The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Karan Mahajan reads from his latest novel, The Association of Small Bombs, published in March by Viking.

The Association of Small Bombs

The bombing, for which Mr. and Mrs. Khurana were not present, was a flat, percussive event that began under the bonnet of a parked white Maruti 800, though of course that detail, that detail about the car, could only be confirmed later. A good bombing begins everywhere at once.

A crowded market also begins everywhere at once, and Lajpat Nagar exemplified this type of tumult. A formless swamp of shacks, it bubbled here and there with faces and rolling carts and sloping beggars. It probably held four seasons at once in its gigantic span, all of them hot. When you got from one end of the market to the other, the wooden carts with their shiny aluminum wheels had so rearranged themselves that the market you were in was technically no longer the market you had entered: a Heisen­bergian nightmare of motion and ambiguity. So the truth of the matter is that no one really saw the parked car till it came apart in a dizzying flock of shards.

Strange sights were reported. A blue fiberglass rooftop came uncorked from a shop and clattered down on a bus a few meters away; the bus braked, the rooftop slid forward, leaked a gorgeous stream of sand, and fell to the ground; the bus proceeded to crack it under its tires and keep going, its passengers dazed, even amused. (In a great city, what happens in one part never perplexes the other parts.) Back in the market, people collapsed, then got up, their hands pressed to their wounds, as if they had smashed eggs against their bodies in hypnotic agreement and were unsure about what to do with the runny, bloody yolk. Most startling of all, for the survi­vors and rescue workers both, was the realization that the main dusty square was rooted so firmly by half a dozen massive trees, trees that had gone all but unnoticed in all those years, their shadows dingy with com­merce, their branches cranked low with hanging wares, their droppings of mulberry collected and sold—until the bomb had loosened the green gums of the trees and sent down a shower of leaves, which Mr. Khurana kicked up on the ground as he tried to uncover the bodies of his two sons.

But the leaves, turned crisp, shards themselves, offered nothing. His sons were dead at a nearby hospital and he had come too late.

From The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan, to be published on March 22, 2016, by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Karan Mahajan.