You must never be afraid, I was taught at an early age. You must go on with your life without fear, otherwise the terrorists win. This was the line trotted out in the aftermath of every new attack, every single time. But somewhere, we were all taking mental notes. Sure, terrorists are random in their modus operandi, I told myself, but there's a few places that are more likely to be targeted than others. Crowded public places, religious processions, shopping markets — especially around Diwali-time, trains, buses, metros, airports, railway stations.
"So I'll just be alert in those spaces. That way the terrorists don't win, and I also get to live."
Warped as this chain of thought might seem, it's just the world we live in. I'm not scared.
After yesterday's terrorist attack in Las Vegas though, which has — at the time of writing — claimed 59 innocent lives with another 527 injured, I don't know anymore. Country music singer Jason Aldean was performing at the Route 91 Harvest festival when the shots went off. Earlier this year, in Manchester in May, there was an attack at an Ariana Grande concert. If we go a little further back in time, there's the horrifying terror attack in Paris in 2015 — which left 90 people dead — when the Eagles of Death Metal were on stage.
I don't know how else to say this: Please stop killing people at gigs. With the obvious caveat that there should be no killings anywhere, it's worth mentioning the almost sacrosanct dynamics at a music concert, which is supposed to function, in a way, as an idyllic "safe space" for so many people.
At every gig in India, I spend the first five minutes complaining about the excessive security at the gate, usually conducted by these dopey looking men whose bodies are way too big for their heads. They turn your pockets inside out; they examine your wallet; they pat every inch of you. This one time, I went for a gig in Delhi. At the entrance, the security staff rummaged through my backpack and found a bottle of water. Not allowed, they told me. It wasn't Aquafina or Bisleri; it was one of those fancy water bottles from home, so I refused to chuck it in the dustbin, asking them to make an exception for me. We reached a compromise where I had to empty out all its contents in front of them before I could enter.
I understand they're only doing their job; the complaining is ritualistic, and often half-hearted. The reason, really, is that gigs aren't supposed to be such fraught affairs. They're a refuge; an escape from reality, where the regular rules of life don't apply.
It's not like they're flavourless, children's-party events either; there's an inherent sense of "danger" and menace that accompanies any concert you go for. But it's fundamentally low-stakes in nature.
What if there's a long queue at the entrance? What if the entry charge is too high? What if the beer is too expensive and the food sucks? What are those crackpots wearing — last I checked this wasn't a fancy-dress party. What if I run into that girl I've been trying to avoid for months — do I behave like a child and pretend I don't see her, or should I play it cool and go say hi? What if I'm too far away from the speakers or I can't see the band on stage? What if there's a moshpit and I get dragged into it accidentally? They'll obliterate me. Will I get stuck in a jam afterwards because no one really wants to leave? Where's the after party? What if — and this is important — the band sucks?
Here's the deal, though: Even if every single thing goes wrong at a gig, it can still just be an enjoyable experience. Music — all art — functions as a deeply personal experience for anyone lucky enough to derive joy from the form. Gigs are as much about the performer as they are about you. Any concert you go to, there's this feeling of almost... solipsism, where the band on stage is performing only and unconditionally for you. It's a relationship that exists for a brief period in time; an exchange of sorts that has the power to enrich both the artist and the listener.
On top of that is all the other stuff. You spend time debating the merits of the venue and its acoustics. You whine about the backbenchers, who're only there to chit-chat and socialise while the band plays. They got in for free because they know someone who knows someone. You have the nerds, who stand right in front and sing along to every song.
There's the weirdo on the side who's always stilted and self-conscious in real life, and who decides to go absolutely nuts when her favourite song kicks in.
There's an idea of infinite freedom at a music concert; it's a breathing life form in its own right, as people grow and learn, they find who they are, they discover what ticks them off and what makes them tick. The internal dynamics of a gig, fragile as they may be, elevate the experience of live music (otherwise we'd all just stick to headphones in bedrooms, wouldn't we?).
All of this, of course, is possible only with the implicit understanding that the very worst thing that can happen at a gig is an accidental elbow to the cheek or that you get really bored but your friends want to stay so you have to too. And that's it. You check your fears, neuroses, and insecurities at the door (with the bouncers), you get a token, and then you collect your baggage on the way back into the world afterwards.
The second that real-world concerns enter the equation — a terrorist attack in the one place you can reasonably be expected to feel at ease, for starters — the bubble bursts.