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’.

Note:
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.


59 comments:

  1. Wow! This is truly a slice of history. What an experience, and to live to tell the tale! Simply wow

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  2. Gave me goose bumps.... we could in this way, record bits of History, first hand, just like our blogs and tweets.

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  3. Wow! This is quite amazing, Ruchira! I can't imagine the terror your grandfather must have faced.

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  4. At 19 to come face to face with such a horrific killing is unimaginable. I wonder how he would look while narrating this episode.

    Thanks for this post, Ruchira. It was truly a leaf out of history -- a leaf that can never wither.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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  5. So, I have read this story a couple of times already. It has a certain draw - not only do I find that time period in our nation's history mesmerizing, but then to get to read a 'first person' account of the event is absolutely moving, real and enthralling!
    Kudos to you for giving life to the grandfather's experience. Your narration weaves such a vivid picture. I can almost hear the cries and smell the panic in the air!
    And last but not the least, your impeccable writing makes it so worth it.
    Sheer Brilliance!

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  6. This is very touching. A horrible place to be in the first place. You have made us relive an experience.

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  7. What a gory nightmare to be etched in history.

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  8. A memorable piece of writing Ruchira. Awesome!

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  9. I had goosebumps when I read this.....how he must have felt :(

    To see death from such close quarters!!!

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  10. I can't even dare to imagine how it must have been for him and the others, when just reading it is so heartwrenching!
    Hugs!

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  11. That was such a vivid description! Loved the fast paced and crisp narration! Your grandfather saw death from such close quarters and lived to tell the tale!! We have been to the Jalianwallah Bagh and seeing the bullet ridden walls and that well, and the picture gallery, gave me goosebumps!

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  12. I typed such a long comment and blogger ate it up... sigh..


    It must have been a terrible terrible experience for your Grandfather that would have surely haunted him all his life...

    So many times I have seen the movie the Mahatma and at that scene I always wonder what sort of human was Gen. Dyer... whether he was a human at all I don't know and how the people who fired followed orders so blindly..

    I have always wondered how life was in those days and you have been lucky to have a first hand account from your grandfather... of thoes struggle days..

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  13. @Ritu – Yes, we never realized it when we were kids but now we realize that he was part of a huge thing that actually changed our history!
    @IHM-That is what I wanted to do .. do my bit to preserve a bit of history. I feel what our grandfather told us is truly rare and precious!
    @Rachna –Actually when he recounted it, it was more with patriotism than anything else !
    @Susan – I am glad you liked reading it. He would recount it in great detail, telling us about the political condition at that time. I don’t recollect any fear in him just pride and patriotism.
    @Rickie – While growing up we heard the story so many times, but each time he told us we would listen mesmerized! Thank you for your words. Coming from a writer like you, they do mean a lot!
    @Janu – Yes, touching and horrific.
    @Alka – Gory nightmare indeed !
    @Shail – Than you !
    @Smita - We had goose bumps every time he recounted it ! To stare at death in its face and actually live to tell the tale !
    @Shilpa – Thank you, glad you liked it.Yes visiting Jallianwallah Bagh is always an emotional experience. Specially seeing the bullet ridden walls.
    @Hitchy- Both my grandfathers were active in the freedom struggle and we got to hear a lot of stories from them.

