Thursday, January 30, 2014

I was in Delhi on 31st October, 1984

The Civil Services exams. were beginning on 1st November, 1984. I was taking the exam, in spite of already having a fairly lucrative career as a Marine Engineer. I had taken a Barsati on rent in Tagore Garden, a quintessential middle class locality in Western Delhi. a largely Punjabi locality, it had been my abode for the previous 2 months, from where I used to commute to my coaching institute. My landlord, Mr. Kukreja, was a Punjabi Hindu, and one could quite clearly see that the locality had a sizeable sprinkling of Sikh families.
John Prasad Menezes, a Christian from Mangalore had become a friend in the institute and we used to prepare together for our common subject, History. He was there the previous day and we had done our final polishing through the day and he left in the evening, and we had decided that we would keep the next day free so that we could be in a relaxed frame of mind on the day of exam.
On 31st, I did my brushing up for the two compulsory language papers which did not really bother me as I was quite good in both English and Hindi, and so around 2 pm, I decided to indulge in one of my luxury outings, i.e. go to the nearby restaurant and have a dosa. As India was playing Pakistan in a one-dayer, it was also an opportunity to catch up on the score as I had kept my transistor off for several days in order not to lose focus.
As I ensconced myself in the run down restaurant and ordered a masala dosa, I saw a few people huddled around a transistor listening very intently. I asked one of them, "Bhai sahib, kya score hua?"
His reply was somewhat baffling. He said, "Abhi hospital le ke gaye hain."
I was somewhat confused. I persisted, "Vengsarkar to abhi hai na". "Nahin abhi khabar nahin aayee hai. Hospital mein hi hai" was the response. I was getting more confused than ever. "Injured ho gaya kya", I asked.
The man understood now that I did not know. He asked me, "Pata nahin kya? Indira ji ko goli maar dii hai". It took me precisely 10 seconds to finish the dosa and to get glued to the transistor. In a little while, it was announced by AIR that Indira Gandhi was no more. I do not remember whether it was announced or now, but it was known that it was an act by the two Sikh body guards to avenge the Operation Blue Star.
There was grief all around. She was not at the height of her popularity at that point. In fact, it was largely expected that Congress would fall short of majority in the next elections. But nobody had bargained for what had just happened.
I went back to my dwelling. I dusted up my transistor and put it on. Luckily the battery was holding. I could sense that there might be trouble if reactions took place but I was not quite sure what to do. AS yet, there was no word about the exams. the one-dayer had been called off even though India had a rare chance to defeat a strong Pakistani team. The tour had also been called off. I had the choice to go to my cousin sister's house in Krishnanagar in Trans-Yamuna area, but it would be very difficult to travel to the UPSC from there as there was no word about the exam.
By evening, it was announced that the Civil Service exam. was being postponed indefinitely. I hought of leaving for Krishnanagar as the shops had been shut and I had not stocked up my provisions. I used to depend mostly on bread and butter and powdered milk. I had one loaf of bread and enough butter, but nothing else. The neighbourhood restaurant had shut down for the day and I was in a quandary. The bus services had also shut down and I had to stay put. I went to bed early as had become my habit after carefully eating the minimum out of my limited rations.
I think it must have been around 2 in the night when Mr. Kukreja came up to my 3rd floor Barsati and woke me up and asked me to come down and attend an emergency mohalla meeting. I was not clear, but he told me that all male members of every family were required to attend the meeting. As he had three daughters and his wife in the family, he thought of asking me to accompany him as a family member. I felt honoured, and a little relieved too as I could see this development as an insurance against my meagre and fast dwindling rations.
I quickly changed and went down. The meeting was close to our place. It was a huge gathering of nearly 200 persons. There were around a dozen Sikhs in a highly agitated state. They were carrying all kind of arms, from kripans to swords to guns and I was truly flabbergasted to see about a dozen men carrying arms sufficient for a full platoon of Army. At first look, it appeared as if there was some kind of altercation on. However, things cleared up after a while.
News had come in from various places that an anti-Sikh pogrom was on in various parts of Delhi and some relatives of our Sikh neighbour had already been killed. Name of a political party was being freely taken and our Sikh neighbours were saying that a mob was coming from outside and they would face that mob outside rather than be waylaid at home in darkness.
The argument was on a different point. The Hindus were telling their Sikh friends not to risk themselves in the open. It was a hearty sight to see a hundred young Hindu men volunteer to do night guard duty to ensure that no outsider was allowed into the locality, and another rotation was planned for the day. I did guard duty that night. The Sikhs were placed at the centre of the Mohalla, where they would be safest. The camaraderie was elevating, to say the least.
We did this duty for 2 nights. Army patrols came o the 3rd night, on 2nd November. The killings had stopped by 2nd. The funeral was on the 3rd. I survived this period by borrowing some food from my landlord as bread, butter and milk were not available.
On the 3rd, I was told that a few buses were plying for those who wanted to go to India Gandhi's funeral. I took my landlord;s permission and hopped on to a bus which took me to the Central Secretariat. After that, I walked 12 kms. to my sister's house. On the way, I could see the fires still burning, a testimony to the destruction which had taken place.
I have just placed the facts as I remember them nearly 30 years after the event. Can we deduct the truth out of this?