The Association of Small Bombs (5 page)

So now, back in his Manila flat, Yousef—invincible, a genius of terror, perhaps the greatest terrorist who ever lived—cooked a virulent soup of chemicals on the stove. Or no. He was cooking to get rid of the evidence. But as the chemicals vanished, huge clouds of smoke appeared and his comrades and he fled the apartment in fright, leaving behind chemistry books, canisters of fertilizer, passports, wires, Rough Rider condoms.

Yousef escaped to Pakistan but was arrested later in a hotel in Islamabad as he puffed his hair with gel and stuck explosives up the ass of a doll.

A genius of terror. Shockie's heart pounded. He wanted to be like Yousef, the Kashmiri Yousef, but even Yousef, who had shocked America—who had almost toppled a building that seemed to snick heaven like a finger, who had tried to blow up jetliners over the Pacific and kill the Pope—even Yousef was fallible.

Shockie prayed as he attached the wires in the corroded belly of the car. Like so many rich people's cars, it was poorly maintained.

He blew the dust from the machinery with his mouth and inhaled the rich petroleum blackness. He made the other two men stand with him as he risked his face.


The bomb did not explode during assembly. But afterwards he was tired; he had a headache and his arms hurt—more so than when he had violently tugged the scab of the petrol cap from the rump of the Maruti—and he stayed up all night on the bed of the spinsters, his head throbbing and the city mocking him with its million nocturnal honks, wondering: What will it be for? Am I ruining it by not sleeping? Will my nerves be too shot to pull off the blast?


They drove the car to the market the next evening. They were all bathed, and they had all gone to the mosque and prayed—even Shockie, who
found prayer distasteful and feminine. They were in good clothes and disguised with thick spectacles and false mustaches (Meraj wore dark glasses, for contrast). If anyone asked them, they were to say they had come to buy clothes and gifts for their sister's wedding. They'd even brought pictures of a woman in a fake marriage album (not one of Taukir's sisters but a random pinup girl ripped from the walls of a seedy photography studio) to show how they were trying to buy wedding bangles that matched her dupatta.

Shockie, in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, had masturbated to this woman, completing the fantasy that had begun with the dhaba owner's bride.

The market was packed—just as he had hoped. It was a Sunday. Driving carefully through the obstacle course of pedestrians and cyclists and thelas, they entered the central square of Lajpat Nagar Market—if you could call it a square. Encroachment had softened the sides and the corners of the market; there were buildings and shacks on all sides, and a park in the middle with a rusted fence and rubbish collecting on the brown mound where grass had once grown. Shockie was pleased with this choice of venue. He'd visited Lajpat Nagar on his previous trip to Delhi and had decided, with his friend Malik, that it would make an excellent target.

They parked the car in front of Shingar Dupatte, a women's clothing shop.

Afire with nervous tics, they came out of the car. Shockie smoothed his hair, Meraj put on his dark glasses, and Taukir dusted off his tight black jeans.

Quite suddenly, a man appeared before them. “You can't park here,” he said.

“Sir?” said Shockie.

“My son has to park his car here.” The man was the owner of Shingar Dupatte—a short bald fellow with a mustache and a granitic head that appeared to hold every shade of brown.

“And who's your son—the king of Delhi?” Taukir asked.

“Come on, it's OK,” Shockie said.

At first he was appalled that Taukir would risk searing himself into the man's memory with an argument, but later he was grateful: Taukir had behaved as any rude Delhiite would, and besides, they were disguised.

Now, getting back into the car and reversing it, Shockie said, “Next time be quiet.” This was already the worst mission he'd ever been on, he decided; his mind swarmed with images of the police, of torture, of life coming to a sudden end in Delhi. The only way out was to park close enough to Shingar Dupatte so that the nosy, rude proprietor—and his son—were killed. “You guys get out now and I'll park. That guy is going to come after us again and ask us to move.”

They did as he instructed, and Shockie maneuvered the car in front of a framing shop.

Within the shop, he caught sight of oil paintings of mountains—things yellowy and oozy with paint; a golden Ganesh; a Christ on a cross; a Rajasthani village woman. It was like a flashback a man might have as he dies, all the odd significant objects swirling into view over the heads of humming, commercially active humans.

He parked, jumped out, and walked away. He pressed a small jerry-rigged antenna in his hand and activated the timer, set to go off in five minutes. The proprietor of the framing shop looked at him but Shockie smiled and waved back—as if he were a regular customer—and the man, seated fatly behind a counter, one of those counters that have a money drawer, looked confused and then smiled and waved back.


Shockie walked away from the central square. “Don't look; keep moving,” he told the other men as he came across them in an alley. After a while they made it to the main road.

