid plains of the Northâoffered no respite from itself. Delhi never ended. The houses along the road were like that too: jammed together, the balconies cramped with cycles, boxes, brooms, pots, clotheslines, buckets, the city minutely re-creating itself down to the smallest cell. From one balcony a boy with a runny nose waved to another. A woman with big haunches sat astride a stool next to a parked scooter; she was peeling onions into a steel plate and laughing. Before municipal walls painted with pictures of weapon-toting godsâmeant to keep men from urinatingâmen urinated. Delhi. Fuck. I love it too.
Taukir lived with two spinsterish sisters and a mother whose eyes were dreamy with cataracts. The ladies served a hot lunch of watery daal and tinda and ghia, but Shockie was so excited he could barely eat. “No, no, bas,” he said, whenever the younger of the sisters, not unattractive, gave him a phulka. The man and his house seemed very modern, with many cheap clocks adorning the walls; you had a sense that whatever money the family had earned had been spent on clothes. “When can we go to buy the materials for the chocolate?” Shockie asked Taukir.
Shockie wasn't sure how much the sisters knew; he felt proud and confident nevertheless, puffed up like the phulka he set about tearing on his steel plate.
Taukir provided several ideas for where they could go.
“Chawri Bazaar is better than all those,” Shockie said.
After wiping his mouth with a towel, he signaled to Meraj and they went out to buy materials.
A car bomb is made by putting together a 9V battery, an LPG cylinder, a clock, a transformer, a mining detonator, and four meters of wireâred and yellow, to distinguish circuits. The cylinder is then put in the dicky while the wiring and the timer are packed in the bonnet.
The clock was easy to buyâthey got it from a shop in Chandni Chowk, the Red Fort a merciless mirage in the distance. The 9V battery they acquired from an electrician's shop in Jangpura, where an old Punjabi man sat among sooty tables taking paternal pride in every piece of equipment. Shockie understood the fellow. He himself took a certain sensual, even feminine, pleasure in shopping for materials for a bomb; he might have been a man out to buy wedding fixtures for his beloved sister. But he had to keep his instinct for haggling and jolliness to a minimum. You had to make as little an impression as possible, and it was crucial to get material of the highest possible quality for the lowest possible price. You did not want your bomb to go
when the day cameâsomething that happened all the time, even to the best bomb makers. It had certainly happened to Shockie. One of his bombs had fizzled and let out a small burp of fire. This
was in a market in Jaipur. He ran away before being caught, but two of his fingers were burned and had to be chopped off at the ends. He lost some feeling in his hand too, but it was for the best. It marked him as serious. When bomb makers met each other, they inevitably looked at each other's hands.
Taukir came along with them on these excursions, looking alternately keen-eyed and lanky and then despondent and distracted, one arm looped behind his back and clutching the other hand in that lackadaisical, half-stand-at-ease, half-chastised posture that is the hallmark of bored people at rest.
They shopped in a conspicuous group of three because the Indian police often prosecuted terrorists on circumstantial evidence, trying to damn them with statements like, “Why was he shopping alone with a shawl pulled over his face?” Thus, the revolutionaries reasoned, if you had three people carrying out a task meant for one, you defeated the police's logic with your illogic.
After two days of shopping in different parts of Delhi and arranging the materials on the floor of a room in Taukir's houseâa room that obviously belonged to the sisters and mother, who had been sent away to the village the day after Shockie and Meraj arrivedâShockie said, “Now, let's see the car. It's still parked outside?”
Taukir let out a noncommittal sound.
“You've parked it somewhere else?” Shockie repeated, getting up from his chair and smoothing his curly hair, an unnatural motion for a man who liked the puffs and curls of his plumage.
“Ji, sir, that's my car,” Taukir said, finding his voice.
“And where's the car for us?” Shockie said.
“Well, we have to steal it.”
“I see,” Shockie said. “Let me go steal it now.”
Before Taukir could react, Shockie was up and heading outside the house. He came across Taukir's 800, the one in which they'd been driven from the station. Like every other vehicle in Delhi, it was a dented and dirt-spattered specimen, ruined as an old tooth.
As if conducting an examination, Shockie put his fist through the front window. The window came away, the crystalline fracture smeared with blood from his hairy arm.
“No!” Taukir screamed, coming outside. “What are you doing, sir?”
But Shockie said nothing, simply walking away, drops of blood falling on the earth.
The May heat was horrifying, violating the privacy of all things while also forcing you into yourself. Shockie closed his eyes against the ferocious prehistoric explosions of the sun. As he looked for a PCO from which to call headquarters and abort the missionâhe had tied up his minor wound with a hankieâhe cursed under his breath.
They fucking want freedom but this fucking cheapness will never go away
When Shockie had headed out for the mission from Kathmandu, he had been reassured that he would
need to steal a carâhe had fumbled this crime before, and besides, he disliked all aspects of the job that made him feel like a common criminal.
