It was pitch-black on the road along the bus stand. Known as the Mohammadia Tibbia College & Assayer Hospital bus stand for its location just outside the campus of the Unani medical college, the stop is just across the Girna-river bridge. Located about 2.5 km outside the handloom township of Malegaon, the bus stand is considered the entry point for passengers headed to the city by road. 

‘Dangerous Minds’ will delve into the complex and intricate lives of some of the most talked-about terrorists of the country. Dr Jalees Ansari, a doctor from Malegaon involved in eighty blasts, including some on railway tracks, was supposed to be a quiet, peace-loving medical professional. Fahmida Ansari, a housewife and mother of two from the Jogeshwari slums of north-west Mumbai, physically planted the bombs herself in a bus and taxis and returned home as if nothing had happened. What drove them to such violent designs? What were their compulsions? Can a human being be so ruthless and heartless and why?

The book will explore the lives, early beginnings, careers and sudden transformations of such persons into merchants of death.

Here’s an excerpt from the book

The Genesis of the Ghost Bomber

The Girna-river bridge is a landmark in its own right, a spot for couples to flock to during the day. At night, the bridge and surrounding areas are deserted, cloaked in a still, inky blackness.

In the dark, the man walked at a brisk pace with short, clipped steps, bag in hand. His mind was racing. This was the perfect time and place to assemble and test an explosive device. If this succeeds, he thought, he could bomb the whole nation. He was middle-aged, lean, dressed in a kurta-pyjama, and wore his beard long. Nobody would have given him a second glance; he looked and dressed like most other men in Malegaon.

He opened the bag, and spread out its contents. In the blinding darkness, he switched on a small torchlight and placed it between his teeth. Then, meticulously, he got to work. As a medical-college student, he’d stun everyone with his levels of detailing and dexterity in the laboratory, and he was bringing that same talent and dedication to the fore now. Within minutes, he had finished assembling the parts and the improvised explosive device (IED) was ready to be tested. His alert eyes darted around. He knew there was a bus stand nearby, so he strained to hear the sounds of incoming vehicles. He heard the screeching of a bus and decided to wait a few moments for any disembarking passengers to disperse.

b”‘Dangerous Minds’ Book Cover | Source: Penguin Books xc2xa0″

In the vicinity, a few homeless kids and unemployed men from the locality had devised a simple loot-and- scoot trick. In the fading light of dusk and afterwards, one boy would scramble up the ladder affixed to the back of state transport buses and cast a practised eye to the bags and suitcases of the passengers stacked there. Between the time the bus halted, for barely a few seconds, and before it growled back to life and headed out, the train-top thief would have scanned the bags, made his picks and begun to discreetly dump them on the road behind the bus, before jumping off to safety.

The motley crew would then assemble at the bus stand and divide their spoils. Today was one of those days when they had struck gold, and the usual argument over the division of the loot was under way.

The bomb-maker had thought the bus would have put a safe distance between the bus passengers and himself, and that the explosion he was about to set off would be heard by him alone. He set a five-minute timer and then quickly stepped back several paces.

The explosion and the flash of fire some distance away from them rattled the band of thieves. They thought, momentarily, that the sound may have been a gunshot from a country-made revolver. They had seen criminals from the northern part of India flaunt and use such indigenously made weapons at the slightest provocation. But this seemed far more sinister and deadly; that boom was hardly the sound of a katta (countrymade pistol) going off.

They rushed to the spot, and what they saw upon reaching the place below the bridge shocked them. Closer to the river was a spot where cinders were strewn around, and one lone man stood looking at the scene; he was laughing hysterically. The thieves had heard about the Khalistani militancy and Sikh ultras. They suspected that the laughing man may have just tried to blow up the bridge across the Girna and pounced on him. Startled, the man decided to run, but the quartet chased him down and thrashed him. The man was handed over to the Malegaon Police.

Preliminary investigations of the site and the man’s interrogation led the police to deduce that the man they had arrested had been trying to make a bomb. With the contention that the rural police of Malegaon lacked the wherewithal and resources to investigate a case involving a bomb, the case was handed over to the Mumbai Police crime branch. Police Inspector Suresh Walishetty would then question the man, and he was indeed taken aback. The man was no lunatic. He was Dr Jalees Ansari, associated with one of the most reputed hospitals of the financial capital, the Cooper Hospital in Andheri West. Dr Ansari had a squeaky clean record and was a resident of Madanpura, Mumbai.

‘Authored by Hussain Zaidi & Brijesh Singh, ‘Dangerous Minds’ is published by Penguin Penguin Random House India. The book is available in stores and shopping websites.  

Feature image source: Penguin Random House India