But it’s an easy myth to believe—at first. A few days after arriving, I was sipping Earl Grey tea and feeding crumbs of carrot cake to the plump Canada geese that grace the Serpentine at this time of year. The Queen’s Cavalry were trotting past in all their spit-and-polish glory—ramrod-backed upon their mahogany charges. The flags above Whitehall were fluttering in the breeze; the wind in the lime trees filled the air with a hushing whishing, like pebbles on a beach. And the city was cheering and gleeful at winning the Olympic bid: "WE WON!" shouted the evening headlines, though more in small-Englander triumph at beating our old rivals the French than anything more internationalist in spirit.
And then came the bombings. And changed everything.
The terrorists who bombed London on the 7th of July, who killed 171 in Madrid last year, who redefined the meaningless numbers 9/11, are skilled reshapers of our imaginations.
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures might be the same, but they accrue a whole new set of sinister meanings after events like this.
The twin towers of the World Trade Centre one glimpses in movies made before 2001, now look like skittles just waiting to be knocked over, or metal men at the fairground inviting the next punter with an airgun to take a potshot.
Yesterday what looked like peace, today seems more like a temporary lull in hostilities. The pastel bands denoting different fare-zones on yesterday’s map of the London Underground, today look like nothing so much as the concentric rings of a painted target.
"Is nowhere safe?" the commuters ask. "Is nothing sacred?" ponder the pundits. The answer to both is: no. But perhaps the problem is not so much in finding another country where one could be safe—or at least safer—but that us city-dwellers are, almost by definition, the footsoldiers in the terrorist war.
A terrorist—or an advertiser, or a politician or a singer—looks for venues that will have maximum impact. Density of population is a big draw for bombers as well as retailers.
Look out of your aeroplane window and Delhi is just another spider’s body in the centre of a spinning wheeling web of lights, no different from London or Beijing or Addis Ababa.
Like iron filings to a magnet, we are pulled towards urban centres—in search of money, or love, or recognition, or opportunities, or change.
It is estimated that the cities of the world are growing at a rate of 1 million people per week and soon, half of the world’s population will live in its cities.
I’m seriously thinking of moving to the countryside.
This piece appeared in the first sample issue of Delhi City Limits.