Response to the article published in The Hindu

The following is one of the responses to the Article that was published in the daily – The Hindu.

1984 – Past Forward

Perhaps some of you would have come across on telly two recently over-exposed pictures that I happened to see – one, voilent clashes on the streets of Calcutta ( I hate to call it Kolkata ) between lumpen cadres of two bullies of Bengal polity – CPM and TMC and two, that of wicked Cong-politician Mr. Jagdish Tytler in connection with 1984 Sikh riots.

1984 pogrom was not just one of its kind that stigmatised country’s political and social conscience and shamed the nation. Many preceded it and many followed it, no less in brutalty and madness. Goes without saying, death and mayhem have numbed all human sensitivities and sadly, the populous have now learnt to live with indifference. Are we or more pertinently, am I a part of this syndrome too or an ‘exception’ ? I pray for the latter.

Why the hell like a cunning politician I am scratching and peeling off the dried crest of old wounds of 1984 o n this quite sunday afternoon? I have no axe to grind….then why ? I have a strong reason to believe as to why often the ghost of 1984 keeps coming and haunting me. Yes, I recall now. On this day I squarely blame Jagdish Tytler and his obnoxious discourse on telly. He disturbed the creases of time that hid my hurt and anger and forced my mind to recall my tryst with destiny in the aftermath of his leader’s assasination. I vividly remember – it was 31st October, 1984 and I happened to be in Calcutta for an official meeting. None was aware that Indra Gandhi was shot dead th at morning. News was deliberately kept under wraps. Around late afternoon news trickled in to disturb the city’s slumber. AIR and DD maintained a stoic silence, not divulging anything . Air was agog with all sort of wild rumours. I came out on Chowrangee to summon my cab which was unfortunately chauffeured by an elderly Sardarji and almost at the same time the hell broke loose. Like a tsunami bands of slogan shouting Youth Congress cadre swarmed all over the place and within my sight went berserk . Caught amidst the rampaging mobs I somehow managed to run into The Grand Hotel to take refuge like a few others before doors of hotel were firmly slammed shut. It was not the era of mobile phones. I was totally cut-off from Haralal Das Street. As Calcutta’s troubled evening passed the bundle of fear & anxiety over to the advancing shadows of night, the Grand Hotel literally evicted the non-residents to clear the premises. I found myself on Chowrangee again ! It was foolish to expect poor Sardarji to be waiting for me in that on-going mob-fury on the street. I believed, either he had already fled alive bynow or butchered by rowdies on the altar of IG, the PM ? I have no idea as to how I snaked through back- lanes and by-lanes of Park Steet, SNB and Entally to reach home hours later much to the relief of Raji Akka * & Viswanath Attimber ** .

November 1st and 2nd turned out to be the blackest days of the country’s post-independence history. It was evident from pictures telecast by the Bangladesh TV that going was rather very very bad. Even for me it was a nightmare. I had a return ticket for Delhi for 2nd November and Indian Airlines was not forthcoming about re-scheduling of their flights. The Paint House boys reported about the clamping of Section 144 in most parts of the city. I was itching to be at home as promised, for the 8th wedding anniversary with Chummi and Shweta who was just about two and half years then. Telephone lines in the city were reportedly ripped off and damaged and there was no flow of communication between us. Only consolation was that JNU was presumably a safe haven. With heart overiding mind, my determination was not to miss the red letter day . And, I took my chances. I borrowed a cycle from the Paint House, roped my VIP suitcase to back- carrier and around noon, commenced my journey towards the Indian Airlines’ HO at Chittaranjan Avenue. Goes without saying, dear Attimber was quickly on to my toes. Half-way through we felt that our bravado was perhaps misplaced as we could see crazy goons were playing hide & seek with police despite prohibitory order targeting everything in sight . Yet, we decided to push our luck further. I soon realised that afterall Attimber had not spent his youth in Calcutta for nothing. He knew narrow alleys and corridors of the so-called the City of Joy ( nay, Sorrow !) much better than Christopher Columbus knew his ocean s and waves. Without any harm to us, sweating and panting we reached IA office which was heavily barricaded. After a lot of cajoling Attimber left me alone and headed back home… I didn’t ever asked him how ? Once inside the building, I was lost in the crowd of jostling passengers.

