Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lest We Forget That Night...

He is a sad old man selling boiling gram on Azad Maidan. He does a day job somewhere and sqats opposite the Bombay Gymkhana facing the Municipal Corporation building across from the cricket pitches of Bombay’s landmark green area. He has eyes that weep, clothes that have not been washed for, maybe, weeks, he looks depressed, I can see the head droop, the listlessness of his movements as he parcels the gram to his customers. His eyes are lost, as when one hold memories of someone who is not quite there. On some days he isn’t there at the spot, the space is empty, and I walk past.
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In the office we discuss the November 26 strike and I mention that our memories are short. We are more concerned with what happened on the way to work today than what happened only eleven months ago. Come to think of it, next month – November – the anniversary (some perverse anniversary this!) of the incident. What has changed? What have we learnt? The military guards at VT station are alert, expecting a strike any time. I know it from their looks. They are trained to kill, no mercy, no second thoughts. The railway protection forces’ commandos standing next to them loll and talk among themselves, awkwardly cradling their AK47s in their lap, shifting it here and there as if it is a toy. If terror strikes it will never be at VT station, don’t you think? I want to ask, but who am I?
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It was sometime before I could muster courage to ask the old man what was wrong. Why was he always so glum, so self-absorbed, what happened? His friend (maybe, a fellow villager) explains to me, “His son was on duty at VT station when the terrorists struck.” He was a vendor at one of the food and knick-knack stalls that provide snacks to commuters. The shooting starts, he tries to climb over the counter to escape, the bullets rain death, one catches him in his side, he collapses into a heap of blood and dies, the gram vendor’s son. He knows nothing about the agenda for which his life was martyred.
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Yes, we have a short memory, indeed, I tell my colleague. There may be a few candle-light vigils by concerned citizens at VT (which will be photographed, and then ignored), a few speeches by politicians (who will hog prime time), and then? How will we convince a recalcitrant and truculent generation that terrorism is not good? How can we teach their religious leaders that all religions preach peace and love and nobody’s virginal fantasies are fulfilled in heaven for killing fellow human beings?

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