In New Delhi
OF ALL the heart-breaking stories of the victims of the terror bombings in the Indian capital, none is more poignant than that of little Santosh.
The nine-year-old boy was one of the two killed in last Saturday's blast at a busy market in South Delhi. He had gone to fetch a crate of eggs for his brother's roadside tea and omelet stall when he was hit by the blast.
Perhaps, he would not have died if he were not such a do-gooder. Santosh saw the two bombers on a motorbike as they weaved through the crowd, dropped the bomb, concealed in a plastic shopping bag, and sped away.
He picked up the bag and ran after the motorbike, shouting, "Uncle, Uncle, you have dropped your bag".
The bomb went off immediately, blowing his head off.
"My son did not deserve to die. He was a good boy, someone who always tried to help others," his inconsolable mother Rekha wailed as the child's last rites were performed on Sunday.
"Even when he died he was only trying to do the right thing and return the packet the bombers had thrown, thinking they had dropped it."
It is Santosh's innocence and his desire "to do the right thing" that proved fatal. This is a city where most people would look the other way and walk off even if a murder is being committed in front of their eyes, or a vehicle knocks down a pedestrian or a woman is harassed by some bullies.
I remember giving a lift to a man and his advice to me. One afternoon a few years ago, I was driving down Akbar Road, an exclusive neighbourhood where top government functionaries are cocooned in their sprawling official bungalows. The man, carrying two plastic jerry cans, waved me down.
Could I give him a lift up to the nearest petrol pump? He had come on a visit to one of those houses. I remarked on the irony of someone running out of fuel in such a posh locality. He asked what made me give him a lift. Obviously, because he asked for it, I said.
"You know, I have stopped giving lifts to anyone. It's too dangerous," he said. Then the man, an interior decorator, told a disturbing story.
Like me, he was driving by a women's college one afternoon. Three girls waved him down and asked for a lift. Two of them got off at one point and the third at another. One of them had left her handbag in the car. "There was no way to return it because I didn't know them and I had already driven some distance by then."
After completing some purchases from a shop in Punjabi Bagh, he returned home. His nightmare started early next morning. The doorbell rang and outside was a police officer and some constables, who told him to accompany them to the police station in connection with a kidnapping case.
As the investigations unfolded, it transpired it was the girl that got off last who had left behind the bag. She realised the mistake even as the car drove off. She managed to take down the vehicle's registration number anyway.
Though the incident took place in the afternoon, she reached home only late in the night. And to escape the fury of her parents, she told them that she was kidnapped by a man in a car but somehow she managed to escape at a traffic light.
She also showed them number of the car. It was the number of the interior decorator's car.
"Luckily, I had kept the cash bill of the purchases I had made from the shop and the shopkeeper, who is known to me, corroborated my story."
On questioning the girl, the police found that after being dropped off, she had gone to meet her boy friend and spent time with him. She didn't want her parents to know that and cooked up the kidnapping story.
"After they realised that I was innocent, the policemen had one question. They asked me, 'who told you to give lift? This is Delhi,'" the interior decorator said.
Perhaps, like him and me, Santosh, the boy who died in the blast, was "naïve". But judging by the outpouring of grief and sympathy for the boy, the city still has its heart in the right place.