On the first page of City of Fear the author enquires, ‘Exactly what did Octavio Paz mean when he said, “We are condemned to kill time, so we die little by little”’. He never finds the answer even when an earthquake strikes and blood-thirsty mobs surround him. David, a member of the small Bene Israeli Jewish community of Ahmedabad, begins his intensely personal account of the Gujarat riots of 2002 with the earthquake that killed thousands a scant year earlier. This natural calamity creates large cracks in the walls of David’s family home, as if in grim preparation for the man-made calamity to follow—the burning of the train at Godhra station allegedly by a Muslim mob, when a number of Hindus perish, and the aftermath of massive retaliation—which will force him to finally abandon that home.
David, an assistant editor with the Times of India, and his mother—Esther—lived in their three-generations-old family home sandwiched between antagonist areas of Ahmedabad during the worst Hindu-Muslim conflagration since the partition of India. ‘Guptanagar was like a matchstick waiting to burst into flames because of its proximity to Juhapura.’