Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31, 1984

We were in school when Indira Gandhi was killed on October 31, 1984.

It was just before school closing time and suddenly there seemed to be great panic everywhere and everyone was asked to go home except the few Sikh boys who required to be picked up by parents. We lived in West Delhi in a place called Paschim Vihar near Punjabi Bagh. That was the affluent Punjabi heartland of the City.

I remember feeling terrible that 2 Sikh bodyguards had killed her - she was quite a hero for me till that day. I came home quite oblivious to what was going to follow. My 2 younger brothers studied in a prominent Sikh school in west Delhi. They were home before me and were crying. A mob had set the school to fire. My father worked with RITES in Cannaught Place and my mother wept bitterly till he arrived home safely before it was dark. We lived on the ground floor on rent while the Sindhi Landlords lived on the first floor with their 2 little children. We locked the gate and shut the doors and windows and quietly sat inside wondering what was going on. There was news trickling in of Sikh families being killed, the local Gurudwara had already been attacked and burnt. In the evening my mom and I ventured out to get some milk and groceries from the local market. Everything was shut and there were a few cars fuming on the road. Must have been set to fire earlier that day. I was confused, neurotic and bitter. What the hell was going on.

That night the landlord requested us to vacate the house as soon as possible since they were scared that their building could be damaged. Today I can understand the fear but that day I thought he was insensitive and cruel. We moved to my father's elder brother's house, they lived close by. The next day onwards, neighbours and friends would come and stand on vigil outside the house. But the maids and the milkman and others stopped coming. The schools were closed indefinitely. One of my closest school friend called to ask about us and then made a seemingly innocent comment about Sikhs deserving what they got. I got furious and slammed the phone on him. My young brothers would not stop talking with hatred and anger of wanting to do the same to the 'Hindus' one day. They had to be kept hidden inside the house for days - their 'patkas' made them easy targets. All of us children grew up overnight.

23 years down the line I still shudder at the dim thoughts of that day. Memories of that large house on the main road keep flashing as do those burning cars on the main road. That house was one of the largest on that road. The owners had fled and the house was burnt down. They never got the house repaired for many years and they never came back. My father would say that the burnt house served a reminder to all Sikhs about what had happened and should always be left like that. Thank God that was not to be and a fabulous building came up in its place a few years down the line. But each time I went past that building for those years that it stood in ruins, an eerie chill would go down my spine.

I still hear stories from my current household help about how they got their TV and Fridge for free in the November of 1984. My stomach churns as I write this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A leaf from the past

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As little kids in Lucknow in the heart of UP, Ramlila culminating into Dussehra was a high-point of our lives. We lived in a sleepy Railway Colony called RDSO in the outskirts of the city. There was a small children's park opposite our house adjoining a large government building with wide open space and a platform outside the building where the Ramlila used to be held every year. There were rows of 2 storey railways flats on either side of this building and the terrace of these buildings would be packed with audience. Ramlila would be a week-long affair that would start after dinner time every day and each day would be a sequel to the other. There would be an anchor at the show and each break was filled by jokes and entertainment ! Ram would be played by this very good good looking boy who used to get a great fan following by the end of the show. Sita was played by a boy dressed up like a girl though once they found a girl to play Sita and she promptly eloped with the guy who had played Lakshman after the Ramlila!! It was so exciting to get a front row audience to the Ramlila and us kids would grab the seats hours before it actually began. We clapped at the scenes and wept when Sita was abducted, it almost seemed real. Year after year, the same show was never tiring and when we became older Ramlila became an excuse to celebrate a late night out with friends. Everyone from the Director General to the junior clerk from RDSO came to watch the Ramlila.

After high school we came to Delhi. Going to watch Ramlila was not 'cool' at all in Delhi. I realized with great disappointment that only the maids and the drivers and the like went out to watch the Ramlila, if at all it was held anywhere. There was the upmarket Lal Quila Ramlila that one needed to buy tickets for ! A lot of kids in my class had never seen a Ramlila. This was a big, modern city. This was the capital of India. Never mind India.

A few years further I stopped missing Ramlila though stubbornly enough I continued my small town childhood ritual of watching the effigies of Ravan and cronies being burnt on Dussehra.

Ruhi came along on the Diwali of 2001. She was almost a year old on Dussehra and I took her to watch the bad man die ! She was absolutely frightened and for every year after that she was not to be amused or entertained a bit by Dussehra - much to my disappointment.

This year she is nearly six years old and thanks to her school she knows the story of the Ramayan. She also has a baby brother who at 2 years had the time of his life at Dussehra this year. He pointed a toy gun at the Ravan. Threw arrows and cheered when Ravan went ablaze. Though he asked me later if Ravan was hurt and if we should take him to the doctor !!! LOL

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I still miss Ramlila and I wish I could replicate that experience for my kids. Its one of those things that I know is going to disappear into TV screens in the next few years. Maybe next year I will buy tickets to the upmarket Red Fort Ramlila.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No one reads my blog..

A friend called to say that he thinks no one reads my blog. I thought that was very reassuring, only until I realized that he was laughing at me !!

It also confirms my doubt that most people feel that blogs are written to an 'audience'.

I read an article on blogging in the times of India that said that 'if one cant be candid, urgent, timely, pithy, controversial or utilitarian then one cant be a blogger'. I kept wondering...of course I am candid, maybe controversial but urgent, utilitarian, timely and pithy ?! What the hell is pithy anyway! But I am so so glad that I don't write for anyone but myself, so there !

What hypocricy though, since the above is actually addressed to the 'friend' in some way !!This 'Friend' ( obviosuly i cannot name him on the big bad world wide etc) is the most private human being that I know. I doubt he even has an e mail id. If anyone ever asked him his name, he would want to know their objective in knowing his name ! He will not look into the eye of a person he does not feel like getting acquainted with. ...and not so many years ago he opened the window to the world of internet for me. He would be huddled in front of the monitor with a million browser windows open downloading the universe from the net ! I would watch in fascination - he was almost like a scientist. From there on I got hooked on to the net in its early days in India and then I went berserk.

He is still there with a million browser windows, peeping into everyone's world and i wonder if his brain can take any more information that he has already downloaded in it ! But he won't ever be seen on the net - not even through a mail id. I also read recently that a woman deleted every single e mail that she had received to get rid of the e mail pressure. And that people are now observing 'internet free' days. I am beginning to understand that feeling. I myself observed an 'internet free' evening yesterday. Is it just coincidence that I woke up with a headache this morning ?! Hmmm