January 09, 2006

All you who shiver tonight

It's colder than I expected. I find an autorickshaw and find myself shivering as we sway and zip down the road, so I disentangle my jacket from my bag and put it on. Ah, warmer. But tonight, I still shiver.

The bus ahead of us careens along. Idly, I read the Gujarati letters on the indicator at the back: Lal Darwaza to Naroda. Some names sear themselves into your grey cells, and this is one. Naroda, as in Naroda-Patiya, where mobs slaughtered 83 people on February 28 2002.

In the train just a couple of hours ago, the woman next to me was talking to her husband. Thrice in quick succession, she mentioned another of those names that are imprinted on the grey cells. "Godhra", she said. "Godhra, Godhra!" Godhra, where mobs slaughtered 60 people on February 27 2002. Between dozing and the rapidfire of the woman's language, I couldn't catch what else she said. But the name came through clearly.

It's cold and I'm in this speeding rickshaw that's just shot past the bus to Naroda, but I know that's not why I'm shivering.

When I reach where I'm going in this city by night, there's a guard walking up and down with a long stick. A stick, a rickshaw, this city ... and my mind travels back to when I was last here, one day in early April 2002.

I'm in a rickshaw going to see a friend. The little bump when we're stopped at a traffic signal, it doesn't seem like anything to be concerned about. The car behind has accidentally, but gently, nudged us. My driver, burly and 55, gestures in half-hearted irritation. The light changes, we drive on.

Seconds later, the car pulls alongside and forces us to the side. Man leaps out. Gleaming shoes, spotless white shirt, creased trousers, 30 years old -- must be an executive somewhere. But now, his face is twisted in fury. He bears down on us, yells that he honked three times. He and my driver go nose-to-nose, abusing each other loud enough for an entire city to hear.

I try to pacify them. For a moment, I think I have calmed the exec down. Then he turns, lopes back to his car, reaches in and brings out ... absolutely the last thing I expect. It's a long, sturdy stick.

Before I can react, he lopes back, swings at my driver's forearm with a ferocity I would not have believed had I not seen it. The sound, as it connects with flesh and the bone underneath, is stomach-turning. He hits so hard that the stick breaks in two.

He jumps in the car and is gone. My driver is doubled over with pain. As if in a dream, I see one of the pieces of the stick, settling in the dust at our feet.

And tonight: a rickshaw, that long stick, the chill I feel in my bones. I shiver again.


Aditya Bidikar said...

Bizarre, sad, and beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

You are definitely not a typist! I loved your post..you are an observant and gifted writer..

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you, Aditya and Helmi. You are kind. It was a very bizarre, disturbing incident.

This was once a regular blog but, after six said...


Didn't you write this somewhere else - maybe rediff? - under the title "Red Hot Wrath" or "Rot Fed Wrath" or something like that? The reason it stands out in my head, and I don't know if I ever told you this before, is that it was this piece that made me decide to write to you a few years ago. Happy New Year, my friend.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Good memory, Roshan! Yes, I did write about it (Rot-fed Wrath) in 2002. In Ahmedabad this time, for some reason this incident was on my mind constantly. For me, that city is full of memories, few pleasant. Which is sad.