First in the series of memoirs of the week that was in 1984 – is a memory of a friend, Meenakshi.
It was Oct 31st. Our school was off as it was the “last working day” of the month that required teachers to go to school for professional development and the kids to stay at home. My brother was thrilled as there was a one day cricket match between India and Pakistan that was being telecast live on Doordarshan (yeah, no cable then). He was so mad when they suddenly stopped the telecast and said that Smt. Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister was critically wounded and was rushed to AIIMS.
We lived in Lodhi Estate, very close to Sujan Singh Park where many affluent Sikhs lived. We could see Khan Market from our home. A day later, when the details of her bodyguards came out, there was madness in the air.
We saw thick columns of black smoke coming up from the kind Sardarji’s store in the corner that sold electrical items (Just a few weeks earlier, I had got a soldering iron from him for school). There was an eerie silence as curfew was announced. All of us in Government colonies kept inside our homes and we did not go to school for a week. Several taxicabs near Khan Market that were driven by Sikhs were totaled with their windshields smashed and doors battered. We saw these when we ventured out after a few days. Even after many days, these mute victims of those days continued to line the way to school. The small Gurudwara on Maharishi Ramana Marg was in threat of being razed to the ground.
We had a few Sikh neighbors who were hidden in our neighborhood with no one knowing where they were at what time. As it was the end of the month, several people had run out of provisions and had no food at home. With curfew, they could not go to the stores either as all was closed.
Some of our friends called us and found that we still had the “old way” of storing rice and daal for 6 months. They came and took a few Kgs of rice and daal to tide them over until the stores opened. After 4-5 days, a Kendriya Bhandar truck came to Khan Market with some vegetables, fruits and provisions. We silently walked to the truck and bought vegetables. We avoided looking into each others’ eyes. We stood silently in a line and waited to get whatever we could.
Mother, who was an English teacher in a very reputed Public School, had to deal with kids sneaking away to the hallways to listen to the latest cricket score. They were listening to BBC, cricket commentary. The commentary was stopped with the breaking news about Indira Gandhi dead.
She had several Sikh students in her class and she had to literally pull apart 2 kids who were ready to beat up a poor, Sikh kid. BBC was the first to come out with the “truth” about the assassination as Doordarshan kept saying she was wounded every 10 minutes until they got Rajiv Gandhi to reach Delhi.
I was in 9th standard and I still remember my first experience of curfew and what it feels like when neighbors avoid your eye and do not smile. We did not have a single Sikh in our school as ours was a Tamil school with Tamil kids. But, mom’s school was a Punjabi majority school and there, the repercussions of those dark days continued to be felt for many months to come. One of her students was killed as were several family members killed. One of her students retaliated and ended up in prison (3 years later). Some of her Hindu students who had Sikh neighbors, hid them until the threat was over.
Dad, who worked for the government, kept quiet. He refused to talk about anything. To date, he is yet to share anything from those days. He was shocked to see people behave in such ugly ways. His “Southern” innocence was shattered once and for all. The news headlines that he read daily, had become reality.
(Pic courtesy: Dr. Jayanta Chaudhary Art Gallery)
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