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  14. रुचिरा तुम्हारे इस सत्य-घटित ऐतिहासिक घटना को पढकर मेरे अन्तःकरण में अगणित भाव जागृत हुए हैं ।
    भारत का वास्तविक इतिहास सत्य को प्रदर्शित करते नहीं लिखा गया है।
    अगणित करोड़ लोगों ने स्वतंत्रता संग्राम में जुड़कर अपनी आहुति देकर
    भारतमाता के चरणों में अपने को अर्पित कर दिया जिसके कारण हम सब भारतीय लोग आज स्वतंत्र हैं।
    पर न ही हम वास्तविक रूप से स्वतंत्र हुए हैं और न ही हम इस स्वतंत्रता को समझ पाए हैं -अर्थार्त हम इसके योग्य नहीं हैं।यह एक कटु सत्य है।
    तुम्हारे क्या विचार हैं?
    मैंने यह पत्र जानबूझकर हिन्दी में लिखा है ।मुझे अंग्रेज़ी भाषा से कोई दुश्मनी नहीं है लेकिन मन को अपार व अगाध रूप से दुख है कि आज हमारी इस पवित्र मातृभूमि के हमारे युवक व युवतीजन अपना वास्तविक धन से ूपरे होते जा रहे हैं ।हम अपना सच्ची सांस्कृतिक सम्पत्ति -हमारी भाषाओं से कटते जा रहे हैं ।
    आपस में एक प्रांत के रहने वाले तक अंग्रेज़ी जुबान में बड़े गर्व से बोलते हैं।
    अफ़सोस तो यह है कि हम सोचने लगें हैं कि इस भाषा के द्वारा ही हमें इज़्ज़त व शोहरत मिलेगी!
    भाषा हमारी विरासत है और जो इससे कट जाता है वह " न घर का होता है और न घाट का!हम त्रिशंकू ही रह जाएँगे।
    संस्कार व संस्कृति भाषा से ही मिलते हैं ।
    पहले अपने को समझने के लिए अपनी भाषा सीखना आवश्यक है।
    यदि इस विषय में कुछ कहना हो तो हम दो आगे बढ़ सकते हैं
    आपके ( दादाजी या नाना जी-अब आप ही अनुभव करिए अंग्रेजी में दोनों रिश्तों के लिए एक ही शब्द का प्रयोग किया जाता है ) को हमारा प्रणाम और साथ में तुमको ज़िसने इस आंखोंदेखी व मुँहबोली कथा का विवरण इस लेख के द्वारा अनेकों तक पहुँचाया।।हार्दिक धन्यवाद व सप्रेम नमस्ते।
    मैं इस लेख को अपने बन्धु-बांधवों व मित्रों को अवश्य भेजूँगी।
    ( बहुत दु:ख है कि एक भी पाठक ने किसी भी भारतीय भाषा में उत्तर नहीं दिया।)
    हम भारतीय क्या वास्तव में अंग्रेज़ी शासन से मुक्त हुए हैं?इस प्रश्न के संदर्भ में तुम्हारा क्या उत्तर है?मैं स्वयं ठेठ हिन्दी भाषीय नहीं हूँ -मैं तमिल भाषीय हूँ।
    यह स्थिति भारत के भविष्य के लिए बहुत गम्भीर व महँगा पड़ेगा ।
    अपनी भाषाओं व संस्कारों का नव-निर्माण करके जन साधारण को जागृत करना अति -आवश्यक है ।
    भारतमाता की जय!!!

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  15. Gave me goosebumps. To even imagine how people were killed in that nasty history justs brings shivers to me! Great narration..

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  16. David Cameron's apology opened up new wounds.
    Even though General Dyer was removed from duty and forced to retire, he became a celebrated hero in Britain.

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  17. I had been there! It is difficult to imagine how those victims must have felt facing the death!

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  18. I visited Amritsar two years back and visited Jallianwala Bagh. It is such a sad feeling walking through it - to see the bullet marks, the well. It is as if you can almost hear and see everything. The cries are still in the air, the smell of death heavy on the ground.
    It is another shameful chapter in our barberic history.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

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  19. VcMouli- Bharat mein vibhinn prant hai aur har prant ke log hindi bhasha ko bahut acchi tarah se nahi jaante. Mere Vichaar mein ek aisi Bhasha honi chahiy jo saare bhartiyon ko bandh ke rakhe aur communication aasan karen. Yeh kam Angrezi Bhasha kar rahi hai. Hindi ya kisi bhi aur Bharitiya Bhasha ko bhi Rashtriya bhasha jaise promote karne mein koi harz nahi.

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  20. @Anu - Thank you. Gave us goosebumps every time we listened to my grandfather narrate the story ! Yes the struggle for our independence is rather nasty at times !

