That day started like any other day. Seldom did I know that in few hours my uncomplicated life was going to transform forever. The drama that was going to unfold would break my monotonous routine and give my life a brand new meaning. Call it chance or call it fate, but it happened on 24th September 2008, the day I met the" terrorist".
2008 had been a shocking year for India. Blasts have struck almost every part of the country. The sense of security has been shattered. Eleven days ago 5 bombs ripped apart the heart of the capital. One of them happened to be very close to a market where we lived. There was a feeling of insecurity the moment we left our house. However, life went on. Being in the rat-race meant stopping was even worse. With that feeling of insecurity I left the house for office at 9:50am. I was already late than usual. I ran hard and overtook two persons, much to their dislike, to get ahead in the ever persistent queue for auto to the Karol Bagh metro station. I still landed behind ten other anxious people. It took three autos to clear the queue in front of me. I got into the fourth. It was only after reaching the station I realized that I had left my purse at home. I had to take the same auto back, collect my purse and return to the metro station. 'Lucky auto-wala', I cursed in my mind venting my anger on the poor man, as if he was responsible for me being late. I had never been so late for office.
It was 11o'clock when the train arrived. Being peak office hour, the station was crowded. However, it does not take much effort to get into the train if you are used to the crowd. All you need to do is get synchronized with the flow, the rest is taken care of by the crowd itself. Like a huge vacuum cleaner the train sucked in all the passengers from the platform, and then the door closed. As the train began to move and the passengers settle down, I slowly moved towards the nearby seat. Even though there was no chance of getting a seat, being close to it gave a strange comfort. Luckily, and quite unexpectedly, the guy sitting in front of me got down and I got my lucky seat. That was the first time I saw him. He was sitting right beside me. If only I knew. As I sat I looked at him and smiled. He did not smile back. He looked a bit disturbed. It was easy to realize that he was a Muslim. He was thin, tanned, about 5’6” tall. His mustache was clean shaven and had a long beard. He wore a white pant going up to his ankle, a white full sleeve kurta and his head was covered with a kufri. He was carrying a red plastic bag, inside it there was something that looked like a square box.
Normally you expect people to smile back when you smile at them. It’s quite common to smile at strangers while you are traveling in a train. It generally begins the time-pass conversations like ''Should Sachin retire?'' or ''Should India go for war against Pakistan?'' to Indian politics, poverty, power cuts, and you know, all the useless “I am intelligent” guy talk. This guy seemed least interested in any of those topics. However, more than his unfriendly behavior it was his disturbing look that concerned me. Why was he tensed and nervous? What was he carrying in his red plastic bag? Wouldn't a crowded metro be an ideal spot for a blast? Was he a terrorist? That last thought send chills down my spine. What if he was a terrorist and was carrying a bomb inside that plastic bag? What if he was going to blow this train? It was a perfect place for another blast. Is this going to be the last day of my life? The picture of my beautiful wife appeared in front of my eyes. What would happen to her? However, I was not sure about the man; it would look stupid if I called for help. I wanted to share my horror with someone else, I could not. There were people around, but no one seemed bothered. Still four more stops to reach my destination. I thought of getting down from the train when it stops in the next station. Even though I do not believe in god, I prayed for the train to stop. It was my first prayer, and all I wanted was to save myself and let the others burn with the train, so typical of our species. The ‘terrorist’ got up before the next station arrived. To my relief, he got down. So I changed my decision and kept my precious seat. May be he was not a terrorist after all. I was happy to get rid of a man who looked like a religious Muslim. I felt as if I just survived a plane crash.
The sense of relieve lasted pretty short. What I saw next gave me the shock of my life. Just below my seat was kept the red plastic bag that ‘the terrorist’ was carrying. Inside it was the square box. He kept the bomb and went down, and I was still inside. The train was going to blow. We are all going to die. I had never been so afraid before.
I tried to feel the box inside the bag with my leg. It appeared much lighter than I thought. A bomb must be heavier. I gathered some courage, picked it up and opened it. There inside the red plastic bag was kept a square diary. It was not a bomb. For the first time in my life I was ashamed of myself, embarrassed by my prejudice. Anybody can have a bad day and behave in a nervous manner like he was behaving. In fact, I was behaving exactly in that manner moments ago. Would I have felt the same if he did not look like a Muslim?