But the market—the market was noisy in its normal way. There was no disruption, no blast, nothing. “Shit,” Shockie said. “But let's wait.”

They threaded their way through the dark alleys, sweating, bad-breathed, anxious, melting in the heat. “It must be the cylinder,” Shockie said finally, realizing the bomb had not gone off. “Let me go back and get it,” he said. “Something must have gone wrong.” He was ashamed. The eyes of his comrades were on him. Failure was failure—explanations solved nothing. His bravado had been for naught.

“We'll come,” Meraj said.

“You should have helped when it was needed,” Shockie said. “Now what's the point?”

“What if it goes off when you get in?” asked Taukir.

“Then do me a favor and say I martyred myself purposely.”


The car was still there when he went back. For effect, he entered the framing shop. “How are you?” he said, bringing together his palms for the proprietor.

“Good, good. Business is fine—what else can one want?”

The proprietor was fair and doggish, with worry lines contorting his forehead. He had a serious look on his face, as if being surrounded by so many frames had made him conscious of being framed himself, of being watched.

Shockie went back to the car. As he turned the ignition, there were tears in his eyes. Instinctively preparing himself, he put a palm over his dick.

So this was how it would end. Pulling the gears, he backed out of the spot.


“I know what went wrong,” Shockie said, when they were back in Taukir's house.

“What?” said Taukir, now feeling much closer to Shockie.

Shockie pointed to the yellow wires that he'd clipped from the contraption in the bonnet, picking them up in a loop the way one may pick up a punished animal by the ears. They had frayed in the heat.

“Let's just go tomorrow and try again,” Meraj said irritably. He just wished the mission to be over.

“We can't,” Taukir said. “The market is closed on Mondays. But Tuesday is a big day because it's the day after it's closed.”

“We better send a message back to base,” Meraj said sleepily. “The election is in four days.” The bomb in Delhi was meant to be a signal to the central government about the elections they were organizing in Kashmir.

“Tell them that it was a wiring problem,” Shockie replied. “They'll understand.”

But Shockie was chastened. They were all chastened and disappointed with each other. Like men who have failed together, they wanted nothing more than to never see each other again.


On Tuesday, Shockie went alone to the market. But there was no pleasure in it. It was all anticlimax. And he could see the faces of the framing shop owner and the owner of Shingar Dupatte, how they would react when the bomb went off; and he felt sad, the way one always did when one knew the victims even a little.


fter the blast, Shockie returned to Kathmandu, retracing his steps, reading the news whenever he could.

Times of India
featured a picture of a blasted stray dog.

When Shockie got back to the base in Nayabazar—he had separated from Taukir and Meraj, who had gone elsewhere, into hiding—he was surprised to find himself embraced as a hero. “You killed two hundred,” Masood said. “God bless you.”

“It was more like fifty,” Shockie said, immediately disgusted by his own lie. He tended to believe the Indian papers on this subject. They had no incentive to play down the horrors.

“Our reports say a hundred at a minimum,” Masood said.

Shockie did not say anything further.

It was only when he went out for a walk later with his friend Malik that he burst out, “I'm thinking of defecting.”

“Tell me why,” Malik said, exhaling deeply.

Once Shockie started, he couldn't stop. He felt the leadership of the group was corrupt and in denial, prone to inflating figures to get more funding; that they were siphoning money to build big houses for themselves and sending their children abroad but not providing even the minimum for blasts in Delhi—why else had only thirteen died?—that they were ideologically weak, not realizing that one big blast achieved much more, in terms of influencing policy, than hundreds of small ones; that one of the militant leader's sons was studying in England—granted, Ramzi Yousef had also
studied in Swansea, Wales, but then he was from a rich Kuwaiti-Baluchi family.
 . . .

But mostly Shockie felt there was no innovation when it came to bombs.

“You just have a habit of complaining,” Malik said.

“That's not true.”

“It's true, yaar. Even if the blast had been huge, you would have complained. Now, what do you want? That the whole country fall to its knees? This isn't America, bhai. There the people are rich and they wait excitedly for tragedy. You set off a small pataka and they cry.” Malik hadn't been to the U.S., but he was a big reader, and this fluent authority brought tears of satisfaction to his eyes. “Whereas a city like Delhi—what can you do?”

“We could try Parliament, like I told Abdul.”

“Leave the Parliament. There's too much security.”

“What about Teen Murti or IIC? FICCI. World Trade Center. Oberoi.”

“You are not getting my point,” Malik said, shaking his head. “Delhi is a Muslim city, with a Muslim history and Muslim monuments. If you want to shake people, you have to attack Muslim targets. It makes our decision to attack harder. And when you look at the new construction, it's all Punjabi and awful. No one cares if it falls.” Happy with this irony, he smiled broadly.