    @Purba - yes, He did become a Hero in Britain.It was David Cameroon visit that prompted me to write this story :P

    @ Kususm - Must be one terrifying experience !

    @MashedMusings - A visit there is always an emotional experience. I think they have also preserved and maintained everything very well there.

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  21. We had walked to every corner of the Jalianwala bagh when we visited the place in our childhood. We felt the goosebumps then and I felt it again reading this true account. Very well written, it is a documentation of something so profound, not only because it talks about a wrong political decision, also because it gives us a glimpse of how societies get affected after such violence and trauma.

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  22. The first thing that crossed my mind is "if only he was around today to read this"
    We all have read about this in various forms (and seen it too in Attenborough's Gandhi) but this is the first time I have read it as a first narration (it was just like him speaking directly) The bleeding hands and legs..... when one is close to death one does not realise the super human power they posses to save himself. Those bleeding hands could be him trying to scale the wall. He must have literally torn the wall to create niches. Those blood splattered clothes which were not his own.... sounded very true.
    I will forward this link to some who will be interested in reading this.
    God bless.

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  23. It is a great incident in our freedom struggle for independence. Your grand father is great man who faced the incident. Recently British pm apologise for the incident.

    thanks for sharing...

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  24. It sent the shiver down my spine. I have visited Jallianwalah bagh quite a few times and I struggle to find words to define how I feel there. right from the narrow entrance you start feeling trapped. When David Cameroon mentioned it, in a near apology, it opened up a lot of hidden memories.

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  25. That is a heart wrenching account. :( I have never been to Jalianwala Baug but I feel I have seen it through your eyes.

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  26. @Sangeeta – Yes, this is one act that changed the course of our history and affected us so much! We wouldn’t have had Udham Singh had it not been for Jallianwallah Bagh.

    @Haddock –Welcome here. Yes that is what I wish too – That my grandfather had been here to read this ! Thank you for sharing.

    @Krishna – Welcome Here and glad you enjoyed the post !

    @goignbeyondthepages – I agree. You do feel claustrophobic in the narrow entrance. Imagine how those people must have felt, trapped in that space unable to escape the bullets!

    @Akanksha – It is heart wrenching indeed. I am glad I made you like what I have written !

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  27. Very well written. Even now my heart is shaking hardly to think of that horrible situation. Feel very proud for the people who gave their lives for our freedom. I thought almost everyone died. Good that your grandfather got a way to escape. There are very many incidents like Jallianwallah Bagh in India during the freedom struggle which remains unknown. Write many such true incidents and let us know everything.

    http://ganytalks.com

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  28. Your narrative is excellent so I could get the situation in those days. We can exsist now thanks to many struggle of our ancestor,I think.
    Thank you for visiting my blog. I'm glad to hear you have lived in Kobe.
    Have a nice day!

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  29. Its a beautiful narrative. You constructed the events exactly as it happened in that era. It's so real
    Vishal
    www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.co

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  30. Reading this sent me shivers down the spine. Just a matter of seconds which saved your Grandpa. I am able to visualize that horrific incident almost as if If it happened in front of my eyes. Wonderfully written.

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  31. That is chilling!
    I never thought I will meet somebody from that part of history.
    Nice to know you! :)

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  32. @gany – welcome here ! You are right, there are many such incidents during the freedom struggle – some known, some unknown.
    @Sarah – welcome here ! I am glad you liked reading about Indian History.
    @vishalbheeroo – Thank you and welcome here !
    @Ashwini – Welcome here and I am glad you found it good reading !
    @Indrani – Welcome here and nice to know you too 

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  33. When I was reading it, I could feel it, the narration is so powerful. I have been there and I could relate to the scene.

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  34. I enjoyed two aspects of your writing. The way it was narrated and the way your writing made me visualize what transpired that day! Amazing.

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  35. @Saru - welcome here. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

    @whimsical Blogger - Welcome and so glad you enjoyed it !

