On June 23, 1985, three days shy of my fifteenth birthday, I lost my cousin Indra in a terrorist attack. Like the Boston Marathon Bombings, my cousin also died because of a bomb. Air India Flight 182, carrying Indra, left Toronto for England and exploded over the North Irish Sea. Her body was never recovered.
The bomb that killed Indra was set in a suitcase. Somehow the suitcase slipped past all security checks and measures and made its way into the baggage compartment of that plane. Human error, incompetence, oversight, negligence, lackadaisical security standards, broken machinery, all come to bear on the issue of blame. After all was said and done, no one was truly held accountable for Indra's murder.
Instead of a pressure cooker bomb, used by the Tsarnaevs to murder three and maim hundreds, the bomb that killed Indra and 328 people, passengers and crew, was constructed out of a radio tuner. Like the Boston Marathon Bombings, in the Air India disaster, a second bomb placed in another airline bound for Narita, Japan, cleared the Pacific Ocean and exploded at the Narita International Airport.
Indra, like those who perished in Boston, like those who died over Lockerbee, in Madrid, in London, on 9/11, at Oklahoma City, like all those who die as victims for so-called causes that have nothing to do with them, die for nothing if we forget them. But the cruel fact is they are as quickly forgotten by the public once our attention shifts to the killers. We whose interests shift from the tragedy of the attack, to finding the terrorists, then to seeking justice, seem to forget the victims. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism. Why remind ourselves of the people that died? Isn't forgetting part of our collective catharsis once the murderers have been killed? It's no longer the public's worry. I don't fault the public for this. I am not so self-righteous to ask people to hold public vigils year after year after year, for if we did, not a day would go by without memorializing the dead. It's a sobering thought.I am sure we will construct a memorial. That would be nice. But it still won't stop another attack. Someday. Somewhere.
Remembering the dead are for the families of those victims; it is they who have to truly live with the loss. But as time lengthens, the families still never quite seem able to move on. My uncle Rattan, Indra's father, continues to live in the shadow of Indra's memory even now, after twenty plus years. Even I am collateral damage.
Indra, when she died, was a bubbly, beautiful, goal-oriented young woman in her early twenties, who worked two jobs and whose dream was to visit India. She had friends who adored her, and being the second youngest of six, she had, from what I remember, a spirited personality. She would tease me, call me her unofficial "boyfriend" (I was twelve), spray perfume on me, terrorize me with her kisses. I loved her as my cousin, but feared her, too. If I got too close to her she would attack me with tickles that sent me screaming and her chasing me. Then in one instant, she was gone.
What is it in a person that convinces them to kill? What persuades them that taking human life is the only option? I will never understand that mentality. As bad as my life has gotten, I never, ever, thought of constructing a bomb, or picking up a gun and killing people. Not once. I never believed that taking human life was an option. How does one become so desensitized? Perhaps in the days and weeks that follow we will learn what went on in Dzhokar Tsarnaev's mind, this nineteen year old child with his entire life ahead of him. Why did he decide to kill in the cowardly way he did? Why did he feel it was the only option in his life? I would love to ask him what he hoped to gain by killing innocent people. I am sure the authorities will ask him. I am sure he will tell them something.
But any answer that we receive from him or others like him in the future (for they will continue to come), will not be adequate. It will not be adequate because Indra is dead. She cannot come back. His answers will not bring her back. His reasons will not bring her back. His immaturity and misguidance, his inferiority complex, his misdirected hatred form American life, his anti-Christianism, his pro-fundamentalism, his inability to get a girlfriend, his impotence, his deep rooted homosexual tendencies for his brother, his rape as a child by a mysterious stranger, his addiction to Halo 3 or World of Warcraft or the UFC, etc. etc. etc. will never be adequate answers or causes. For Indra is still dead and those who died in Boston cannot come back. Whose to say that the next bomber/terrorist/machine gun murderer, won't have similar "reasons"? Even after we kill Dzhokar, I am afraid justice will not be served. Families will continue to grieve. Terrorists will continue to be born.
What I know is this: I am tired of violence. I am tired of this culture that glorifies violence at the expense of what brings us together. I am tired of the statements, "He was such a good kid, mild, would never hurt a fly." I am tired of paranoid gun advocates claiming guns aren't the problem but that people are the problem, and when it comes to passing legislation on keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people, or criminals, nothing gets done. I am tired of the 2nd Amendment being misrepresented, for it does not grant the right for people to own bazookas, tanks, missiles, a nuclear bomb, just as it doesn't grant the right for people to own military assault rifles. Give them muskets and have them go at it. Or if you really want to prove you're a man, hunt your deer and buck, your wolves and bears, your fowl and rodents with a bow and arrow and a knife.
I am not arrogant enough to claim I know what causes a mind to snap. What causes someone like Dzhokar and his brother to turn into mad bombers? Maybe they do feel that the only way to regain a sense of power is to murder innocent people, for the line between fame and infamy is crossed by committing one evil deed. Maybe by punishing people who appear happier than themselves, who own more, who live freer lives, is the only way to make them feel better about themselves. I don't know.
If a terrorist simply took one step back and had a pang of conscience, if they simply took a step back and asked themselves, Is this right? Does the cause I believe in justify this act? Would God, or Allah, or Muhammad, or Jesus, or Guru Nanak, or whomever it is they believe in, advocate killing innocent people, babies, girls, children, mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers? Where in their scriptures does it say that killing innocents is sanctioned by God? What kind of god would support such a message?
There are always lessons to be learned, in fact terrorist attacks like this demand we learn something. But more than learning we must continue to feel in our hearts how lucky we are to be alive. Of the three that died in Boston, hundreds, thousands survived, and perhaps they, even the injured and maimed, must be taking stock: Have I done enough? Have I lived my dream? Have I taken the time to be a better person? Maybe it's time to put work aside and take that dream vacation. I need to call my mother, grandpa, grandma. I need to tell someone I haven't spoken to in years that I love them and miss them and that I forgive them. And so on. These things make us human. These are our values. This is what makes our humanity strong: love in the face of hatred, fear, anger.
I regret I didn't spend more time with Indra, but then, I never expected her life to be cut so short. I regret also I didn't spend more time with my grandparents. Now, faced with the fact of my aging parents, I wish for more time with them. I accept their shortcomings as gifts, their strengths as blessings, and cherish their love. Human life is precious, something the Tsaernevs couldn't understand.