The message of this anti-war poem is that the dropping of the atomic bomb was a horrible act, demonstrative of man's inhumanity to man. There were 118,661 civilian deaths up to 10 August 1946.
Vikram Seth personalizes the shock and suffering of the Japanese people who are startled one pleasant Monday morning by describing the effects of the bomb through the eyes of a doctor. The momentary delight in the beauty of nature when he awakens is violently shattered as the bomb that strikes is nearly one hundred degrees centigrade when it touches the earth, and it becomes a virtual fireball.
The speaker of the poem has his clothes burned off him instantly:
My drawers and undershirt disappeared.
A splinter jutted from my mangled thigh.
My right side bled, my cheek was torn, and I
Dislodged, detachedly, a piece of glass....
This doctor is so stunned by what has happened that he removes the piece of glass from his face as though it were an injury someone else has experienced. He seems to be in shock as he calls to his wife,
Pale, bloodstained, frightened, Yecko-san emerged,
Holding her elbow. ‘We’ll be fine,’ I urged –
‘Let’s get out quickly.'
Images of blood, a severed head,"Fire sprang up in the dust." Ironically maintaining his cultural politeness, the doctor says to the head, "Excuse me, please excuse me." A soldier hands him a towel to cover his nakedness as they move with others who must hold out their arms so that they do not touch their bodies and "chafe flesh against flesh again. The instant that the bomb was dropped, people became metaphoric "scarecrows," walking phantoms of themselves; "all were wordlessly dumb."