6th December, 1992. Lucknow
The Sengupta family on the first floor were jumping with joy. Kaku (uncle) had victoriously announced that the Masjid had been broken. I ran down the stairs straight into our living room (which was sometimes our bedroom, sometimes the play room) and told Baba what I had heard.
Baba was looking for candles. He paused and guffawed- “Tomaar Kaku Shopno dekhchen” (Your Uncle is day dreaming). There was no electricity in the house. There was no electricity in our para (Colony/block).
We understood in next few minutes that BBC radio had indeed broadcasted that the Masjid had been broken. That this particular power cut was to maintain peace.
My Baba had seen a ghost that day.
I didn’t know what to make of it. How bad could things get? Ma’s family was from East Bengal (Now Bangladesh). I had grown up on stories of riots and partition.
Would Anwar, Maria, Yasmin Auntie, Muin Bhai manage well?
Not able to bear the sight of my father’s huge figure slump down on the wooden chair…in the darkness of the room… the house… I moved to the other room.
Ma was sitting with one of her childhood friends. I was asked to bring in a candle. Her friend was complaining how the Police had beaten up the Karsevaks. All I remember is we had a brief argument.
There are many things I remember of that time. Not just about 6th December 1992. But of many months before that. I remember young boys jumping on the streets of Model House, beating Steal thaalis, putting red tikaas on people’s foreheads. I remember them screaming JAI SHRI RAM. It was a war cry.
I had loved everything about Hindu culture till then. Durga Puja, tikas, Bhai photas, Sindoor Khaela (playing with vermilion), Ma’s shakha pola (red and white bangles) and aalta (red colour on feet), bhogs (community meals during festivals) with friends. I was a cultural Hindu Bengali… And yet…
And yet… I had stepped back and stood behind Baba ,when I had seen the boys with (Vermilion for forehead) approach us. They were the hooligans of our colony. They had harassed all the girls in the colony many a times. Now they were Hindu? And now they were ascetic? and holy?
…And just like that…when in class 11th my entire class was arguing how Muslims should be sent to Pakistan…Seema Rana and I fought back strong and long. We were enough for the whole class.
(Seema, member of All India Democratic Women’s Association)
I remember the school shutting down early one day. There were rumours of a Sadhu having been arrested. We later realised Advani had been arrested by Lalu. There was a curfew in the city. I told my cousin to ride me to our house as there was no phone at home. Ma would get very worried . All through the streets we kept wondering whether it was a good idea to go home that day. We rode 15 kms. I was shaking and shivering when we finally reached home.
Then of course after 6th December 1992, when the curfew broke, Muin Bhai (PhD is Arabic Literature , our local grocer, loser in local elections) was the first to step out with milk and bread for all of us. The break was short. No stores were opened. He carried bags of milk, eggs and bread. The courage! That wisdom! And that grace! He walked to our side of the rock where Hindus lived. A little far away was the Saraswati Shishu Mandir. I peeped out of the window. He spoke with everyone. Everyone called him Muin Bhai.
In one of those short curfew breaks my classmate and now my longest friend … Anwar visited us. He lived in Machli Mohalla…a mohalla next to ours…but he must have passed Saraswati Shishu Mandir. He stood outside our red brick house. I asked him if he was ok. He casually told me he had come to check on me.
Baba looked out of the window and asked me to invite him…inside….in that living room…which was sometimes our bedroom…sometimes our play room. Quite a small room. A room where mostly adult guests were invited. My father acknowledged Anwar and me as grown up people that day.
Yasmin Auntie, Ma’s Yasmindi… one of the English Professors in Ma’s college…often admired for being an actor/performer for All India Radio, Lucknow gradually moved to Canada with her son. There is a long story about her…about how she didn’t become the Principal of the college although she was the senior most…but that some other day!