No distance as far away as yesterday- Part2

Written By

Payal Mukherjee

No distance as far away as yesterday- Part2 Loading

That afternoon, on the way back home, I got down with her at her stop. Bus dada shouted at me but I said I had work and my mom was informed. He shouted, “I’ll ask her!” “Yes,” I said, “You do that, dada.” Laughter bubbled out of us even as we tried to be serious. Then we ran off giggling into the lane which led to the phuchka stall. Down the road, close to the phuchka stand, was a straggly grass plot which went by the name of ‘park’. We had time to kill that afternoon. I had saved almost half an hour by getting down at her stop. We sat there and talked. I don’t remember now what we talked about. She had always known how to make me laugh, but that day I laughed so much, I almost rolled over from the bench to the ground. She looked radiant, a glorious smile on her face, the kind of smile of a friend who knows what makes friendship work, and is successful in doing just that.

It was Saturday, the 5th of December, 1992.

*

Sunday dawned like any other day, but it was a day which would be marked in the history of the nation. It was the day when a handful of men would start something horrific, something which would spew so much hatred, for so many days, in every corner of the country, that it seemed unbelievable till that moment. From 6 AM, madness reigned supreme in the city that was the birthplace of one of the most revered immortals known for his righteousness. By 5 PM, the dust finally settled on the rubble of what was previously an obscure mosque, to loud cries of “Mandir yahin banaenge!” And thus started a cycle of destruction around the country which would take lives, which would break families and friendships and hearts. All for a few piles of bricks and stones.

Lives lost have no religion.

In distant Mumbai, one day later, a young boy of 17 was trying to reach his workplace in Bhendi Bazar when he found himself suddenly surrounded by a large group of people. He got carried by the crowd for some distance and then slowly started to move away. He wanted nothing to do with the mobs. He was there to work and he wanted to just reach the shop and start his day. As he started to get some distance between him and them, he suddenly felt as if his skin had caught fire. He screamed. He clawed at the left side of his face where something came out in his hands. It took him a few excruciating seconds to realize he was pulling out his own flesh. The fire spread down his neck and on to his left arm and stomach and groin. He had been drenched in acid thrown from some distance- an acid bomb which had gone haywire, which hit him, just as he was about to get into his shop. He collapsed screaming in pain on to the pavement, writhing in agony. People were screaming all around him, running in all directions. He could hear everything, he could feel feet pounding the pavement by his ear, even his acid burnt ear. The sounds seemed to recede slowly, much too slowly, into the horizon of his consciousness. He had passed out.

Later someone had brought him to a hospital. He was alive but severely burnt on one side of the body. Gangrene had set in on his left arm. As the doctors argued whether to amputate, 17 years of son, brother, collage of dreams, collection of hopes, ceased to be.

*

I learnt some new terms in the winter of 1992. ‘Curfew’ was one of them. ‘Section 144’ was another. The latter meant I couldn’t meet friends. The former meant school was closed. It also meant being home bound, an uncalled for holiday. I couldn’t decide whether to dislike it or love it. We didn’t have a phone in the house yet. And even if we had, Mahjabeen would definitely not. So it hardly mattered. How I missed phuchka, I was addicted to the sour bomb in a way only a 14 year old could be. But things were bound to get back to normal sooner or later.

When school restarted in January, I couldn’t wait to go back to our old routine. Curfew had been lifted during the day, life around us was limping to normal. So when I didn’t see Mahjabeen on the bus the first day I thought, perhaps she was ill. Or maybe her parents were the over cautious sort. By the third day I was worried. When curfew lifted completely and still she didn’t come, I knew something had to be very wrong.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My life is currently run by two little monsters, one 9 and one almost 2 years old. My passions are reading and writing. While I read almost every waking free hour, my writing has taken a hit after my second daughter was born, and I am trying to slowly but surely get back to it. My big dream is to, someday, get around to writing my book. My job is to be a home CEO, a teacher, a doctor as well as nurse-on-call, a driver, a sometimes-chef, a hairstylist, and a mender of clothes and cuts and hearts. My 'profession', on the other hand, is executive search/ head-hunting and I am defined in the ongoing parlance of the age, as a work-from-home mom.

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