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  36. Omg
    It was much more visualizing than in the movie rdb
    Sends a shiver in spine even now !
    Wonderfully narrated . U did justice to your grand pas horrifying memory !

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  37. What a terrible page of the history! This must be remembered all the time not to let it happen again by someone who can tell the whole incident powerfully and skillfully like you. The horrifying scenes unfolded before my eyes while reading.

    Yoko

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  38. Terrible story. It is horrifying that such things have happened many times throughout history.

    Dropping by from A to Z

    JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE

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  39. I came to this blog by surfing internet. Are you daughter of Mr. Rabindra Nath Shukla who happens to be my best friend. If so please reply me in my mail ID kanti1937@gmail.com My name is Mrinal Kanti Pal . Me and Rabi studied Post Graduation together at Kolkata during 1956-59 and we were together at Agra in 1960 and again at Kolkata during 1964-70. I am also a blog writer You can see my blog http://mrinalkantipal.blogspot.com I've gone through a number of postings in this blog and find quite interesting. Nice blog I should say.

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  40. I got to read this post because Sakshi shared it on IB's link today... it gave me goosebumps as well... That's all that we can experience and try and imagine.. but how much ever we try I doubt we will ever be able to really grasp what your grandfather must have gone through...

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    1. Yes Seeta, It is very difficult to imagine what he must have gone through.

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  41. Oh my god! You have recounted it brilliantly Ruchira. And as much as it is enthralling to read about it from someone who has been there, it saddens me to even think about it. I visited Jallianwala Bagh 2 years back , and even while reading about the martyrs in the museum and seeing the bullet ridden walls and the well, it gave me goose bumps.

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    1. It always gave us goosebumps whenever we heard the story from our grandfather. Thanks for reading and for liking it Ghata !

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  42. very powerful and moving narration, Ruchira. This is the first time I am reading about someone who was actually there!! OMG!!

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    1. Thank you so much Kanchana for reading and for you praise :-)

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  43. I have been to this place and in the spruced up sanitised memorial form that it is now, it still gave me goosebumps, seeing the bullet marks reading the accounts in the exhibits, but most walking up that narrow lane, I could just imagine being stuck there!!!!

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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    1. Yes it is really a narrow lane. And seeing all the bullet marks does give you the jitters. Thanks for reading !

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  44. This moved me, as i read deeper, word by word. I have been to Jallianwalla Bagh, and I also remember having seen the bullet marks on the well walls that have been encircled and highlighted. Times change, tyrants have their way and its the common people who suffer.

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  45. This story is just spine-chilling!! An act so meaningless and callous recorded for posterity, as it should be.

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  46. Jallianwala Bagh incident is one that has always made me livid with rage. And your first hand narration reignites my outrage.

    Remembering it, today when I see western nations- specially Britain- have this holier than thou attitude about human rights and justice and fairness, I am disgusted by their hypocrisy. Do they dare face us after brutalizing our country for 400 years... after teaching us to doubt, ridicule and discredit our own culture and heritage? The mental and cultural shackles were far worse that the physical shackles. We still suffer because of them. I don't know how many generations more will pass away before India wakes up to her own glory.

    I loved VCMouli's comment in spirit. While I have no war with the language, she does have a point. When you use a language, you subconsciously imbibe the culture. Because that language has no reference points that lead you to your own history- let alone celebrate it. In that sense alone, it is sad that in a nation with so many official languages, we find consensus only in English as a common language.

    I wonder why we can't all use Sanskrit.

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  47. I had goose bumps while reading this.

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    1. Thanks for reading Ruby. I had goosebumps while writing this.

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  48. Oh Ruch. <3 i cried on reading this. Hugs.

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  49. I cannot imagine what your grandfather or any of his friends or his near and dear ones experienced that night and after but must have been really really tough to deal with that situation. You have beautifully captured it in your words. Thank you Ruchira for sharing.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading. I do feel that such historic events need to be documented as much as possible.

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  50. A chill ran down my spine as I read the last few sentences, and then I went back and read the whole thing again.

    And then I cried.

    Shubham

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