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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'V' for Victory

It was his birthday on March 21 and that reminded me of the fact that we have not communicated with each other for several years now.

We met for the first time in late 1989, soon after I moved to Chandigarh, along with my family. He was among my class-mates at school. Both of us lived in the same sector of the city and used to ride our respective bicycles together every day, at least on the way back home, since I was almost invariably late in the mornings. We were in standard IX then.

After completing standard X, he got himself admitted to a college, while I remained at the same school as before. Within the next three years, we passed the standard XII examinations and then spent a year without having joined any educational institution as he meant to re-appear and improve his scores and I hoped to be able to prepare better for the tests for admission into an engineering course.

During all those years, we remained the closest of friends. Besides being together at school and, later, going for private tuition classes, we used to spend a lot of time in each other's company. He would often come to visit in the evenings and remain seated on his bicycle (which was replaced by a scooter, after he got a driving licence) just outside the gate, while I stood inside, and we would talk for hours on end, even as we ogled at passers-by. At other times, I would visit his place and we would sit in his room and chat, while munching on some tasty snack or the other that his mother plied us with.

More time at hand was filled with long walks or skating along the periphery of the Sukhna lake or hanging out at the piazza in sector 17 along with some other friends.

I often remember some of the pranks that we played on unsuspecting people and smile to myself. For instance, one fine day, when my family as well as the nice folk who lived upstairs had gone out, we climbed up, through the cutout, to what could perhaps be termed as their back-yard, using a stool to get on to the upper rail of a window sash and then clambering up a wall and walking carefully across its narrow top-surface, almost like real-life commandos. We had carried along his .22 calibre air-rifle and a box of lead pellets, in addition to a pair of field glasses. The parapet had been constructed in such a way that there were gaps between the bricks, large enough to pass the barrel of the gun through and take aim without really being seen, except from a very short distance.

We took turns shooting at the window panes of a house across the road. The air-rifle was not powerful enough for any of the shots to break the thick glass across the distance of about 100-150 metres, however, a loud noise was produced each time a pellet found its mark. The occupants of the house must have been flummoxed! At first, an old woman came out to investigate, but went back inside within a minute or two. We shot a few more times. Shortly, her beautiful grand-daughter stepped out to try and locate the source of the noise. That was when the field glasses came in handy!

There were many other such incidents, which I can not recall without a chuckle, during those four years or so, at the end of which my friend joined the Merchant Navy, like his father and elder brother. I recall that I had written "V for victory and V for Vishal" on the card that I gave him, to wish him for his birthday, soon before he left.

Subsequently, I joined a local college to pursue a bachelor's degree in arts, having realised that being the teetotaller that I am, science and mathematics were not really my cups of tea. I did not get to see him until when I was in the third and final year, as he completed his training and then continued to sail from one port to another. Unfortunately, during the days that he came to visit the hometown, I was preparing for the entrance examinations for a post graduate course in management, besides preparing for those of the final year of the graduate degree, and was not able to manage to spare the kind of time for him that I should have. He left without saying farewell, at the end of his vacation.

Soon thereafter, I moved to Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh where I had secured admission in a C-grade business school. I had taken his mailing address from his mother before I left and wrote to him from there. We corresponded a few times after that and also spoke to each other over the telephone, even after I completed the course and moved to the national capital region, where my parents had shifted residence to by that time.

Then, his brother got married and I sent a congratulatory note. He wrote back to regret the fact that he had not invited me. I responded with a letter full of anger. He never replied. Since then, I have written several times, to wish him and his family a happy new year or to wish him a happy birthday, but have not heard from him. His father was kind enough to call me once to enquire after my well being and to assure me that he would pass my message on to Vishal, which I am sure he must have done.

The Almighty alone knows whether I shall ever be re-united with my friend, but the effect that having lost a friend has had on me is that I have become more forgiving and receptive to sincere apologies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Golden Oldie

The B4U Movies channel on television airs songs from old Hindi movies every night around 1 a.m., which often include some from the black and white era, on a show called Tasveerein. Here is one such rare gem that has been on the show more than once. I would like to offer my sincerest apologies, in advance, to those who do not understand Hindi/Urdu. I am sure they, too, can enjoy the music, however.

Film: Ek Raaz (which released in the year 1963)
Singer: Kishore Kumar (on whom the song has been picturised, as well)
Music Director: Chitragupt
Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My father's memories of November 1984

My father has been kind enough to pen down some of his experiences and memories from those tumultuous times, which are as follows:
"There is no doubt that the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 were a totally planned process. This is borne out by my personal experiences described here. The identities of those who carried out the planning not only in Delhi, but all over the Hindi belt, have been suppressed by the commissions or investigating agencies.

