Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Twenty five years ago, 31st October 1984

I suppose there had to be something prophetic in George Orwell calling his chilling futuristic novel '1984'. It was the year we had moved back to India and had settled into a new phase of our life, in Lucknow. We had our own little rituals. Going to the bank on pay day was one of them! It was a Wednesday, and I wonder what time the kids finished school that day, because we all went to the bank together, which was a good long 'tempo' ride away.( There were no ATMs in those days, and it seemed more prudent to keep less cash at home so that we'd spend less.) We then went to our favourite fast food joint for a dosa lunch. Those were the years when we had one 'family' dinner out each month, and one lunch out with me!
On our way home in another tempo, we heard rumblings that Indira Gandhi had been shot. We didn't know what to expect or what to believe. The news was confirmed much later in the day. The SRE worked at a location about 26km from home. We didn't even have a phone at home, and had no way of contacting him. Only when he got home, somewhat earlier than usual, did we learn of the harrowing fallout of Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. A senior colleague of his was a Sikh, and they all travelled together, in those days, in a breadbox like blue van.
On the way home they had to stop near a local polytechnic, where a mass of students were making sure that no Sikh was passing by in any vehicle. Since the van was high off the road, they could not immediately make out that there was a Sikh sitting in the back. The driver just raced away as fast as he could. The Sikh gentleman's house had security guards already, as there had been some labour issues at the factory. The blue van was parked in our garage, in virtual hiding! (We had a garage but no car). That evening, though, we did not really know how bad the situation was going to get over the next few days.
Early next morning I prudently bought whatever vegetables and bread I could. Schools and offices were closed, and later on in the day a curfew was imposed. My parents were in Delhi, and their downstairs neighbours were Sikhs. We couldn't contact them, and learned only later that neighourhood vigils had been set up to prevent mob attacks. My bread-wallah wanted to attend Mrs Gandhi's funeral in Delhi, and came back with horrible tales of the violence he had seen.
The horrors of that time cannot be forgotten. The potential for violence against our fellow human beings seems to be growing. How many times will our country have to face these horrors?


starry eyed said...

I was in school...and all the kids were discussing it and rumours about Sikhs were flying fast and furious till our Princy banned us from talking about it.

It's a nightmare of a time to remember, along with other communal rioting incidents.

Natasha said...

Must have been scary. And I really wonder how we all managed those days when most people didn't even have phones at home, much less on their person.

Poppy said...

Chilling to read - we in the South have been so well protected for ages - the first time I saw violence was during the Urdu news problem and then soon after the Cauvery issue.

Era said...

Wow, thank you for that insiders view. I was 1/2 a world away and was sad because I'd seen PM Gandhi in the news and always thought about how cool it was that some nations had female rulers but figured that we would never have one in the US.

At that time I had not been to India yet, but now the stories are so much more meaningful to me.

Sanand said...

Yes, I've heard about the mob violence too but never knew any first person accounts of it. It is so gruesome how the mob mentality can paralyze our country and pit us against one another. It is sad.

dipali said...

@starry eyed: I can well imagine. My teacher mailed me after reading this post saying: "I had been head of the College for a year when 1984 happened. It was a nightmare. I had to ensure unobtrusively that no prejudices erupted among the students."
@Rayna M. Iyer: It didn't seem real till later. I do have a very deep seated fear of any kind of mob. There were times when being without a phone was most traumatic.
@Poppy: I wish everyone was safe from such violence.
@Era: Mrs G had such charisma, but the entire mix of religion and politics proved fatal both to her and to thousands of innocent Sikhs. Do see the film 'Amu' if you can. It is a heart breaking story of a child adopted at that time.
@Sanand: I pray that you never have such an awful experience, and that our country truly becomes one which practises ahimsa.

Tasneem R said...

Extremely touching question you have asked to your readers .Simply there seems to be no end to this terrorism . I don't know when will the time come when we all can live peaceful without fearing anything ..

How much are you aware about the common phobias?

sumana001 said...

That's a chillingly brilliant first line!

dipali said...

@Tasneem R: I hope we live to see a more peaceful world.
@sumana001: Thank you. Nice to see you here.