The association of small bombs by Karan Mahajan - a review

The Association of Small Bombs by 'Family Planning' author Karan Mahajan tells the story of an explosion and its repercussions from the time of the occurrence until almost a decade after it. It is told in seven parts, from the perspectives of the people associated directly or indirectly with it. The story begins with the death of two boys, two brothers who had gone to a busy Delhi market with their friend, on an errand for their parents.

It isn't often that a writer is bold enough to write from the perspective of the antagonist, that too a bomb maker who is bent upon killing people for what he (or they) believe to be 'greater common good'. The character of Shockie seems to have been inspired by Afzal Guru (they even share the same last name), the infamous mastermind of the Indian Parliament attacks of 2001, who was executed three years ago.

Of course, death is devastating, especially the death of young people. The extended moral of this novel is that, no matter how debilitating and catastrophic the event, people reconcile with it in their own ways. Some might turn to religion, some might have extra marital relationships, some might try to lose themselves in the nameless faces in the crowd. Whatever the coping mechanism, the impetus is the same, to go on living, the most primal instinct of all living things.

I read in one of the synopses / reviews of the book that it highlights the irony that a victim of a bomb blast (Mansoor Ahmed, who could be called the main protagonist) becomes ultra religious. It left me wondering if it really is that ironic. It seemed to be a kind of a natural extension, the need to believe in something beyond your capabilities, something or someone stronger than you and everything you know. The real irony that I found in this book is with the character of Ayub Azmi, the irony of an advocate of non-violence becoming a bomber. I doubt this is something that happens very often. He tries and tests 'Satyagraha' and when that fails, he embarks on a journey to kill innocents. How do one's convictions change so radically in the space of a few months? Perhaps it is the realisation that unless you shout out louder than everyone else, no one really listens. Even then, your point remains in their minds only till the echo of your voice dissipates.   

When I started reading the book, the title seemed a little out of place. Yes, it is an interesting title, and the novel is about bomb blasts,  but the word 'association' didn't make sense in this context. The logic behind this becomes evident towards the end of the book. 

What impressed me most about this novel is its 'even' tone. Even in the most tragic, emotionally wrecking moments, the characters stick to laying out the facts as they are, without great speeches or declarations. There is no judgement of people who do questionable things. The author just tells a story matter-of-factly, a story of normal people doing normal and abnormal things when faced with exigent circumstances. 

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