Memories from the far end of Bombay riots
I’ve managed to erase most of the memories of the days around December 6, 1992. A few fragments, however, remain stuck to my consciousness like a stain, and wouldn’t go away however much I try to wash them off. I was one of the luckier ones, of course – I was at the far end of the pool, where the ripples came only to subside. Thus the privilege of ‘forgetting’. I’m aware.
I was working in State Bank of India, Churchgate Branch, and less than four months pregnant at the time.
I remember that I was coming back from somewhere, though I’m not sure where. The train I was on was largely empty, but had stopped in the middle of nowhere. No one seemed to know why, though there was a general sense of disquiet in the air that the demolition of a mosque in Ayodha had caused. But at the time it seemed far away. And despite rumours of repercussions closer home, fear had not struck. At least, not me, not yet.
A good half an hour or so later, someone who scrambled up the train said there was dangafasad going on ahead, and that was the reason the train had stopped. After that, the train, with all of us inside it, was eerily silent.
Relief came as a long whistle, and there was a general buzz among us, commuters. Just as the train was about to move, a heavily pregnant woman struggled up the steps sweating and panting. A few people rushed to help her. She flopped down on a window seat, still sweating profusely and sobbing all the while. She was trying to say something, but was mostly incoherent. The only words we could make out were: “They had swords!”
When she recovered enough to talk, she said that she had run away to escape a mob – they were not coming at her, but. They had bloodied swords and torches, though, and someone told her that a woman, similarly pregnant, had her stomach cut open.
I can’t recall the rest of the trip. Except that the heavy window pane fell on the lady’s hand and she started crying again.
What I remember of the rest of those days are the random discussions that used to happen. At work, in the train, among colleagues… On how if you were passing by this road, it is safer to wear a bindi. But if you were taking the other, your bindi could get you killed. About how a Hindu colony protected a Muslim family, or how a Muslim family that kept their Hindu friend and his family safe in their house…
Things like that.
That was the time I learned that one’s name and surname could become something that saved or destroyed, depending. The first time I became aware of religion, in a way I had never been.
I was in Bombay on March 12, 1993, as well. And again, what I remember are the most frivolous details of the day. Like the extra-large white and blue dress I was wearing because that was the most comfortable one for my extra-large stomach. And how I was sweating excessively and feeling slightly sick as I walked from Second Road to Chembur Station, but would not take leave. Because it meant one less day at home for my delivery, back in Coimbatore.
At the station, I began to feel dizzy. Two women from Adelphi – my personal banking customers – held me up and sat me down. They told me it was better that I went back home as I did not look well enough to get through the day. They put me in an autorickshaw and left.
When the call came for me in the afternoon, I thought it was to inquire after my health, or to say that they missed me at lunchtime. But the voice at the other end was hushed. “I’m glad you took leave, Mini. There has been a bomb blast at the Stock Exchange. We felt it in our PB department (which was in the basement).”
It took a while for the news to sink in, as it did for everything that happened afterwards.
I remember the warnings that were being repeatedly heard on railway stations, trains and BEST buses. Please make sure that there is no unclaimed baggage left under your seats or above you. If you do find anything suspicious, inform the authorities immediately. Do not touch or go near it… Announcements to that effect. BEST buses went the extra mile – they started playing old songs, which would be punctuated every so often by such announcements.
To this day, each time I happen to hear the song tum agar saath dene ka wada karo, my heart skips a beat. And my stomach tightens in anticipation of the abrupt pause after main tumhe dekhkar geet gaata rahoon… And I almost wait for the voice that would tell me to check under my seat.
My scars, however, are thin. Barely visible, considering. I’m aware of that.
And yet, one has to remember. Always.
*PC: Google images.