MORNING COFFEE 18 - lucid truth

by Susan Weber

Karan Mahajan says a fiction book is a visceral document from another place. His novel, The Association of Small Bombs, begins in a crowded market in New Delhi. The seminal event is a terrorist bombing. Visceral carnage rips through the lives of survivors. And according to Mr. Mahajan, we’re victims of the carnage too.

He says our violence-addicted media glamorizes terrorists, portraying them as superhuman monsters. This view tends to cripple our response. In his book, the terrorist's daily routine is rife with ordinariness. Bomb-makers betray friends and disregard their families. They cobble explosive devices from cheap materials and steal cars in which to hide their bombs. They gripe about out-of-touch bosses, inadequate resources, and workplace safety issues. Defective bombs maim fingers, limbs, and faces of the terrorists who handle them.

Mr. Mahajan isn’t suggesting sympathy for these men. They are criminals. Their abstract cause is removed from their chosen victims, but their effect is horribly real. "People can justify any kind of thing," says the author. When we lay bare the menial concerns of terrorists, we might replace our constant ragged dread of their next attack with something more rational and useful.

A petrified populace is powerless. A clear-eyed one can act.

*          *          *  

While Karan Mahajan was in Cleveland to receive his 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction, he appeared at a nearby library to talk about The Association of Small Bombs. My thoughts here are based on his comments and my reading of the book.

When asked for other titles that illuminate Indian life, the author mentioned The Way Things Were (Taseer), Midnight’s Children (Rushdie), The God of Small Things (Roy), and anything by R. K. Narayan.

Photo by Stevie Mann CC BY 2.0