“Whatever it is, there should have been more damage,” Shockie said. “I looked at it after I left. I shouldn't have done that—it was dangerous—but the bomb only made a
sound and I thought better to look than waste a month of work. Nothing happened, yaar. A few buildings fell. A few people were burning.” He looked at his friend, trying to gauge his response to this violent reenactment. “My personal philosophy is, if we're fighting a war, we should try to kill people, not injure them. You've seen what injury does.” Malik had a limp from being severely beaten by the military years ago. It was a turning point for their friendship and their involvement with the conflict. Shockie had knifed a soldier on Malik's behalf. From that time on they had been inseparable, tied to each other even if they didn't quite want to be. Their relationship, really, was a kind of marriage, held in place by a massive history. “How is your foot?” Shockie asked.

“Fine, fine,” Malik said. “Pain is all in the mind.” Talking about his foot put him in a bad mood and he changed the subject. “Were you able to go to Sagar?”

Sagar was their favorite restaurant in Delhi.

“Not this time.”

Now they walked in happy silence, Shockie contemplating Malik's injury and their joint past, Malik contemplating the road, the hills, the twisting smoke fires. He was a bright person with a wonderful eye for detail; the limp had slowed him down, but it had also slowed the world around him. He missed nothing and he remembered everything; when he closed his eyes he could re-create a landscape down to the smallest leaf.

This was how he calmed himself through moments of pain. He painted too—it was a good way to make use of his photographic memory.

The two men arrived at a valley packed with boulders of many sizes and a clear mountain stream and they stripped down to their underwear and swam. Malik felt the water against his penis, which had been burned and electrocuted during the torture. Sometimes he felt swimming in natural streams, with their rich purse of minerals, might solve his problems. Shockie, broad and muscled, made unnecessary strokes in the water next to him.

After they were done, they rested on flat rocks and let their bodies roast in the sun. They held hands like lovers, though there was nothing sexual about this.

How could it be that only four days ago I was in Delhi planting a bomb? Shockie wondered. And now I'm here? The birds overhead were fervent in their high-pitched complaints. A surge of brightness passed over him. He hugged Malik and briefly fell asleep.


After this excursion, Shockie went to visit Abdul, the leader of the group.

Abdul was a schoolteacher; when Shockie entered the classroom in the half-caved-in house that served as a school, Abdul was teaching the Sanskrit poet K
sa to a group of rapt ten-year-old girls sitting on the floor with plaited hair and black shoes and gray uniforms, hunched over notebooks. Water leaked from the ceiling to a spot between two girls but they
didn't seem to notice. Abdul's hand moved up and down the blackboard and his mouth made mechanical sounds. Set among the schoolgirls, he seemed even taller and bonier than usual, his cheekbones jutting from his face and his fingers fragile and long, an unnecessary shawl around his shoulders. When he saw Shockie, he smiled a weak smile, cut off his lecturing abruptly, and without saying anything to the girls, went to embrace him.

Shockie allowed a half smile as the man's arms went around him. He knew the eyes of twenty girls were on him.

“Welcome back,” Abdul said, straightening up and thumping his shoulders. “I was worried about you. When did you arrive?”

“Just yesterday,” Shockie said. “Should we go outside?”

“Of course, of course.”

As they walked to the carpet shop (another of Abdul's businesses), Shockie crossed a puddle and was reminded of the deep lilac pool of mountain water from the morning.

The bomb—all bombs—seemed far away.

In back of the carpet shop, Shockie talked about the operation in Delhi. “You need to give us more funds,” he said. “When I first made the chocolate, no one would eat it. I tried feeding it on the nineteenth, but the shopkeepers refused. I had to take it back and bake it again. Then only it went off on the twenty-first,” he said, breaking code without realizing it. “Everything OK?” he asked, with irritation. “You look distracted.”

“Yes, yes, but I have good news.”

“What?” Shockie said, mildly irritated by the inattention.

“You are going to meet the leader of the Hubli Faction.”

The Hubli Faction was a terrorist group based in South India. For years, the members of the JKIF had been trying to extend their links to other terrorist outfits, but without success; Shockie, who had joined the group when he was twenty, and was now twenty-six, had been a chief proponent of this networking. Still, he tried to not show too much enthusiasm. “First listen to me,” Shockie said. Speaking slowly, he finished his story about the chocolate in Delhi, sprinkling it with unnecessary details. Eventually, though, he said, “Tell me about the Hubli Faction.”

Abdul now gave a confusing story about how he had dealt with several middlemen to finally get in touch with an agent who was running a training camp in the forests near Hubli.

