What If Gaitonde’s Prophecy Turns True and Mumbai Gets Nuked


What If Gaitonde’s Prophecy Turns True and Mumbai Gets Nuked

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

When I watched the first episode of Sacred Games a few weeks ago, I did not expect that ending. Even with Ganesh Gaitonde, the dreaded kingpin, seemingly offed, his narration continues to drive the show through serpentine streets of a Bombay both scummy and sparkling until it comes to a delicious turn in the heart of a Brutalist cement bunker.

But before we climb down into the dark, we must return to the first episode – back through the ornate embroidery of mythology and metaphor – where Gaitonde claims that he is Ashwatthama, the immortal warrior from the Mahabharata. In his misleading claim, what he (intentionally?) doesn’t point out is that Ashwatthama isn’t blessed with eternal life, but cursed by it.

Towards the end of Kurukshetra, Arjun and Ashwatthama have a face-off during which both of them invoke the Brahmashirsha astra against each other, fully knowing that their imminent collision would mean total annihilation of the world. Fortunately, Ved Vyas stops the astras and brings both of them to their senses. But Ashwatthama has no idea how to retract his missile, having only learnt to destroy, not safeguard. His Brahmashirsha kills the last remaining heir to the Pandava line and he is punished with immortality, to be lived out in perennial isolation, blacklisted from humanity.

And so it goes with Gaitonde. Everliving but alone. Cursed to lose all that he loves to his megalomania. And under the bunker floor, a few scattered paraphernalia – Hazmat suits and Geiger counters – feebly hint at the modern-day Brahmashira. The weapon said to consume its target in a sphere of blazing fire, poisoning the soil, and preventing life from growing there again. Nuclear bomb much? Whatever happens next season, it’s going to be first day-first show for me or whatever the Netflix equivalent is.

Ever since the series’ terrifying cliffhanger, I’ve been trying to imagine what would happen if sprawling Mumbai actually got nuked?

The scant tidbits dropped throughout Sacred Games imply that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have some inscrutable role to play in the game. If Pakistan were to do that in real life, it’s safe to assume that they’d use the largest weapon at their disposal – a bomb with an approximate yield of 40 kilotons, that is an exploding force of 40 million kilogrammes of TNT. To give you an idea of its potency, one kilogramme of TNT is enough to obliterate a small car – 40 million is nothing short of the apocalypse.  

The radioactive fallout will eventually spread over a large area and any contact can cause severe radiation poisoning and promise a slow agonising death.

The prospect of a nuclear disaster is especially frightening considering that Mumbai teems with millions of human bodies packed together on any given day. Naturally, a blast of this power could cause extensive fatalities anywhere in the city but take a moment to imagine what a blast could do if centred at Dadar station, itself located at the junction of the Central and Western rail lines, which carry millions of people every day.  

Detonation is almost always in the form of an airburst, that is the nuke is primed to explode in the lower atmosphere, about a kilometre above the ground. This allows the energy released to move in all directions spherically, maximising the impact. At the centre of the explosion will emerge a fireball around 300 metres in diameter, millions of degrees in temperature, erasing large swathes of Dadar from existence.

Suddenly, Sartaj’s flabbergasted “Aai zhavli!” in the bunker doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

The fireball will immediately be followed by the shockwave, a concussive blast extending from Worli sea fort on the west coast to Sewri sea fort on the right coast of Mumbai. This is enough to warp buildings and roads, fling vehicles, trees, bridges, and utility poles into the sky, the air thick with projectiles. At this point, only a few seconds have passed since the initial detonation.

Next comes the thermal radiation, reaching from Bandra West in the north to Worli in the south. It appears as a wave of searing hot air, causing complete third-degree burns. At least those in the thick of it would be die a painless death: Their nerve endings would have been completely incinerated.

That’s not all: A second shockwave would span out until Fort, Trombay, and Juhu – indeed, even the mythical Gopalmath over which Gaitonde reigns. While not enormously destructive, it can shatter the glass covering most of Mumbai’s skyscrapers and send razor shards whirling around the city like a minor hurricane.

I can guess what you might be thinking right now. Do we have any sort of defence to counter this massive loss of lives and unimaginable destruction? None, so to speak. This is where it gets even more grim. Our DRDO has been promising a ballistic missile defence system to protect Mumbai and Delhi from airbound attack for a while now. And even though the plan’s development began six years ago, as of last month, the project is still languishing in its final stages.

In a way, Kanta Bai predicted this helpless situation when she said, “People who come to Mumbai live like worms, crawling all over each other until they are squashed by a greater power.” And how true are her words, considering the combined effect of fire and force can kill over 7,00,000 people and cause nearly two million serious injuries within the first 24 hours of impact.

Besides the communications blackout, the disrupted railway lines and roads will result in widespread panic and riots, leading to more deaths. In fact, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link would be ripped from its moorings, stemming any chance of escape. And the land reclamation projects that brought Mumbai together will also be its downfall as the physical impact of the bomb at Dadar station could cause the sea to flood inwards from Mahim Bay.

The aftermath would be even more deadly, beginning with the formation of a mushroom cloud hundreds of metres high and composed of dirt, smoke, and radioactive fallout. The radioactive fallout will eventually spread over a large area and any contact can cause severe radiation poisoning and promise a slow agonising death. A particularly morbid outcome would be if the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay is damaged – it might cause internal explosions and the dispersal of radioactive dust across hundreds of square kilometres. This could contaminate the soil and water, halting agriculture in the region.

Think of Mumbai as the garbage dump over which Ganesh Gaitonde wishes to reign in the early episodes. And then think of the nuking as the devastating fire that brought an empire to an end. Countless lives will share the same fate as Momin, the don of trash, ripped to shreds and fed to that toxic fire. The property damage to Mumbai alone will cost tens of thousands of crores, with the destruction of the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Reserve Bank of India crippling the Indian economy in the long term. Without a functioning state government, administrative functions would collapse, causing sweeping pandemonium.

This is precisely what Gaitonde’s third father wants. In his wolf-guru clothing, he is preparing a false narrative, establishing a front to instigate the backlash against Pakistan and Muslims. India has already warned that even a midget nuclear strike will lead to massive retaliation. Both our countries have stockpiled an arsenal of thermonuclear weaponry that could turn half the world into an irradiated wasteland. So you can imagine what might happen next.

In this, the darkest timeline of Sacred Games, I speculate a recovering India attempting to rebuild itself in the near future, with a fascist wariness toward Islam, blindly labelling followers as terrorists. We would construct concentration camps disguised as re-education centres, where many innocent Muslims are tortured and murdered under the pretext of anti-nationalism. Naturally, we will push and prod them to a breaking point – until someone somewhere decides to call upon a supernatural force to exact some legitimate vengeance.