The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

“Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” 
– A A Milne

It is, in many ways, both a comforting and disturbing thought that events of negligible weight, often elevate to gargantuan heights, lighting and dimming our lives from the perennial chandeliers of memory and reflection. Try as hard as we may, the rewards of life’s milestones condense invariably, and collect into a pool of small droplets, each recompensing the minutiae of living with something meaningful, if only tearfully, stabbing.

In the busy Lajpat Nagar market of Delhi, a small bomb goes off. Two, out of three friends, become fume in no time. The survivor, Mansoor, somehow, finds his way home amid a blindness of smoke and few injured bodies. But home is no longer the same haven of comfort. Both set of parents, to the children lost and alive, throw a blanket of rigorous monotony around themselves to escape the biting winter of loss and trauma but the frost continues to bite them, unpredictably, furiously, consistently. Life rolls on and Mansoor’s fate brings him to America many years later, with the prospect of promising career in computers. But the unexpected advent of the Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) cuts open his wound, inflicted by the small bomb years ago, forging him, yet again, with the sticky truth of misplaced principles. He returns home, only to meet an ebullient activist, and falls afresh into the world he was fleeing. 

Mahajan’s story is not just an intimate tale about the current times of terrorism and fanaticism, and ironically of carelessness and unaccountability, but also a sprawling tale of humanity, struggling to rear its head amid these torrents of visceral components. When he declares the bomb-maker in Kashmir, to be controlled by a man who teaches in a school for girls, he unveils the duplicities of survival and the innate comfort these dual skins provide us. When over futile morning walks and cold cups of tea, he sketches the life of the couple who has lost their young sons, he chains a mute cry to our chests that undulates with a helplessness often experienced first-hand. When a lifetime of effort is held hostage by one fateful, fleeting evening whose demons sabotage the long fort of victory, we gasp in horror at the enormity of inconsequential instances that keep chasing us and ravaging our dreams.

The story remained with me not just because of its audacious black but also its tender white.

You lift a spoon from a claw of thick stew and you weep. Under the shower… you are sheathed in the same soap that you remember scrubbing off the shoulders of your boys. No action is safe from meaning. The boys had stored between them, all the world’s possibilities.

The narrative comes alive with its wit and humor too, just like how despite the ills of life, we give laughter a dignified chance, every now and then. Mahajan does a wonderful job in simply presenting everyone’s perspective, including the guy who makes blast and the one who survives them. That the line of rationality might be a small conjecture is a different matter, altogether.

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