Packets of gutka dangled in front of a shop like strings on a bride's veil. Within the shop, the shopkeeper fished out items from the shelves with a pole. Shockie was about to ask the man if he knew where he could find a PCO when his eyes fell on another Maruti 800, parked on the side of the roadâan ugly little blue thing with maroon fittings, tinted windows, and colorful plastic floral designs taped to the top of the windscreen.
The street was dense with scooters and bicyclists.
In a matter of seconds, Shockie bounded up to the car, hugged himself against the onslaught of vehicles and people, and then, in a swift motion that would have shocked anyone watching this avuncular fair fellow from a distance, put his hands on the petrol cap, stuck a blade under the metal, heaved with all his might, and ripped it off.
Every muscle in his left handâhis stronger hand, after that debacle in Jaipurâwas afire. Carrying the petrol cap in his hand, making heavy strides in the traffic, he walked to Taukir's house.
Back at the house, Meraj and Taukir were playing cards on a sofa in sulky silence, light filtering dustily through the old Punjabi-style grilles of the house. The sofa had been put together by joining two metal trunks and covering it with a dhurrie.
“While you were sitting, I've done the job,” Shockie said, coming in. He handed them the petrol cap.
“Was the car close by?” Meraj asked, turning it over.
Taukir looked away.
“Give me some water and go get a key made,” Shockie instructed them.
While Taukir and Meraj had the key made at a shop (this was a flaw in the 800's design; the key used to open the petrol cap could also be used to start the car), Shockie feasted at a local dhaba and admired the women at the tables with their gluttonous husbands.
He wanted to ram his penis into their wives. He imagined pinning the dhaba owner's wife on a table and ripping off her kurta. Soon after, he went up to her and asked for another paratha. “Just one?” she said. She wore a nose ring and was obviously recently married.
“Yes, madam,” he said, with the exceeding politeness of a man who has just imagined raping you.
Meraj and Taukir returned with a new key.
But in the morning, when the three men walked down the alleys to the spot where Shockie had found the blue Maruti, it was gone.
“Bhainchod,” Shockie said. “I thought it belonged to that shopkeeper. It must be in the lane behind this one.”
But after looking for a few hours, searching the neighborhood in an auto, they had still found nothing.
So now, their mental scores settled, they did what they would have normally doneâwent to Nizamuddin, a rich neighborhood; found a shabby car orphaned outside a fancy house; stole the petrol cap; had the key made (at a different shop) and returned the next day and drove it away.
In an alley near Taukir's house, they removed the license plates from the stolen car, packed wires in the bonnet, and put the LPG cylinder in the back. Like a person sprinkling petals on a bed, Shockie grimly filled the dicky with nails and ball bearings and scrap. He rued the lack of ammonium nitrateâit would have been good to visit the agro fair and buy a sack. Fertilizer was more explosive than natural gas.
This part of the operation was the most dangerousâscarier than running amok in Delhi with the police possibly at your back. Bomb makers, like most people, are undone not by others but by themselves. Shockie knew countless stories of bomb makers who had lost eyes, limbs, hands, dicks to premature explosions; knew operatives who'd succeeded in blackening and burning their faces so that the skin peeled off for months and ran down their backs in rivulets and they looked like hideous ghouls, unable to do the anonymous work of revolution without exciting the pitying, curious stares of onlookersâthe same looks you hoped to elicit for the craters you left behind.
Even the greats were not immune to this curse of bomb makers, Shockie knew. Take Ramzi Yousef. He flew to New York in 1993 without a visa, snuck into the country after being let go from an immigration prison in Queens (it was overcrowded), and then, after setting off practice fertilizer bombs in the New Jersey countryside, hired a man at a local mosque to drive a rented van packed with explosives into the basement of the World Trade Center.
The night the bomb went off, buckling but not capsizing the first tower, injuring thousands but killing only three, Yousef flew first class on Pakistan International Airlines over the plumes of his explosion. All good. But then he got to Pakistan and tried to assassinate Benazir Bhutto and ended up in the hospital with burns (the pipe bomb he'd been preparing exploded in his face as he tried to clean the lead azide in the pipe). The police suspected him and he had to run away. A year or two later, he found himself in Manila. His plan was now to assassinate the Pope, who was visiting, and Bill Clinton, who was coming to one-up the Pope. His comrades and he had robes and crosses with which to Christianize themselves. On a plane from Manila to Tokyo, testing out a new device, he attached a tiny explosive fashioned from a Casio Databank watch under his seat. When he got off at
Seoul's airport, the stopover, a Japanese businessman took his place. In midair, en route from Seoul to Tokyo, the seat exploded, painting the inner ribs of the aircraft with the guts of the businessman. The plane, weaving wildly through the air like a gutless firework rocket, did not crash.