1984

I presume the title guides the reader towards thinking this is a eulogy to George Orwell. Actually 1984 started the decline of statism and socialist tendencies for India, it ended the authoritarian tyranny of Indira Gandhi. It started off mildly for me though, too young to actually start lusting for girls but too old to be contemptuous of them, it was that peculiar transition period for me when girls seemed attractive but I had little or no idea why. Our annual exams are held in early April and then the kids are let off for two months till mid-June, in India the hottest months are April and May, June signals the beginning of monsoon. My grades as usual were above average, good but not enough to warrant anything spectacular, just enough that my parents would not be embarrassed and proceed to make things difficult . A nonchalant lazy summer passed by, and two months of my life disappeared without a trace, I had discovered the pleasures of reading books from a library. My father was a conventional man who could not believe that a book was useful if you had to return it. He once told me that his attitude to books was the same as a child’s to sugarcane, you can never understand a book completely by reading it the first time just like the child can never rejoice in the sweet taste of a sugar cane merely by licking it, to truly assimilate it you have to read it again and again just like the child can enjoy his cane if he chews and chews and chews. So in short, my library application goes the way of the dustbin. But fortunately my dear friend, Supranoy had a more understanding parent and he was allowed to join Sai library, which had a huge collection of Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. My summer was spent exclusively in the company of Mr. Poirot , Mr. Wooster, Mr. Psmith, Uncle Fred , Lord Elmsworth and Mr. Galahad. I spent more time in phantasmagoria involving the Orient Express, the English countryside, rescuing and wooing damsels in distress, chasing criminals the world over but the average person saw me lounging on a couch with a book all day long with the exception when I was eating, I would eat with a open book next to me. My mother never tired of telling me that if I did eat without looking at the food, then all the food would go to the ground, I presumed she meant it would be wasted. I grinned and reminded her a couple of times that food does go to the ground when I went to the lavatory, she would be aghast and threaten to starve me. I could do that with my mother, she understood my love for books though it annoyed her when I did not utter the smallest compliment to her delicious food. She would needle me first, then ask if the food needed salt, or pepper or garam masala that was my cue to tell her that the food was wonderful and watch her face light up in delight After that she would leave me in peace. She understood my needs for flights of imagination and she was more relaxed than my dad. My dad was the strict one so I always watched my mouth with my dad, never daring to cross him.

The beginning of school was uneventful except for my discovery of not so logical negative numbers, for the life of me I could not understand how 6 subtracted from –6 is equal to –12. My dear friend Vikrant had a brilliant theory after the teacher taught us about Archimedes and his famous discovery, he turned to me as said “Don’t you wish we were born before Archimedes so we could claim to be the discoverers?” It sounded like an excellent idea to me. I would be the man who discovered gold and diamonds and soon I was in Fantasyland making discoveries and inventions and having kings and emperors bestow praise and rewards on me when a thought struck me. After thinking about it for a week, I pulled up my courage and asked him for Vikrant was reputed for his acerbic tongue and acid wit. “Arre Vicky, how will you be the first discoverer of the water displacement rules?” he looked at me with a look that suggested his disgust at my stupidity “Arre stupid, we have this textbook no?” . Suitably humbled at this display of wisdom and brilliant ease with which he had solved what seemed like an insurmountable problem to me, I decided not to open my mouth again till I could prove that I was not being stupid, took me two weeks to find out that the textbook was printed in 1976 and feeling confident of myself I decided to approach him again, this time Sachin was around and Vikrant had forgotten all about Archimedes. When I nervously broached the topic to my peril, Sachin laughed and said “What an idiot!! Have you never heard of the Time Machine? They have it in America. See that movie ‘Planet of the Apes’, you will understand.” and Vikrant put in his two cents, “Ignore him yaar, he is just a gawti (village bumpkin). What will he know of English movies?“ I had never heard of the time machine but I was acutely bothered by the thought of plagiarizing Archimedes’s ideas and I hoped dearly that these two who came up with such wicked ideas of stealing would never get their hands on a time machine. Growing up I was the very epitome of gullibility and stupidity nowadays I have learned to pretend to be wise.

