Mar 31, 2013

April promises to be Fun !

Starting tomorrow, I am trying out something totally new and daring. Something that I have tried only once before and failed miserably while doing it. I wasn't planning to get sucked into doing something like this again but then this lovely lady here posted on FB about it and I made the mistake of telling her how tempting it sounded. So very gently, very unobtrusively, without me noticing at all, she managed to entice me into it. And to ensure that I don’t back out, she went ahead and took the pain of making this FB page to encourage and motivate us ! 

As most of you might have guessed, I am talking about the Blogging from A to Z April challenge where you not only blog every day of the month but blog using the alphabet of the day. So basically you blog on 1st April with a letter A and on 2nd with letter B and so on. 

The main reason why I took up this up was because I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to stretch myself fully in exploring my creative as well as time management skills. For April is going to be busy month with travel planned in the last week and almost all weekends devoted to something or the other. Add to that a busy work schedule. But I badly need the discipline of writing regularly to ensure that my creative skills remain in tip top condition. 

Most of us have started planning well in advance for this challenge by scheduling posts and having brain storming sessions on different themes for different alphabets. And now that I have waxed long enough about the importance of time management and using your writing skills regularly, how much planning have I done for this you might ask. 

Well you see I have a secret card up my sleeve. Something that always works like magic to get my creative juices flowing. And that thing is called last minute panic !

Wish me luck ! 

Mar 1, 2013

A leaf from History .....

I quickened my pace as the golden dome of the great Gurudwara came into view, glittering in the late afternoon sun. I weaved my way through the crowded lanes, skirting the pedestrians, cyclists and tongas with practiced ease. The city was more crowded than usual, bustling with people who had come to take part in the annual Baisakhi mela. The air was festive, the excitement palpable.

But my mind was not on the festivities. We had nothing to celebrate I felt. Punjab was burning. The last few days had seen violent protests after a few revolutionaries were arrested. The government had retaliated by making mass arrests and
 prohibiting all gatherings. Now the city lay quiet, but beneath that thin veneer of forced calm, revolt simmered.
In a flagrant defiance of our rulers, the local leaders had called for a protest gathering in an empty ground near the Gurudwara. That is where I was headed.

The speeches had started by the time I reached the place.
 It took me some time to get in through the narrow cramped entrance. Once inside, I realized that the ground was actually quite huge, the size of a small football field.  But in spite of its size I felt claustrophobic, may be because it was hemmed in all sides by houses and was packed with people. Most of them were local shopkeepers and traders, who had closed their shops early to come here. I could see a lot of students – they were the most enthusiastic, shouting slogans along with the speaker. There were also many outsiders from the surrounding villages. Farmers mostly, with their sun blackened faces and colorful turbans, out to enjoy the Mela after months of back breaking toil in their fields. The windows of the surrounding houses were framed with people, mostly women who did not or I suppose were not allowed to come down to hear the speeches. People stood on rooftops and I envied them standing there on wide open spaces while I stood here in the heat and dust, being jostled by the crowds.
I joined some students cheering lustily. But after some time I realized I could barely hear the speakers. Still, I was reluctant to leave the place as it was closest to the entrance and I wanted to leave quickly once the meeting was over. I was not looking forward to getting stuck in that cramped space with so many people trying to go out together.
Then the man in front of me hoisted his small child up on his shoulders, blocking my view further. Giving up, I threaded my way to the other side where the crowd was thinner. Although now I only had a side view of the speakers I could hear them clearly. Durga Das, editor of the  newspaper ‘Waqt’, was speaking. He was a great orator and I listened spellbound, all discomfort forgotten.

I heard the sound of the soldiers’ boots on the brick ground even before I saw them. They marched in and stood just inside the entrance staring straight ahead as if waiting for a command from the man standing next to them. I felt a little uneasy but not unduly concerned. As usual they would fire in the air to disperse the crowd or lathi charge us. A few lathis on the back was a small price to pay for in our fight for freedom. 
We all stood there - peasants, students, traders, children and women all united in our defiance.

Then in the blink of an eye all hell broke loose.

The first thing I heard was something that sounded like the crack of thunder. Then I heard screams and realized that the soldiers were firing at us. For a few seconds I stood rooted in dazed disbelief and then I ran towards the nearest exit only to realize that it was already crammed with people trying to get out. The only other way out was to jump over one of the boundary walls and I ran blindly towards the nearest one. Frenzied, panicked People ran helter skelter, desperately trying to find an exit out of that closed space. The air was filled with the cacophony of rifle shots, screams and of bullet hitting flesh and walls. Somehow I expected the soldiers to stop firing once the crowd had dispersed, but they fired nonstop and methodically, aiming at the spots densest with people. Even as I ran, I could see people jerk and fall, limp as rag dolls as the bullets hit them. Through the corner of my eyes, I saw some women fall into the well that was near the speaker’s podium. I was not sure if they got pushed in due to the stampede or if they jumped in to escape the bullets.
I reached the boundary wall and tried to make my way up. People were clambering over each other to climb over it. A man next to me was trying to push his wife up but she kept sliding back. I felt bullets ricochet next to me in the wall as I desperately scrambled to find a foothold in the bricks. Finally I managed to climb over and without a second thought, jumped to the other side.  

I ran mindlessly, stopping only when I was out of breath. Panting, I looked down at my feet and realized I had lost my shoes somewhere and my hands and feet were bleeding and raw. My eyes widened in shock as I saw the blood splattered on my clothes. It was a few moments before I realized that it was not my own.
 I started running again, dashing through the now deserted lanes, staying in the shadow of the houses and stopping only once I had reached the safety of my rooms.

By nightfall the city resembled a ghost town. A curfew was imposed with shoot at sight orders. None of us would have dared to venture out anyways. Because of the curfew, the injured couldn’t reach the hospital and the relatives of the dead couldn’t come to claim the bodies. For days, the air reeked with the stench of human flesh and vultures circled overhead.

Behind closed doors all of Amritsar mourned silently, while the Gods in their Golden Temple remained a mute spectator to the horror that would later be known as ‘The Massacre of Jallianwallah Bagh’.

This is a true story. My grandfather was at Jallianwallah bagh that day, and he actually lived to tell the tale. He was 19, a student in Amritsar and fired up by patriotism just like any other youth of that time.
He recounted the incident to us many times and I have tried my best to reproduce it here as he told it.
I had always wanted to visit Jallianwallah Bagh with him but couldn’t do so before he passed away. He took my mother and her sisters there though, and showed them where he stood and the wall he jumped over to escape.
The fact that he changed his position a few minutes before General Dyer and his troops entered the complex and opened fire was instrumental in saving his life. For had he stood where he was, he would have been among the first to be killed.


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