Shockie's mind was elsewhere. He was looking at the objects in this back room: rolled-up carpets, old plastic chairs, buckets. What was he doing here? Were they cracked to have such delusions of grandeur, to think they could shake up India from a carpet shop? And now they were going to meet the Hubli Faction? “When do you want me to go?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” Abdul said.

Shockie fell silent.

“What?” Abdul asked.

“Can Malik come with me?”

Abdul laughed. “You're being serious?”


Abdul laughed again and shook his head.


Malik had a reputation as something of a thinker in the group. This wasn't a positive appellation: he was regularly derided by the others as being effeminate, confused, contradictory, ineffectual, and eccentric. He offered the most fantastic ideas at group meetings at the back of the carpet shop. “We should write letters to the victims and families of victims of attacks,” he'd said once. “After all, what these victims go through is similar to what we all have gone through as Kashmiris. Something bad happens to them, they expect the government to help them and instead the government ignores them. Yesterday I was reading in the
Hindustan Times
that most blast victims don't get compensation for two or three years. I'm telling you, all these people—eventually they turn not against us but against the government. If you want a true Islamic revolution in this country—not just fighting selfishly for our small aims—then we need to win over these people, show our solidarity with them, tell them that our hands were tied, we were only trying to expose to them the callousness of the people they have chosen to elect.” There were tears in his eyes, as usual, from his own eloquence. “Only then can we depose the central government.”

“Anything else, Malik?”

“Yes,” he'd say, continuing, everyone watching with bemused expressions and grinning quite openly at each other.

Malik did not appear to notice. But Shockie always felt a little bad for his friend. “You aren't appreciated here,” he often said. “You should have been a professor.”

“But I can contribute much more as a writer here.” Malik was the publisher and propagandist in the group and very proud of it.

Poor innocent Malik! Shockie thought. What could he contribute? He was only tolerated because Shockie was his protector and benefactor and Shockie was the top bomb maker in the group. And yet Shockie loved him. Being in the group meant eschewing relationships with women and this was the closest Shockie could come to re-creating the tenderness one felt toward a woman. They were roommates and Shockie often asked what Malik was reading. Gandhi, he might say. Or Tolstoy. Or Pushkin. What does he make of himself? Shockie wondered. Does he really have no idea how pathetic he is? But Malik appeared innocent about his own oddness. Perhaps the injury to his leg and penis had made him a little blind, had given him the aspect of a holy fool, as if that were the only way to deal with the horror that had been inflicted upon him—Shockie had seen this with other cripples, too: a strange light, maybe the light of death, bleeding around the edges of their dull corneas.


After his meeting with Abdul, Shockie went to his room. When he came in, Malik was praying on a mat laid out between the two charpais. He was a religious person—religion, Shockie thought, that crutch of the weak.

When he was done praying, Malik sat at the edge of the bed, and Shockie told him about the meeting with Abdul. Malik listened with his hands tight around a copy of Gandhi's
, nodding at odd moments.

“You're listening?” Shockie asked. Why were people never listening to him?

“Yes, yes.”

“Do you want to come?”

“What will I do, bhai? You know how these people treat me.”

“This is an opportunity to change that,” Shockie said. “You'll get a little practice. Otherwise our missions are too dangerous for a first-timer. But you don't have to. You can keep letting these people call you a coward.”

“It's not that I'm afraid,” Malik said. “I think I can be more useful here.” He tipped his head toward a cyclostyle machine and some letter-block printing paraphernalia in the corner of the room. As the “publisher” and “propagandist” he churned out pamphlets, posters, manifestos, and warnings against civilians and army officers to be posted on the walls of village houses and GPOs and thanas, all of them written in an overblown apocalyptic style that Abdul said gave him a headache, and that Shockie, as Malik's guardian, always edited.

“Suit yourself,” Shockie said.

But he was sad.

That night he stayed up thinking of his mother and imagining a series of girls he had been infatuated with in his village. Where were they now? Was that horrible ox of a weaver really fucking Faiza? (This did not stop him from picturing the act; he liked imagining the private lives of others.) Was Sahar really a mother of two, putting oil on her round stomach? And what about Asma . . . ? In this way, he began to fall asleep. But right when sleep was coming, he got up and said, “You're lazy.”

Malik, curled on his charpai, his back against the wall, reading, his toes visible and dirty, said, “What?”

“You should come with me. You have no idea how disrespected you are in the group. They mock you openly. When I told Abdul I wanted to bring you, he laughed and forbade me from doing it.”

Malik said nothing.

“When you were talking about Gandhi the other day, they were all laughing. I even tried to signal to you but you were so lost in your conversation. You need to do something. Your position in the group is insecure. If something happens to me, what will you do? That's why I want you to come with me. That way we can be together if something happens.”

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