My distractions were also exacerbated by twins that we had in school with us, Nasir and Bashir. With moustache and signs of shaving regularly Both of them looked old enough to have fathered a child but they were still in sixth grade, they liked to leer at the girls and took it upon themselves to educate the younger populace on the important matters of sex and playing truant from school. They taught us to look at breasts, which they called ‘Choochi’. One of their favorite activities during recess was standing at the bottom of the stairs and looking up and then informing the class the colors of panties of some of the most stunning beauties. Nasir had a nasty habit of grabbing the genitalia of his class mates which along with being awkward could feel like your balls had been pushed up your throat, after being tricked a few times, I stayed away from him as much as possible. But the forbidden joys of discovering the opposite sex won over circumspectness, the twins invented a contest “Panty of the day”, the contest was to determine which one was the most popular panty of the day and invariably day after day the most popular panty of the day always went to tall Shalini Vaidya, a green eyed fair skinned damsel. I was always filled with a vague distress at the combination of joy and guilt that I seemed to fill. Knowing the color of her panty somehow seemed to defile her and yet the joy of forbidden knowledge knew no bounds.

I took this newfound knowledge of hidden pleasures and tried to apply it to my neighbors. Most of my neighbors had children my age so either the women were too old for me or the children were too young for me until I chanced upon Manpreet Kaur, she was the only daughter of the oldest son who lived in that house. A Sikh gentleman bought the house in 1946, he had fought World War II and had lost a leg, and he came over with a young wife and a son. He started a liquor business in the cantonment area and pretty soon had a roaring business from sympathetic friendly army officers who preferred to give their business to one of their own. Over the course of time he had three more sons all of whom married delectable Sikh women with the exception of the youngest who married their untouchable neighbor’s daughter causing a rift between neighbors as well as raising a stink in the area for a little while. She was a beautiful woman who would have passed for Miss India any day. To the credit of the other wives, they treated her like one of their own. I can never see something like that happening in my house with the prejudices that my family members harbor for people of lower caste. The old man died in 1981, a stalwart of society and a prominent social worker working for upliftment of the poor in the slums of Kasarwadi. His youngest two sons emigrated to the England and Canada respectively. His older two sons had expanded into other areas like shoes; garments, luxury items and the family on the whole were very reputed. But alas, coming from a good family does not guarantee freedom from the ghastly whistles and lewd comments of the street urchins, which Rasta Peth abounds in. That was how I laid eyes on Manpreet, tall beautiful dignified Manpreet with her fair skin and blue-green eyes that seem to hint of a distant European ancestry, as I was walking to school lost in thoughts of colored panties, I heard a wolf whistle and a loud “Yeti ka?” (a vulgar blatant invitation for indulging in forbidden pleasures) Turning around I felt weak in my knees, my eyes seem to glaze and I felt short of breath. Was this an Apsara from heaven? was I imagining her? I wanted to touch her to see if she was real though even in that state I had enough wisdom not to dare. Manpreet coolly ignored both the lewd caller and her dumbstruck admirer and walked past. The whiff of a delicate perfume intoxicated my already lightening struck frame and I knew that I had died and gone to heaven.

I was struck by the lovebug, I had not a clue what love was but countless songs and poems had described to me the heartaches and numerous other heart wrenching ailments that seem to befall you in the absence of your beloved and I knew that was it, I wanted to marry her, wanted to be with her, make her mine without the faintest care. But again I had enough sense not to rush things; my mother would pull my drawers down and beat my hind off if I dared as much tell her. I saw a Bacchan movie called Nastik and I remember one scene very distinctly; Hema Malini is among mannequins pretending to be one, the men pick her up and put her down , I have appalled at the stupidity of the mannequin handlers who did not seem to realize the difference between humans and hard mannequins, for years that bothered me but the most immediate effect of undressing the mannequins made my imagination run riot which is presumably what the director was looking for, tantalize the imagination. However I did not imagine Hema Malini, I imagined Manpreet and the thoughts of Manpreet, her delicate lips, her perfume dazed me and that was when I became aware of an uncomfortable situation in my pants, I had never had an erection before and my first reaction was one of fear, what would my mother do if we walked out of the movie theater with the bulge in my shorts. Strangely the fear seemed to dissolve my imagined problem, oh great relief!

