Finding Delhi’s “spirit” post serial blasts
Colleagues who were working on September 13 told me the impact of the blast at Barakhamba Road shook the building and unsettled flocks of pigeons nesting on rooftops of adjoining high rises.
The sirens of police cars, ambulances and fire brigade vehicles soon shattered the tense silence of the otherwise bustling commercial district, as people rushed to help the injured.
As I walked into the office a day later, I expected to see chaos, panic, and a heavy police presence all around. What unnerved me was the resilience of people who owned small shops, ran taxi services and sold goods on the sidewalk at the blast site.
Men were busy sorting out wares, erecting makeshift shelters against the sun and sprinkling the usual vile coloured water on tropical fruits to give them a fresh look.
Other than being probed with a metal detector, there was little or no disturbance in my daily routine.
Is this what Mayor Arti Mehra was referring to as the “spirit of Delhi”? The determination of Delhi’ites to smile and go about their usual chores to defeat the very purpose of extremists – that of creating panic and disruption in their daily lives?
Of course there were the visuals of youngsters jostling to be seen on national TV, crying out “we will rise above terrorism, Indians are united and nothing can break our spirit”. Like an eerie scene-come-alive from the film “Rang De Basanti”.
There were also shots of local heroes – the passersby who ferried the wounded to hospitals and rag pickers who found unexploded bombs and helped the police defuse them.
Some of them appeared distinctly bemused at the sudden media attention on what I think were their unselfish and exceptionally courageous acts.
As for the “spirit of Delhi”, it was a 70-year-old Muslim shopkeeper at Barakhamba Road who put meaning to those words better than I ever could, with an enviable nonchalance.
“So what do you expect me to do? Shut my shop for a week fearing more blasts? This is the festival season and I have already lost a day’s earnings by being forced to close on a Sunday. Blasts keep happening these days, can’t lose customers over them.” (Translated from Hindi)
Take the case of 38-year-old Jamyang Tsering, who was critically injured in the blast at Central Park in Connaught Place, possibly the first ever Tibetan victim of a terror attack in India, according to his brother Thupting.
Jamyang is at the Intensive Care Unit of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, where most of the blast victims have been admitted.
The owner of a small eatery at the Tibetan Colony in north Delhi, Jamyang still has shrapnel from the bomb embedded in his body and faces at least two more surgeries on his painful road to recovery.
“For three days and nights I was at the hospital. I came home only today when the doctor said he was stable,” Thupting said. “Actually no one understands our Hindi at the hospital. We Tibetans don’t speak good Hindi… language problem. It is very difficult to convey to doctors or nurses what we want,” he said.
I feel almost ashamed to ask him how he is coping, now that things are gradually returning to normal.
“Not for us… Jamyang is still in pain.”
“But still…he is at least alive,” he says, and almost as an afterthought adds, “yes, yes, I see it’s almost normal now.”
Since 2003, over 10 major terror attacks have left India shaken. Till September this year over 120 people have died in terror strikes, some within months of each other.
What in reality is the “spirit of people” then? Are we heading slowly to the same general state of numb indifference to death and destruction that is now a part of everyday life in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Here is how I see it. For the section of society that watched the weekend tragedy unfold on their TV screens, safe from the pungent smell of smoke and blood, the spirit is there, in true honesty, not to get cowered by acts of terror.
But for the daily wagers, labourers and small business owners for whom losing customers and work is as fatal as an explosive device, it is just shrugging off tragedy and moving on.