At IA counters scene was utterly chaotic. None knew for sure any thing about flight arrivals or departures. Endless waiting and intermittent enquires revealed nothing whatsoever. Pounding head and anxious heart had blown away thoughts of hunger and thurst; nothing by means was available anyway. I had no inkling when the afternoon quitely slipped into night in the world beyond. Around 9 PM I heard a hushed secret. A special aircraft was to make a touch down at Dum Dum and take off to Delhi within the next thirty minutes; it was carting a bunch of foreign correspondents and some unknowns for the funeral of the dead PM slated for the 3rd November . I saw a silver lining in the clouds of gloom and uncertainty and made a tentative move with a flickering hope. Spotted an army brigadier who too was going through the grind, with professional dexterity befriended him and together we took a senior airlines staff into confidence for accomodation of our request. To my astonishment my plea worked and favour was granted. I too was quitely allowed to board the heavly guarded IA bus that soon left with roar of engine towards airport. All the way it was greeted with a variety of missiles by hostile mob. But it was still Calcutta and not Delhi ……

By the time this special – IA bird breached the air-corridor over Delhi it was nearing 2300 hrs in the night of 2nd November. Capital was still burning. It was so evident from the sky as the aircraft hovered low over the city before being granted permission for landing. North to South and East to West, I could see through window the streaks of fiery orange and smoky black enveloping the space below clouds . Hardly could I comprehend that thousands of innocent Sikhs have already been butured, burnt alive and maimed in the Capital that lay beneath. I wondered…w as it Delhi of November , 1675 which witnessed the beheading of Guru Tegh Bahadur by Aurangzeb or was it Delhi of the early 18th century which wept after the plunder and massacre by Nadir Shah and his Persian marauders or the post-Partition Delhi of 1947 ? Whatever, the Gods have failed again and men ,women and children of Sikh community were devoured in sheer madness. Delhi was badly inflicted , mutiliated and left scarred in a repeat act of history !

An errie silence welcomed me at Palam airport. Close on heels of that Brigadier I came out of the exit gate and with just a nod parted ways. Outside security presence was palpable. Some one announced that city is reeling under curfew and passengers were advised not to saunter out. It was a shocker of a news …near yet far. It looked the whole day’s effort and hope to be at home with dear ones dashed to pieces. And then it all happened out of blue ! Four guys, perhaps passengers of some earler flights, having run out of patience had hatched a plan to sneak out of the airport in a cab that they had somehow managed to rope in for their get-away act . I pleaded with them to be part of their escapade. Cost was bargained and I was accomodated.

Delhi indeed was under lockdown. “Army had taken control”, the cabby muttered as he hit the road, wizzed past a couple of outpost without hinderance and raced past West End, Vasant Vihar and Malai Mandir on a deserted Outer Ring Road. Glancing out on the way I saw the rear side of smouldering Harikishan Public School and a charred Malcha Petrol pump. They were intact when I left for Calcutta the other day ! What the hell had happened in my known territory ? I could feel goose -pimples on body.

Just as the cab was nearing Munirka – my bargained destination for disembarking , my luck suddenly deserted me. An army jeep from nowhere appeared and gave a chase with siren blarring. In jiffy all the occupants were yanked out of cab and surrounded by gun totting soldiers. Invectives began to rain, a few slaps cut-across air and found the cheeky targets. Extremely furious Colonel – incharge reminded me of shoot-at-sight order in force and sought to know reasons for defiance of curfew. I might have stammered and blabbered something in my defence and flashed counter-foil of my Indian Airlines ticket to vet my sob story; however, I was thor oughly done and dusted. I do not know about the fate of other guys but Colonel did let me go. He thundered to get lost off his sight and run for my life before he changed his mind and pulled the triger. Shaken to core, I just could barely walk with suitcase (without wheels!) in grip leave alone running as ordered. Munirka to old JNU flat – a distance of barely 2.5 KM – looked an unending road to hell. Then came t he last twist in the tale. W hile I struggl ed to cover almost half the distance , lady luck smiled again. Unbelievab ly, the same blazing Colonel came driving close to me and extended an unsolicited help and lift upto JNU gate – perhaps he appreciated my bravado or say, foolishness displayed for sake of anxious family at home.

The usually chi rpy JNU campus bore a stony silence that night. The gates were locked. Afterall the University’s Chief Security Officer was a Sikh himself. My army escort made a profound impact. The frightened guard took time to recognise me before letting me in ! No further evidence was necessary to understand the gravity of situation prevailing in the Capital. For me, the last summit was conquered.

Just about mid-night the trail of horror of 2nd November 1984 melted into a sublime sweetness of togetherness when I took my loved ones in my arms at home..sweet home. That remains one of the finest moment of my life … . indescribable beyond words and worthy beyond bushels of gold and silver.

Almost thirty years ago the technology of ‘modern’ riots started. The final verdict against the political instigators and actors of crime are still to be pronounced. The guilty like the Tytlers are still roaming unscathed. Having caught in the web of terror in 1984 myself I have a sound reason to cry loud for justice alike those sikhs who had lost their near & dears. Till then ….the Ghost of Delhi of 1984 might return to me again and again !

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