Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jaipur Terrorized!

As a dust storm rages through the city, I can not help reflecting upon the much more destructive and threatening storm that had raged through the city yesterday. It was a pleasant evening, slightly cooler than what the norm is during the summer, and I was with my friends, sitting in one of the numerous coffee lounges of the city. Like many others, they too had set up a screen, courtesy the IPL. As we waited for the match to commence, somebody changed the channel to one of the 24 hour news networks. There were a few sighs and protests, but then almost everybody’s attention was drawn to the news flash at the bottom of the screen: ‘2 blasts outside Hanuman Mandir’. Disbelief turned into shock as over the fifteen minutes the number rose from two to five, and the magnitude of what had happened started sinking in. For the first time in its almost three century old history had Jaipur been terrorized. Cell phones started buzzing with anxious parents and relatives enquiring about our whereabouts and asking us to return home immediately. We were among the fortunate few whose calls managed to go through. As the clock ticked, the networks became jammed. The lounge emptied within minutes, and a place buzzing with youngsters had a deserted look in no time. Orders were cancelled, snacks left uneaten as one and all headed to the relative safety of their homes.

Outside it was entire story all together. Coinciding with the office hours, the heavy rush of traffic clogged the roads. A journey that would normally take fifteen minutes took almost double of that time. However even in this madness one thing stood out; Jaipurites hadn’t forgotten how to help fellow beings. At a couple of places where the heavy traffic resulted in minor accidents, the onlookers were ready to step forward and lend a helping hand.

Jaipur had always been a peaceful city. Having lived outside Jaipur for the better part of last three years, I always welcomed the easy going Jaipur life. It had just the right blend. You could enjoy as if in a metro, without being bothered by the hectic pace. Parents didn’t feel alarmed if you returned at 11 or twelve in the night. However it has been going downhill for the past couple of years. Crime has steadily increased, and yesterday’s incident would prove to be the final nail in the coffin.

In hindsight one could say that one should have seen this coming. Its proximity to Delhi, and lax security coupled with a booming economy made Jaipur an ideal target. The most disheartening fact about yesterday was the reaction by the security forces. Though at par with most other places in India, there was a lot of scope for improvement. Till 2 hours after the blasts the major exits out of the city had not been blocked. No directives were issued by the administration as guidelines to the citizens.

Another fact that’s worth mentioning is the strategizing that must have gone in planning these blasts. By no means was it a casual show. The details had been meticulously chalked out. The blasts shook the heart of the Old City and had been aimed at creating communal tension. Hanuman Mandir was chosen on a Tuesday, a day guaranteed to attract the largest number of devotees; and the time of the blasts again in sync with the time of the evening aarti. Though the bombs targeted a number of major areas of the walled city, Ramgunj, a locality densely populated by members of a particular faith was conveniently out of range.

The aura that had surrounded Jaipur has been shattered. Its not that night life would come to an end or the citizens would alter their life style drastically. No, it’s not that. It’s just that it would never be the same again.