Tuesday, August 16, 2005


1984 evokes many different metaphors. The one that springs to mind first, of course, is the Orwellian world. Of late, however, there have been memories of what happened in India, Delhi in particular, that have been more on my mind.

I recently read another fascinating book by William Dalrymple -- City of Djinns. This books is an account of the author's one year in Delhi, sometime around 1990. Dalrymple writes with wit and has a fascinating collection of anecdotes. On top of it all, his curiosity and passion for the city of Delhi is amazing. And it shows in his narrative.

Coming to the point about 1984, the author recounts conversations with people in Delhi who suffered through that nightmarish episode. For many people in Delhi, it seems, the partition in 1947 and the riots in 1984 have left scars that run deep. The incidents in 1984 might even be topical these days, given the resignation of Mr. Tytler and the statements from prime minister Manmohan Singh.

I was 9 years old when the riots broke out in Delhi, and many other parts of India. I recall seeing the news on TV about Indira Gandhi's assassination. I don't recall the news about the massacres that happened soon after. One morning, a day or two after the assasination, I woke up to find that a Sikh family who lived in the house opposite ours were camping in ours. My mother explained to me, still half-asleep and quite perplexed, that there were fears that their house might have been attacked, and therefore my parents had brought them home in the night. Another family was similarly camping in our next door neighbour's house. I didn't quite feel the fear then, rather I felt kind of happy to have their kids at our place. But I did feel my family was kind of heroic in doing what they did. And then we saw a house in some distance go up in flames -- we rushed up to the roof, and we could see a couple more fires in distance. I don't recall a whole lot more but I do recall the fear in the air.

I think the people responsible for the riots deserve to be punished. However, hoping for justice and expecting it in India are two very different things.

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