Long before terrorism became fashionable in the West and commonplace in the East, there was a bombing at the Sovereign Center in Delhi. A major event in India, it launched six months’ worth of stories in dailies across the country in every language, but it garnered next to no international attention; it appeared once in the New York Times, that too in a single column on the front page elbowed by an expansive story about the island-nation Nauru’s failed attempt to host the Miss Universe contest.
Now, much can be made of the callousness of the West on the subject of terrorism before 9/11, but I’m of the view that the more you talk about bombings and suicide attacks and hijackings the more you encourage legions of bored, frustrated men around the world to murder their way out of anonymity; a situation that reminds me of how, ever since the beginning of the Indian culture boom, bad novelists have been fêted daily by the likes of the Delhi Times and India Today, sending thousands of other stupid men to their desks in search of their inner Ayn Rand; and so maybe the callousness of various countries towards each other is a good thing, a way to prevent the export of terror, the way Indian novelists were better off, more sincere, funnier, truer, before the world began caring about India.
I make this analogy for a reason: the bombing at the Sovereign Center took place at a reading and so had a profound effect on the nascent literary scene in Delhi. The bombing was also a blow for the Sovereign Center, which was a decade old, and had been trying hard, with its ancient-looking architecture (monolithic brick buildings and beautiful dusty atria capped with green solar roofs) and its revolving schedule of plays, talks, readings, and screenings, to compete with the India International Center and the Gymkhana Club as the hub of intellectual life in Delhi.