After that day, that was my favorite sport, fantasizing about Manpreet, imagining her in my hands, her lips on mine. One could tell I had been reading too many Mills and Boon novels; it gave me great pleasure to imagine me and her as the hero and heroine of every book that I was reading. I had memorized the times when she got back from College and I would wait in eager anticipation, till I could get an invigorating glimpse of her. I also made it a point to be outside the house, in retrospect I cannot imagine the impression that I would have made on her with my tight shorts, my dusty shirt, worn out chappals, legs that looked positively scabby. She never once acknowledged me but I was patient, I knew my time would come. I waited in joyous hope for the day when I would be old enough to ask her to marry me.

Alas!! The greatest villain in my saga of love turned out to be time, time that did not allow me to be old or brave enough to rescue my beloved, time that betrayed my beloved and snatched away the promise of a lifetime, time that turned hooligans into murderers, time that blinded the eyes of a country, time that created a savage collaboration of law makers and law breakers to wreck vengeance on a hapless community, time that would assassinate an old woman using her own trusted security guards. The assassination of Indira Gandhi shook us to the depth of our hearts. In fact the thought of her dying was so alien to me that when I first heard that she was ‘fired’, I asked with great curiosity if she had been fired from her job and who could possibly fire her. For a young child, the concept of death is a bizarre one and you just know that you are going to live forever and so is everybody else. The assassination betrayed that feeling of security; the old woman who rallied crowds with her fiery speeches was in my view the only person who ran the country, that belief would be vindicated later on in life when I started reading about her. I never thought it could be otherwise. I was bewildered and lost, wondering what would happen to my country now that Indira Gandhi was dead. Little was I to know that the best minds in the country were ill equipped to deal with that question at that point. Truly puzzling for me was the fact that except for her Congress I cronies, there was no massive outpouring of grief by the Indian masses. It seemed like people were almost relieved to be able to close shops and go home. The goals she had pursued left deep scars in the country’s communal, regional and political framework. She had liked to impose her power. One reason why people thought she was indispensable was because she had created problems, which she claimed nobody could solve except her, but time showed she was just as incapable. The Sikh problem finally ended up consuming her. She had created a cabinet of men so dependent on her that all they did was sob, cry, wring their hands helplessly and curse the Sikh community for placing them in this quandary. The worthless cabinet instead of steadying the administration sowed seeds for a genocide that would horrify and mutilate a nation forever. My country surpassed itself in brutality. The concept of riots was not a new one to me, several times in my childhood, our maid who took us to school would hurry us home saying we need to get home before the ‘dangal’ started. I was told that ‘Dangal’ is when Hindus and Muslims fight, I had little clue why they fought and what they fought for, my sole concern was to get home as quickly as possible. My father would bring home literature from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which would parody the fiction of Muslims reproducing faster than Hindus one of their popular cartoons was one which depicted a Hindu Brahmin family, a couple with two children with the slogan “Hum Do Humare Do” (we two, our two) followed by a Muslim family one man with his four wives and 24 children with “Hum paanch Humare Pacchees” (We 5, our 25). My father likes to say that pretty soon the Muslim population would overrun us and they would convert this country into another Pakistan, to my mother’s credit she scoffed at his beliefs and taught me religious diversity was important for a country to grow. Riots seemed like a perfectly normal thing while growing up, what I was not prepared for was genocide.

November 2, 1984 started off normally and then we started hearing news of Sikhs being butchered in the streets of Delhi, I could not imagine Pune being a part to this nonsense, I had always prided myself on being in the most sensible part of the country, according to the usual separatist nonsense that was preached by my elders, north Indians were barbarians. But I was in a for a rude awakening, my winter vacation had set in and I was reading my copy of the latest Chandamama and a romantic story of a handsome prince marrying his beautiful princess after rescuing her from the demon captor transported me into a magical land where I rescued Manpreet and she fell hopelessly in love with me and acquiesced to my desires and we lived happily ever after. On hearing women screaming outside, I ran outside and I was horrified, terrified, scarred for life by what I saw outside. I saw my darling, my beautiful Manpreet, a great part of her salwar torn thus exposing a part of her brassiere and her midriff, wailing piteously trying to run away from a crowd of crazed young men. I was rooted to the ground, watching helplessly as the monsters surrounded her, till I could not see anybody or anything. I could not quite understand what they were doing to her but her terrible screams brought tears to my eyes. My Muslim neighbor was probably the only one who saw my tears and he took me by my shoulder and led me into his house and gave me some water, the water stuck in my throat. I wanted to kill those bastards for hurting my love; I wanted to slaughter them all. I walked outside in a daze after what seemed like an eternity. The men had dispersed, they had their fill of entertainment for the day.I saw blood on the road and I hoped they had not killed her, I prayed silently and hard to God to keep her alive for me, I promised god I would take good care of her, I would take her away from here, I did not know where except that I wanted to get her away from here. I was filled with a terrible illogical anger at all existence and hoped God would destroy this whole damned planet, how could men perpetrate such horrors on one another? I looked at her house and saw her mother in the window. She had a resigned look on her face. I was to learn later what that look had signified .The fact that I had been the last one to see her would fill me with a terrible guilt at my inability to prevent the tragedy that was to take place.

