In the wake of a horrific act of terrorism, it’s all too easy to write off those responsible as inhuman monsters. In The Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan challenges us to dig deeper and see that they are human, to understand the chain of events that might transform someone into a perpetrator of an unspeakable crime, and to consider all who are affected by these tragedies.
We begin with a bombing of a Delhi marketplace in 1996. Two young boys, Tushar and Nakul, are among the dead, but their friend Mansoor miraculously survives.
When those of us in the Western world hear about incidents like this in countries like India—small acts of terrorism that occur with great frequency—it’s not uncommon for us to react with apathy. We hear about it, we think about how terrible it is, and we move on with our day.
This, Mahajan suggests, is part of the unique tragedy of these “small” bombs: they’re common, almost meaningless and forgettable—unlike large-scale tragedies like 9/11. But Mahajan isn’t about to let us off the hook. No, this time we’ll become intimately familiar with the victims, the survivors, the families, and the terrorists.
Following the 1996 bombing, we learn how Mansoor’s life, as well as the lives of Tushar and Nakul’s parents, are forever changed. We meet Shockie, the man responsible for the bombing and Ayub, a young activist whose increasing desperation is leading him down an ominous path. Brilliantly, Mahajan gives us the opportunity to understand these characters without descending into sentimentality or forced sympathy, exploring pertinent dichotomies such as violence vs. non-violence, and Eastern vs. Western ideologies.
It’s an uncomfortable book. It’s a relevant book. It’s an important book. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time.