2013, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Bombay 1993: The Blisters That Became The Bomb

Or, why we refuse to look where blame might lie

Sanjay Dutt was still only a celluloid khalnayak, protagonist of Subhash Ghai’s magnum, a wickedly stained and lovable villain. What we knew of his real life delinquencies were still juvenile of nature and evoked sympathy, the drifter son of Sunil and Nargis, struggling to emerge from his haze of addictions. What we knew was that posters of Khalnayak were in print. What we still didn’t know was that Sanjay Dutt’s personal life had surreptitiously imitated his public art.

Dawood Ibrahim was still a latter-day imitation of Haji Mastan, no more: a beach bandit, a gully don who had slipped away to Dubai to elude the law and grab more riches. Yakub Memon was still nameless chartered accountant working off a hole in the wall on the ragged Mahim shoreline.

The pigeons at Gateway of India hadn’t been acquainted to mid-flight expiry by explosion. The liveried valets at the Taj knew better manners than to usher guests to submit to metal detectors.

Mumbai was still called Bombay. And Ajmal Kasab was still 15 years adrift, a six-year-old scraping dust and deprivation in Pakistan’s Okara, quite innocent that destiny was setting him up to violently flame and be extinguished.

And yet 1993 seemed like it could never ever get worse for Bombay. An apocalyptic visitation that came well foretold, never mind those that chose not to take note.

A week-long street frenzy had erupted followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid the December just gone. The official toll of sectarian clashes: 278.

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