I was working with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Hardwar, in 1984 and living in the BHEL colony at Ranipur, Hardwar.

We were in office on 31st October when the news of Indira Gandhi's assassination came in. There were no ill-feelings among the staff members except one or two personal clashes.

However, when we went to office on 1st November, the atmosphere had totally changed. People were huddled in groups and discussing something that they wanted to keep from me, but since we had been working together for nearly 20 years, they hesitatingly informed me that there was a list of Sikh properties and establishments, which were to be attacked and burned down on that day. The process was to start from the other end of Hardwar, near Bhimgoda, and end in BHEL and Jwalapur in the evening or at night.

Based on the list, people were monitoring the progress by contacting their near and dear ones by telephone and confirming whether the arsonists had burnt down this property or were proceeding to that property.

Throughout the day, I could see that the process was going almost as planned, because the police were with the arsonists, which was confirmed later, as described in some of the following paragraphs.

In the evening, when I reached home, I observed that many people had collected on the roof-top of the house just behind mine and were discussing loudly among themselves about Sant Talkies (a cinema-hall owned by a Sikh) having been set on fire. Since, Sant Talkies was located near BHEL and it represented the last item in the list for Hardwar, they had apparently been prepared to watch the show of the burning of the cinema hall, in the evening.

Since there was plenty of movement on the roads at that time, I decided to go and fetch the family's milk supply, which had to be brought from the other end of the colony, on foot, as I usually did. As I walked through the colony, I could hear people calling out to each other to proceed to the BHEL Gurdwara to participate in the attack on it or, at least, to watch it being destroyed.

As I was returning, I could see the crowds thickening and moving towards the Gurdwara. By the time I reached home, I could see huge crowds surrounding the Gurdwara and, subsequently, burning it down.

Sensing trouble, my family and I locked ourselves up in the house and simply waited for events to take shape.

Our neighbours were celebrating and saying that today our family was going to be eliminated. They were storing water in drums, which, according to them, was meant to be used for preventing the fire from spreading to their own houses, when ours was set on fire.

The mob, after burning the Gurdwara, went to the house of one of the Gurdwara's managing committee's members, but he and his family members escaped death, although injuries were sustained. The mob went away after his aged father drew a gun and prepared to shoot at the attackers. Another member of the committee was shot at with a country-made pistol, but he also escaped death as the bullet only grazed his neck.

Late into the night, the BHEL administration called in the army from the Raiwala cantonment and so the rest of the days of anti-Sikh violence in India passed off peacefully for us.

After a few days, my motorcycle mechanic visited me (I used to own an Ideal Jawa motorbike, at that time). He was a Sikh gentleman. I could not recognise him until he identified himself, as he was clean-shaven. When I asked him, he told me about all that had happened.

He used to be the only mechanic in Hardwar who could repair the Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles. So, all police personnel of Hardwar used to go to him for getting their official motorcycles repaired. He said that early in the morning of 1st November, some policemen came to his house and told him that he was one of the targets on that day's list. They told him that they did not want him to be killed, but they could not protect him either. So, they suggested that he remove all external symbols of Sikhism, become clean-shaven and seek 'forgiveness' from the leaders of the mob, when they came to attack him and his motor-garage. So, in this way, they told him, he could be saved and not lose his source of livelihood i.e. his motorcycle repair facility.

He acted accordingly and he and his garage were spared.

He and some others also told me that when the Sikh establishments were looted and burned, the police personnel were encouraging the people to loot and were also noting down the names and addresses of the looters, as well as the items that each of them had looted. Later on they visited the looters and demanded a share, or, the looted items, if the looters were not prepared to pay.

One of Giani Zail Singh's (who was the president of India at that point of time)relatives was also working with BHEL, Hardwar. He told me that when he rang up Giani Zail Singh to ask for protection, Giani ji informed him that he was virtually a prisoner himself and unable to move out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The president told him that being helpless himself, he was unable to offer any help and that the relative should manage on his own, as best as he could.

These events clearly prove that the whole operation was very well-planned and the details known, in advance, to all concerned, including the police, so that all activities could go ahead as scheduled.

The conditions were similar in many other cities of the Hindi belt as well as in Delhi, as I subsequently came to know from many other Sikhs as well non-Sikhs, who were witness to such events."