I was to learn new words that day; rape, zabardasti, balaatkaar . The elderly Muslim gentleman had mentioned to his wife in a sorrowful voice “They did zabardasti on that poor helpless girl and her mother”. The maid who worked at our house and Manpreet’s informed my mother, “The crowd did balaatkaar over Manpreet and Simran bai. Manpreet’s father and uncle had taken their ailing mother to America the previous week for open-heart surgery. Kabirji’s wife and kids were visiting their grandparents in Nanded. So Simran bai and Manpreet were alone in the house when the crowd broke the door down.” Later on in the day my mother would inform my father “The crowd raped the poor girl on the road”. My Hindi was reasonable enough to understand that zabardasti meant forcibly whereas I had no idea what balaatkaar meant and certainly no idea what rape meant. I looked up rape in the Websters Universal College dictionary and it informed in black on white in cold precise language that it was “The unlawful act of forcing a female to have sexual intercourse”. Big words for a 11 year old, till that point of time sex was a dirty word which would get my hind beaten off if my mother realized that I had heard it let alone utter it. If sex was something that terrible as was inflicted on Manpreet then maybe my mother was justified in keeping me away from it. I looked up Sexual Intercourse and it said it was “Genital contact or coupling between individuals especially one involving the penetration of the Penis into the Vagina”. Looking up penis told me that it was the male organ of copulation and vagina was the female organ of copulation. Looking up copulation told me that it was sexual intercourse. In frustration I dropped the dictionary and decided to be brave enough and asked my mother what rape meant. She was horrified, but she stuttered and told me that it was something bad men did to women. Then I asked her if it hurts the woman terribly, she looked at me silently and after a long pause nodded sadly. I had seen faces that I recognized in that gruesome collection of monsters that had surrounded my Manpreet and had known that some of them had been the ones who would whistle at her and pass lewd comments. I could not help wondering at the futility of the whole episode. Manpreet had not killed Indira Gandhi, why did they have to do this to her? Had her family been involved in this? Somebody in the crowd had yelled “Is chootni ke chacha videsh mein rehte hai. Bhainchut log, Amricca aur Lundun mein jaake yeha paisa bhijwake aatank failate hain. ”(This bitch’s uncles live in America. Sisterfuckers, They go to America and London and send money to sponsor terrorism here.). Did her uncles sponsor terrorism? I had seen both of them and they were happy go lucky people. I cannot imagine these people sponsoring terrorism. Love makes one go blind. I refused to accept any of these allegations and deep down I realized that my Manpreet had been exploited, I did not know why then but I would realize it later on in life.

Late at night I went to our backyard where I could see her backyard and hoped she would come out and I would tell her that I love her and will marry her and treat her good and never ever ‘rape’ her. I waited for a long time but nobody came out. After what seemed like an eternity of contemplation, I saw a flickering red light in one of the windows and then I heard screams. A terrifying fear gripped me and I rushed inside and screamed at my dad to look at what was happening at Manpreet’s house. My dad came along and one look told him that something terrible was happening and I knew something was wrong because I have never seen such a look on my dad’s face, he rushed out of the house and ran over and into Manpreet’s house, I followed him. No matter how gruesome the morning had been, it had not prepared me for what I was to see, I saw my Manpreet hanging from the ceiling fan. Her mother was on fire and the light from her flaming body cast ominous shadows of Manpreet’s lifeless body on the wall yonder. I could see her dead eyes staring at me, in reproach for not having saved her, for having abandoned her. My father rushed into one of the bedrooms and got hold of a blanket and he gripped Simran tightly in that blanket, by this time my mother had followed us and she helped my father subdue her and put out the fire. After putting out the fire my mother rushed to the Marwaris businessmen who had the only phone on the street and called the ambulance. During all this pell mell, I stood staring at my dead beloved. Her eyes carved themselves into my soul and I never did hear the ambulance, I hit the ground before that. So the ambulance carried two people back to the hospital. I went into shock and did not recover till late December. My mother said those days were terrible days, I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming for Manpreet, screaming vengeance , swearing the filthiest of abuses.

