A man called Anand Dighe died in a Thane hospital in August 2001. He was a popular man, I believe. For a crowd that had gathered while he was being treated felt very sad when he finally died. "Spontaneously", there at the hospital, they expressed their "grief."
And this is how they did it.
They destroyed the ground floor of the hospital. They looted and burned a Raymonds showroom nearby, then burned a godown opposite. They stole the petrol from several ambulances, overturned them and set them on fire. They smashed over 30 cars in the hospital compound, and three buses outside. They assaulted several journalists: two, from the programme Aaj Tak, were so afraid they would be killed that they fell to the ground and feigned death till the crowd lost interest. They chased nurses and patients all over the building, battering down the doors some nurses hid behind. One patient who had to run for his life had actually been in the bed adjacent to Dighe's in the ICU, under treatment for renal failure. His son told the press: "I had given up hope. I thought I would lose my father."
Several patients were hurriedly moved to other hospitals. I don't know if anyone noticed the irony that one of those hospitals was named "Chhatrapati Shivaji."
So badly vandalised was this Singhania hospital, that it had to shut down soon after. Just like that, a city lost an entire hospital. "Spontaneous grief", don't forget.
Why do I remember this incident, four years on?
Well, Dighe was, of course, a member of the Shiv Sena. This party is now reeling under the weight of an ancient Indian tradition: the bitter family feud. The nephew has quit in a huff, angry with the son (his cousin) for years of put-downs. He is widely seen as the more natural heir than his cousin to the party's forty-year tradition of street thuggery. Trashing a major hospital, of course, went right along with that tradition.
But on Saturday, the nephew's huff took him to, of all places, Nashik. There, entirely by chance, he bumped into another man. This other man had quite literally dropped out of the sky. He had just landed in Nashik after breaking the world record for the highest hot-air balloon ascent, nearly 70,000 feet. His son was there to meet him, and together, they ran into the nephew-in-a-huff. "Hi Raj," the son said, "my father has just broken the world record." The newspaper picture of this meeting is priceless: the nephew's huff is written all over his face.
And who was the man who dropped from the sky? Aviation and ballooning enthusiast, patriarch of the Singhania family, the industrialist Vijaypat Singhania. The very man whose hospital was destroyed by the nephew's own party colleagues, four years ago.
Even with the euphoria of the world-record to savour, I imagine Singhania must have had thoughts of that hospital on meeting the nephew. What went through his mind, I wonder? Anger at the mindless violence the man in front of him, and his party, wear as a badge of honour -- the violence that consumed that hospital? Satisfaction that this feud has plunged the party into a deep crisis? Revulsion? Indifference?
I don't know. But I remember that obscene assault on a hospital and its terrorized patients today. And I think: a party steeped in violence for years can only expect to be consumed by violence itself. That's what this feud is really about, and I simply cannot bring myself to give a damn.