I lasted more than I thought I ever would be. I hung on to my thoughts more than I thought I ever contemplated. I was a nomad, I was happy playing in mud and holding mini tea parties for my dolls when it actually happened and when I read about it, many years later, it burned my feelings and I didn’t even see the ashes.
Visiting Amritsar, when I was a kid, was more than just a pilgrimage to a holy place. We used to board a train for our 4 hour journey because we kids loved it and then we were in heaven. Eating Kulchas, buying little souvenirs, running around in the parikarma and sometimes buying new things from the famous markets. I don’t think I knew the meaning of God then. All I knew was to bow my head and to be silent when in the sanctum sanctorum and then scream as soon as we were outside complaining about how my brother pushed me and took all my Prasad.
Then for few years, visits just suddenly stopped. I remember asking once or twice about it because I missed the liberation, the vacation and dad just telling me, “The time is not right.” Though I never understood what he meant, but I never questioned him as more important things beckoned me like the hide and seek and the swings.
We or rather I was insulated to what was brewing and why the time was not right. I kept hearing the conversations where my parents were always worried about our relatives in Delhi. Something had broken and they were no longer safe in their own homes, in their own country. Many years later, I realized it was not just the riots but the trust, the feeling of belonging that was broke more than anything else.
They lived to tell the tale, they lived to tell that how their neighbors helped them in their escape on that fateful night in Shahdara when suddenly an angry mob started knocking door to door looking for Sikhs, pulling them out when found and burning them alive by tying their hands and putting tyres in their necks. The next day, all that was left was the charred bodies, burnt houses, wailing widows and screaming toddlers. While hiding behind the door, hearing their conversation, I wondered why they did that. I couldn’t find any answers. After all, dad always said, “No religion teaches violence. It is the few rotten apples that can be found anywhere. ” And people from same religion helped them in escape too.
But I wondered how the strength of rotten apples was much more than the good. 3000 dead bodies littered all over Delhi, deafening the atmosphere with their silence and still asking what was their crime, what was the crime of their wives and their sons and daughters who are alive and yet dead seeing their own husband, father burnt in front of them.
I wanted to find answers. I read and read a lot, saw documentaries and all I could found in that rubble was blood, memories, broken promises of a newly wedded husband to a wife, of a father to a daughter, of a picture that remained unframed because the husband never got to see it, of flailing arms with warm yellow hues all around them, of lives that never stopped but never forgot too.
Are we proud to have a settlement named ‘Widow Colony’? Yes, we have such place in Delhi where the widows of this massacre live and their eyes are still wet with the tears that are yet to stop, even after 29 years. The daughters are married, the sons have moved on. At that time, it was formed so that they can together heal their wounds and today it stands as a testament to the harsh fact that husbands here are a rare commodity.
We scream secular till our voices become hoarse, we cry democratic when it comes to every 5 years of getting that black mark on our nails, we yell liberated until we waste ourselves and the moon becomes hazy ; how misguided we are. We are none of that.
I am ashamed; I really am – for 1984, for 2002, for the bruised humanity, for the deeply inflicted cuts in the name of religion, for the fact that we haven’t yet learned from the past mistakes. And yet I want to move on. But can I really move on with the nagging feeling that says it can happen again? It can because we are still that intolerant country who cringe our noses under the garb of secularism.