Monday, December 1, 2008


My first awareness of terrorism was in 1984, in October– when Sikhs demanding Khalistan assassinated our Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. I remember a sense of unreality and disbelief, a sensation of being out of my ten-year old body. There was no continuous cacophony of television channels swooping in on newsworthy tragedies, like they do today. Only an eerie, tense silence, a suspension of activity for a long, stretched out moment.

In retrospect, it surely did not happen that way. The grainy black-and-white pictures on the state-owned Doordarshan repeated over and over again, the slow stumble and fall, the rumours spreading like a forest on fire.

The vehicles spontaneously stopped plying, the shops willingly downed shutters. Our school was declared closed, and we walked back home, saucer-eyed-apprehensive. A cousin who went by train to a school in Kolkata trudged back 25 kilometers on foot. She remembers the blisters on her feet. Our minds were blistered, too. The known, familiar social order had been overturned (we had grown up learning in our schoolbooks and from the newspapers – which we were just getting into the habit of reading daily – that the iron-willed Indira Gandhi the leader of our country, it felt that she had been so for ever) not by the ballot, but by a bullet.

What shocked my childish self most was the betrayal – the bullet which killed Indira Gandhi was shot by one of her own body-guards. As a ten-year old, loyalty came very very high on my priority list of values.

And then began the tearing apart of order and sanity. The anti-Sikh riots left us shaken. It was one thing to feel angry with the Khalistanis for trying to rip apart India, to feel enraged at the assassin’s betrayal in killing the hand that fed him. It was a totally different thing to see innocent Sikhs being pulled out of their homes and killed.

We had a Sikh family living in our para (locality); the husband was a strapping, jovial Sikh married to a Bengali Hindu wife. Of course, it was a love marriage, and of course, it seemed a very romantic and daring thing to elope with and marry a person from a different culture, defying your parents. Our young hearts were captivated by this love story. What fascinated me was the apparent ease with which this Bengali lady had adapted to her husband’s culture. She wore the salwar-kameez (not the then-ubiquitous Bengali saree), tied her hair in plaits instead of a bun and spoke in robust Punjabi to her family (switching to Bengali if she was talking to one). I remember peeping many times into their walled house which had a friendly, always-open narrow door, giving a view of the open courtyard which seemed full of bustle and people.

During the riots we were not allowed to go out-of-doors. After the bloodbath, when school re-opened, I remember gazing in grief at the disconsolate open door of their hastily-abandoned house, half-torn from its hinges. The empty courtyard, to which they never returned, spoke of another kind of betrayal – the betrayal of neighbours who had long pretended to be friends but who had nursed xenophobia in their hearts.



ugich konitari said...

It was 1984 for me too. it simply brought in fear, distrust, doubt and all kinds of negative things in the business of day to day living. Add to that the uncertainities in life today, given the varieties of personal crime, and one worries incessantly when someone is late etc (regardless of cell phones). Quite simply, the mind has been terrorized......

Lazyani said...

For me, it had to be 1984-- when the world changed for me . I realised that one could kill ones neighbour just because he wore a patka, the previous days shared lassi be damned. My father talks of communal riots of the days of partition.
Oh dear. Why can't there be peace and respect!!

sidhubaba said...

I remember Indira Gandhi assassination too. I was quite young. And School closed. I faintly remember commenting how could it happen - big people have bodyguards. Little did I know.

About the anti-Sikh riots I remember little. My locality is full of Sikhs. But I guess some sort of sanity was there. But I was surprised to hear one of aunts say that a particular Sikh was so 'crafty' that he shaved off his hair. Even then I was surprised. Life comes before most things.

ugich konitari said...

have left email on your gmail. Please check.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks, everybody, once again. 1984 seems to be the entrypoint of terrorism in the Indian consciousness, the death of innocence, the beginning of fear.

Mampi said...

WE grew up in the shadow of terrorism in Punjab.
Let me, however, correct the facts here. It was a betrayal, no doubt, of a bodyguard killing the leader. But it was not a khalistan demanding person who killed her. He killed her to avenge the Operation Blue-Star which the Sikhs believe is the betrayal of a highest order.
Not justifying anything though.
I wish the example of a secular family of the Sardar and his Bengali wife were followed. No Delhi-1984, no Babri-2002, no Ayodhya-1992 would have happened.