Before I ever recovered, Ajit Singh came back to India, consigned his daughter to flames and got his hapless wife discharged, thanked my parents for saving his wife’s life and informed them that he was leaving Pune for good. He had decided to go back to Chandigarh. My mother told me that he spent some time hovering over my bed and walked away with tears in his eyes. Shortly later Kabir Singh, Ajit Singh’s younger brother sold the house to a land developer and left with his family for Chandigarh.

I am an Indian before anything else. I was raised a Hindu but though my father liked to oppress me with his religious beliefs, he was open minded enough and took me to mosques, durgahs(shrines for Muslim saints), churches, gurudwaras so I was very fascinated with the freedom that Hinduism allowed me, I read the Gita , the Bible , the story of Mohammad , the story of Zoraster, Nanak in comic books early on and I was proud of being a Hindu . My religious freedom was the reason why I would burst with pride when I heard “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (Say you are a Hindu with pride). Our street was called Jews Street, my neighbors were Muslim on one side and Christians on the other, next to the Muslim neighbors was the Church of Holy Angels, a block beyond the church were two Muslim mosques. On the side of the Christians was a Synagogue; a block away was a Hanuman temple and a Ganesha temple beyond that. To the left of the Hanuman temple was a Parsi Fire temple. This was the religious diversity that for me was possible only in India , till that day I just knew with the confidence of a 11 year old know it all that only in a Hindu setting could so many other religions prosper peacefully. The vision of that marauding mob and their shameful behavior dissipated my pride, which was to be replaced with an apologetic sense of regret for my religious identity eventually to be replaced with a terrible hatred for all religions and any form of segregation.

1984 scarred me permanently; the first love of my love was snatched away from me so tragically. 30 years later, I still cannot forget Manpreet; she lives on with me in my heart, in my mind, in my soul. Her eyes seem to me as if they are watching me, extorting me to fulfill the promise of human life that was so coldly denied to her, the promise of life snuffed out by a petty vindictive society who wanted to satisfy the primitive urge for sacrificial blood is a thought too terrible to contemplate even today. I have become a propounder of the death penalty for rape. Though I was too young to understand what rape meant, I did realize that it was rape that destroyed my first love. I have learnt since then that Indian law does prosecute rapists, but I have never seen policemen take away any of the bastards who forced themselves on an innocent defenseless girl on that fateful day.

Today , I am in Mumbai visiting India after a long time. I have moved to a small German city called Berchtesgaden where I have managed to fall into the good graces of Andrei Makarov who is supposedly no relation to the famous gun manufacturer . Andrei has a lot of friends in Mumbai , powerful friends . He is doing this favor for me today , he did recommend that I should stay away but I have to see this , this is justice on my terms , engineered by me . I am at a Shiv Sena rally , the main speaker is Vinayak Rangade . 30 years ago he was a congress I hoodlum who instigated that mob on that fateful day . The court cases have been dropped and I have watched in silent fury as he went from strength to strength . He has recently managed to acquire for himself another trophy wife who is 30 years younger, the erstwhile husband conveniently fell down an open elevator shaft and Rangades’ wife committed suicide by shooting herself in the right temple . She has never been known to handle guns and she was a south paw . My original request to Andrei to kidnap Rangade and transfer him to a secluded warehouse was deemed as too dangerous given his security detail . I had planned to work on him with a special set of tools that I had acquired from former SS and Gestapo men over Ebay.  Instead what I would get is an marksman with an exploding bullet that was targeted to torture without killing . I had insisted that the shot not be a kill wound. I want this man to suffer . I look around impatiently as Rangade starts his speech “My hindu brothers and sisters ,…..”

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