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'It was like a death in the family'

BBC Hindi Service India editor Sanjeev Srivastava, who is from Jaipur, reflects on Tuesday's bomb attacks in the city that left more than 60 dead and 200 injured.

A soldier stands guard in front of Jaipur's landmark Hawa Mahal during the curfew
Jaipur's famous Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds

It was a strange feeling to be in Jaipur on Wednesday, reporting on the aftermath of the serial bomb blasts in the city a day earlier.

It was like a death in the family.

For journalists being a witness to and reporting on tragedies is an occupational hazard.

Earthquakes, cyclones and floods - as well as the gun battles, riots and bomb blasts - all prepare one for some really heart-rending stories and grotesque sights.

But when the story really strikes you close, it's difficult to maintain professional calm and objective detachment.

'Challenged'

The blasts in Jaipur brought to the surface an eerie confrontation.

The journalist in me - with nearly 25 years of experience - was somewhere being challenged by the not so professional, not so objective and the not so unaffected individual whose home town is Jaipur.

I left Jaipur about 15 years ago to join the BBC.

The phrase 'soul of a city' took a whole new meaning for me... old memories came flooding back

But except for a year when I was in the UK, I can't remember a time when I have not averaged at least one weekend every month in Jaipur.

My life's most beautiful as well as the saddest memories can always be traced back to this fascinating city.

Every year millions of tourists come to Jaipur. The city is comforting, cultured and breathtakingly beautiful. For me it is also home, family and friends.

Sometimes I am told - by friends and others coaxed by me into undertaking a visit to the city - that my views on Jaipur are quite lopsided and biased.

I have no problems with those who think like that. Only it does not change my perspective.

Even with this kind of baggage, I was not prepared to be affected in any big way by what had happened as I drove into the walled city of Jaipur at around 0330 on Wednesday (2200 GMT on Tuesday), a few hours after the serial blasts.

'Soul of a city'

I had spoken to most of my relatives and friends while driving down from Delhi and was relieved to know that while a couple of them did have a providential escape, everyone I knew was safe and well.

What I did not take into account was how Jaipur in its injured and damaged form would somehow not remain a lifeless city for me.

The phrase "soul of a city" took a whole new meaning for me as I drove around parts of the walled city damaged by the explosions.

Old memories came gushing back.

People of Jaipur protest against the blasts
The blasts have shocked the city residents

I was reminded of going to the Tripolia Bazaar with my parents to buy steel utensils as a child to mark the festival of Dhanteras on the eve of Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights).

How as a child every Diwali and Holi (the festival of colour) I used to come with my father to buy crackers, colours and other things required for the religious ceremonies to Badi Chaupar in the heart of the walled city.

The majestic Hawa Mahal (or the Palace of Winds) is on one side of Badi Chaupar while the famous Johri Bazaar or the jewellery market is on the other.

It was difficult to marvel at these city landmarks from Badi Chaupar as it was the epicentre of the blasts.

All the bombs had gone off in an area of about 1.5sq.km around Badi Chaupar.

'Many memories'

As my father grew old I started to come to these markets on my own to save him the congestion and the traffic.

Moving around the deserted, curfew-bound walled city on Wednesday, I found myself pining not just for traffic chaos and congestion but also my father who died last year.

One of the blasts was near the famous sweet shop and restaurant, LMB - even now I can almost smell and taste its mouth-watering delicacies.

Two temples of the monkey god Hanuman were also targeted. Each place has many memories for me.

Even the police station - also the site of an explosion - was familiar as I had come there as a high school student to identify and retrieve our stolen scooter.

Chinese tourists in Jaipur
Millions of tourists visit Jaipur annually

There was something else, too, which I found particularly unsettling. There was a sense of grief and loss and it was not confined to those who had lost a loved one.

It was a more pervasive emotion - as if the city had lost something. Many locals seemed to be mourning Jaipur's loss of innocence.

It is not that the city had never seen any violence or curfews.

But never before had the city been a target like this and everyone I spoke to sooner or later asked the "why Jaipur?" question.

Most Indians appreciate that they live in violent times and bombings like this are not unheard of, but still nobody I met appeared prepared for an attack of this nature in Jaipur.

Maybe they are just too innocent - or plain naive. Nobody these days can think of being completely safe from such incidents.

So now in Jaipur too - as in bigger and better known cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad - perhaps nobody will ever again ask "why me"?

But at the same time Jaipur may also never be the same again.




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