Friday, December 07, 2007

fifteen years ago, yesterday

Actually, I'm not sure why I wanted to post about it at all. December 6 was like any other day when I left at 6.15 in the morning for college. Bus, train, bus, canteen and the first cup of coffee. Classes. If something was different, if there were premonitions of disaster, I did not sense it in the morning. Neither did anyone else, I imagine.

In the afternoon, some of us were in the studio, doing radio practicals or something like that. By then there were more rumours than we knew how to make sense of. Those of us who were in a city that was not ours, wondered how we would get back to the places we were staying.

But we were the lucky ones. We were in town, we had classmates who were friends, who took us back to their homes, where we stayed for the next ten days (and again in January, for a couple of weeks). We played darts, gossiped into the night, blew contraband cigarette smoke outside the bedroom window, carefully ignoring other kinds of smoke that filled the air.

I did not have to go back to Kalina, to the flat I was sharing with a friend, which had one electric heater that almost never worked; to the road lined with trucks selling scrap metal, with the one cheap dhaba where the truck drivers ate; to where, when we did return days later, we didn't know how to ask our landlord if he and his family were okay and what they did and worse, whether they had begun counting their losses.

Fifteen years ago I was, as I still am, as most of us are, used to looking at the world through the prism of my own concerns. A few days after the riots were over and we were back at SCM, Antoine had a party at his place. I don't know if any of us felt the absurdity of it, but we all turned up. I met Sur there for the first time and many others. My life was complex and traumatic and none of it had anything to do with what had happened elsewhere in the country in the first week of December.

But in class all we ever talked about was what happened and what it mean for us as people, as a city as a country. We looked at headlines, where they were places, in what order and why. I don't know why it never occurred to anybody until then, but it suddenly became clear to us in the last month of 1992 that Bombay was never the cosmopolitan city it claimed to be. We became aware of how many places were already ghettoes, how easy it must have been for whole communities to be found and destroyed. We watched the Newstrack report where the mobs swarmed onto the top of the Masjid and brought it down in the space of a few hours.

In the weeks that followed, we gathered old clothes, paid visits to areas like Jogeshwari and continued doing what we used to do and now had to do with no perceptible change. I'd liked to say that that year damaged something that was whole before but I'm not sure I would be right to make such a claim. Sure, we noticed now how people in Bombay displayed their rat-infested flats and kitchens that stank of poor drainage and proudly declared that these buildings had only Hindus in them, but if it signified anything at all, it signified a loss of our private innocence and not a change in the world around us.

I'd like to draw clear lines through then and now and draw neat conclusions about what such events mean. But I can't because what I saw of it and what I remember of it has less than nothing to do with what really happened. I was insulated from the worst of it and it would be stupid to start speaking on behalf of those who were. So, yeah, I guess there really is nothing to say about it that does sound egregious and/or pompous.


dipali said...

We were in Lucknow then. It was the time my then-almost-teenage-son realized that people were categorized by religion. It was the time I felt too ashamed and abashed to look my vegetable seller in the eye,that evening at Pir Baba ki Mazaar. It's a date that I wish I could forget, but never can. A date symbolizing a loss of innocence and of faith in my countrymen.

??! said...

the only people who ever claimed Bombay was a cosmopolitan city were those in the media.

It has always been, and still is, intensely ghetto'ed. People still get surprised when they sometimes have to wander through Mohd Ali Road, through Nagpada, Agripada, Masjid Bunder, or even Banganga, Sion, Antop Hill, Bandra, Tardeo, Grant Road.

There are more than just seven islands making up the city.

Space Bar said...

Dipali: I don't wish to forget. We ought to remember and not merely commemorate one day by calling it Black Day and doing the obligatory bandh. But we should remind ourselves again and again of what we are capable of.

Gujarat was five year ago, right? They're going to polls in a few days, right? Here's what 23 year old Hardik Parikh has to say today about the Gujarat riots:

"It was important to teach the Muslims a lesson. They are mushrooming and they will start to kill Hindus."

"It should not be repeated, but once is ok."

??!: I agree. In those days, I was training to become a part of the media circus and was naturally blind to what everyone else seemed to know.