The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2006

P .D. was thinking of a mango lassi while being shuffled from the podium by his security detail when the bombs detonated, exactly 26 sec- onds apart, the first from near the base of the platform. The air, sucked inward for the briefest of millisec- onds preceding the flash of noise and light that threw him to the ground, reminded P.D. of a moment from his own childhood, riding on the local Golconda Express between Chennai and Hyderabad. He was a boy of 12, and had pushed and maneuvered his thin brown frame through the bodies of the older men standing in the open entryway of the overloaded rail car- riage. Those closest to the edge maintained an easy grip on the verti- cal railing just outside the doorframe, others leaned and rocked comfort- ably further inside, sipping on the pungent smoke of their beedis. P.D. stared out at the passing landscape of dusty mounds and occasional rocks, feeling the balance of the train’s motion and listening to the clack of the wheels upon the rails. He looked down at his toes, just crossing the edge of the doorway into the cooling evening air. The men’s voices, laughing and bantering, disappeared, and he was left for the briefest of moments with the sound of an eternal nothingness. Hypnotized by how quiet it had sud- denly become, he turned to look for- ward, and at that moment the south- bound train screamed past. There had been no warning, and he had heard nothing. In reality, the train was never closer than one meter to his head, but it seemed to P.D. that mere centimeters separated his body from the speeding metal of death. Now, as he lay face down upon the earth searching for breath and finding none, P.D. thought how sim- ilar the two moments were. Air gathered inward by an impending explosion, taking all sound with it, giving the listener a moment of pure emptiness. The silent universe, he thought, before the big bang. I nside the school, Ram Balram remained focused, accustomed to the droplets of sweat on his fore- head, as the world outside careened out of control. The bombs had not shaken his will or his concentration. Neither had they affected Devi Das, who sat in a high-backed chair in a corner of the room. She was silent, with eyes closed in meditation, imag- ining a wedding where the scent of jasmine wove itself into the fabric of her wedding sari as the priest circled dancing flame around her head. He felt the stiffness in his fingers and, for a moment, noticed a wave of tiredness surging along inside his body. Such fragile things are our thoughts, mused Ram Balram as he glanced at Devi Das, and our dreams even more so. Yet somehow they manage to endure. The computer screen began to flicker. Ram Balram focused his gaze and stared at the last question on the exam. It was straightforward. There were only two possible responses. He answered yes. 48 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 0 6 Such fragile things are our thoughts, mused Ram Balram as he glanced at Devi Das, and our dreams even more so. Yet somehow they manage to endure.