August 1947 / November 1984 / December 1992 / February 2002 / December 2007
Naked to the bone, the morning crept through the barred windows. Piercing the curtains, it stood in front of me to wake me up. A needless effort! I am wide awake even before the night has completely melted away. But these days, I wait for yet another morning, naked from head to toe, to arrive before I leave my bed and fumble with the numerous locks. My day begins with the opening of the locks and my last duty of the day is to check that every door is securely locked, every window shut, every curtain drawn. I do this at the first hint of darkness.
In fact in my city (its name changes with the date), these days, silence deep like death, arrives much before darkness. What do I do between day break to dusk? How do I occupy myself? I open locks. But I have said this earlier. Yes, but listen again. These days we often talk the same things and listen to the same things. I open the locks to witness a morning, stark naked, stripped of any beauty and hope, shamelessly flooding the streets, entering every home to fill it with either fear, despair, anger, vengeance, loss, tears, shame. I try to cover it with the newspaper. But newspapers are not regular these days. No, the newspaper-wallas are not regular these days. On those days I shut my eyes tight and stumble inside the house. Those are the days when the morning wears a thick garb of red; gory, warm, spilling on the streets. A strange and cruel effort to cover the nakedness. Effort so ruthless, so exhausting that by evening, the morning collapses in some alley, as a bare, nameless corpse.
When newspapers come, I glue my eyes to it. By midday, however, it has been shredded to bits- they try to give an identity to the blood spilled-name of some community, ethnic group, religion practiced. Don’t they know that blood has only one identity, only one colour? It is red. Call it crimson red, scarlet red, ruby red, purple red, warm red, cold red...but it is red. Red whether I put vermillion on the parting of my hair, red whether I have no foreskin, red whether I grow a beard and tie a turban, red whether I light a candle in front of the wooden cross.
You don’t believe me? I am surprised! Surprised that you don’t believe me. But I do. I believe and I know. I had cut my wrist and asked the sap seeping out. My colour is red, it said. And no matter who and where you are, my colour is red. That is my only name.
Why did you do that? You may ask. Because I could not stand those days. Days stained of brutality. Days that echoed the stampede of human feet, clanging with sounds of unsheathed swords, spears, lathis and guns. Because I could not take the nights. Nights like crazy, raped, homeless hags, wandered the city, shrieking.
That is why I keep the doors locked. My heart locked. My mind locked. My conscience locked. Lest the shrieking make me mad, make me insomniac, make me a sleepwalker.
Lest after 64th year of Independence, I realise freedom is far.
I lived in a colony as a child. And January and August had a special meaning for all the children in the neighbourhood. We all had voluntarily taken a task that made us feel important, special. Selecting a ground or someone’s courtyard, clearing it of weeds, decorating the area with sand, chalk powder, brick powder etc. Digging a hole, sacrificing a part of pocket money to buy a bamboo pole, a rope and the tricolour and the laddos and candies. Practising the anthem, selecting a chief guest – someone’s parent/grandparent, learning to tie the right knot and begging, even stealing flowers from neighbours’ garden for the flag. It was an act that united us in one faith - faith in the country, faith in oneself that only children can have; that everything is achievable, by us, by our country and one can dream dreams that went beyond the kites that we flew in that August afternoon.
Hurrying to the school after this “ private” flag hoisting was still better. Marching past with heads held high, saluting the flag, listening about the freedom struggle that inspired us to do our own bit, going home earlier to watch a patriotic film or the kite flying session, everything was a celebration, a matter of pride.
Years have passed since then. I still live in a colony but time and complacency has perhaps got the better of us. The attitude towards the national holidays has changed. I miss seeing that kind of enthusiasm within the children. The significance of the days lost somewhere and what remains are another two days of holidays. Yes, the government building will have the flag flurrying and the representatives attending the state ceremony but the Aam Admi? Very few.
Someone said patriotism need not be displayed merely by standing there and singing the Anthem. True, it is a symbolic gesture in one way but what other gesture did we do to show respect towards the country for the whole year? I read somewhere that the progress of India did not depend on the government, as important as that might be, but was enormously dependent on the initiative, individual and group- of the Indian People.
An idea was growing within me for a little while. To give you a blank page titled Stray Thoughts. Period. Not a joke. Blank page for you to fill up with your thoughts. Blank page as an emblem of Silence. To listen and hear the Silence, to listen and see the Silence, to listen and smell the Silence, to listen and taste the Silence, to listen and feel the embrace of the Silence.
I had been travelling within the city a little more than my liking the last past weeks and unfortunately during the rush hours. The city seemed chaotic and engulfed by a constant noise, loud voices, blaring music, honking vehicles, and meaningless talks, the cacophony of sounds to hide restlessness of unhappy minds. I longed for silence, the quietude of the inner self, the meditative spirit, the gentleness that soothes the dusty, crowded, enervating roads. I longed to watch the humble serenity of a flower, the glorious blaze of a yellow moon, to hear the soft twinkling of the stars that braves the polluted air to reach us, to hear the movement of clouds, the rustle of earth under my feet. And hear no words, air no opinions, write no words. But I got the call from the editor and the idea was aborted and you have these words.
( Published in August 2009 in The Eclectic magazine. Made some minor changes though. )