“Babri now lay in rubbles. They are saying they have demolished the mosque.”
“Really?! What do we do now Pranjit?”
“Don’t worry Seema. We should be safe. We will reach Guwahati on time.”
“I’m really scared.” Seema, almost unable to grasp her miring emotions.
“We’re Hindus and we’ll be safe. These Muslims have been rightly shown their place.” Pranjit constantly looks out the window, fidgety, almost unsure of his words himself. He faced a similar plight back in 1984, the year he had gone with his mother to scatter his father’s ashes in the Ganga, and the year Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Over the years he had built a resounding confidence in himself as a Hindu in his country.
“We’ll be fine Seema. Just avoid going out without me. I hope this will teach the Bangladeshis a lesson.”
“Come to me Pranjit. I need comfort.”
“I love you baby. More than anything in the world right now.” Pranjit buries her in his arms and kisses Seema’s forehead, caressing her, comforting her. But what about Pranjit? What about his fellow countrymen outside? Who would placate them?
The compartment door slid open throwing the newly married couple off guard. A lurky gigantic man appeared. His smirk very menacing to Seema and condescending to Pranjit.
“Well hello there! Hope I am not intruding but you see I have every right to” he said displaying his ticket.
In only a moment Pranjit felt his ego inexplicably pierced for eternity. “Not at all! Please come on in. What’s your good name?”
“Anil. Anil Chandra.”
That provided him some solace. Not only because this man was a Hindu but because he shared his name with Pranjit’s father. He instantly took a liking towards the man. When acquainted of such similarities in the most adverse of situations, one has to confront the inescapable reality that we are all on the same train. Pranjit broke into a smile.
“Pleased to meet you Anil. This is my wife Seema. We are from Assam. We had gone honeymooning in Shimla and now are one our way back home!”
“Assam? Where is that place?”
“It’s in the North-East region of this country.” Pranjit said biting his lip. It wasn’t the first time he had to hear this but he had grown accustomed to this. All Assamese people had. All North-East people had.
“North-East? Wow! I’ve heard it’s very beautiful. Full of greenery and the mountains. Very cold isn’t it? But you guys look nothing like North-East people. Where are your originally from?” Anil inquired, settling into his seat now. He really did seem fascinated by such people of his country, born in the country and yet existing far from it.
Pranjit burst into an uneven and uneasy laughter, “yes, we are Assamese. Born and brought up there. But we are Brahmins so we have these mainland Indian features.”
“Ah! Very well. I’m a Brahmin myself. Born and brought up in Lucknow. I’m a lawyer practising in the Allahabad High Court.”
“Oh that’s fantastic. Tell me, are there any sort of troubles you’ve heard of from back home? You know they broke down the Masjid today.”
“Well Lucknow is silent. At least my part is, from what I could gather, the last time I spoke to my mother.” Anil’s eyes sifting through the compartment with purpose. In just a matter of ten minutes Pranjit felt a brotherly love for Anil and more than anything he was in peace with the fact that he didn’t turn out to be a Muslim. He wouldn’t admit it to Seema or even himself but his paranoia ran deeper than he let on, especially for his newly married wife. The constant long haults didn’t help much and kept them at their feet. He knew the night of December 6 would be long, the journey even longer.
“News is that riots are breaking out in every part of the country. I get off at Alipore. Where do you get off” Anil inquired.
“Guwahati.” Seema said sheepishly, avoiding any eye contact with Anil.
“These Muslims, I hear they gouge out Hindus’ eyes and butcher their heads.”
“Stop it Pranjit” Seema exclaimed nearing an almost teary affair. Pranjit immediately held her tight and kissed her while Anil observed them closely. The train seemed to have stop at eternity station. Alipore was next.
“You’d be surprise at what human beings can do to each other” Anil very coldly remarked. He went on, “there has never been, in the history of this country that a Hindu has taken the sword and the Muslim hasn’t in return and the other way round. What is involved here is a deeply entrenched state of power struggle between the two religions that dates far back, beyond the history of India as we know it. Tonight we have found history, we are in its midst.”
Pranjit immediately took Anil as a knowledgeable man, his declarations ringing bells like of a prophet. The initial air of male hostility had now turned into admiration somewhat, for an elder, everything concentrated in that cold cabin. It was then that the train started moving. They could hear large cheers and screaming outside. It was really the onset of anarchy. Anarchy had been loosened upon this country. But they took comfort in the fact that with every move they were inching closer towards home. He needed that, for himself and his Seema who he looked at now with a smile. They were now entering East, a place he felt safer in and also more comfortable.
“Say we’re onto Alipore next. What brings you here on such a short distance?”
“Ah nothing much. I just have a client to meet and his case to argue in.”
“Must be interesting, this life of a lawyer. I’ve heard so much about the big fat paychecks.”
“Well you know what they say. Never trust a lawyer.” Anil remarked with a sardonic laughter.
“How come you don’t have a briefcase? All lawyers carry a briefcase.” Pranjit asked with intense curiosity.
“Well I don’t need to. I have my arrangements made at Alipore before hand.”
“Oh that’s grand.” Pranjit said ending the conversation abruptly.
The train fast approached Alipore with its tires screeching and preparing itself for the halt. The pair had resigned to their berths until then while Anil sat there staring outside. “Let me know when we reach Alipore. I need to buy some stuff myself and I will see you off” Pranjit proposed.
“Well we are here already. It’s just a matter of seconds now.”
The train halted finally, rushing into the small station, laden with the very Indian station stench, and with very few people in sight. Pranjit and Seema looked outside eagerly as two kids seeing their father come home from office. They knew they were closer to home and were relieved.
“Here we are finally.” said Pranjit who was on his feet immediately eager to get some fresh air and some snacks for himself and Seema.
“See you my friend. It was wonderful meeting you. I wish we could meet under better circumstances. Do leave me your home address. I shall write to you.” Pranjit offered.
“Well sure here it is. Take my card.”
“Card! Oh wow! Thank you. It must be fun being a lawyer.” Pranjit took the card in haste and not caring to look at it. He really wanted out. They both parted ways with Anil waving goodbye to Seema and both him and Pranjit getting off the same door. Pranjit too said the last of his goodbyes the one with the smile and the hand gesture and got himself to the tea stall immediately.
“One cup of tea and give me some of those chips.”
“How many?” the shop owner asked, disinterestedly.
“Two of them. Here is the money.” he reached for his wallet in his back pocket and found it quite empty. He immediately reached his side pockets as his excitement suddenly started to wane off. In it he found nothing except……the business card. Like Anil, it had nothing much to say. It was blank. Pranjit immediately rushed to the train to find Seema, frantically speeding and heckling his way through the mess of a crowd as the shop owner screamed for his money in the background. Pranjit couldn’t care less. In a matter of seconds he felt the dimness of the lights that night, the weird stare of the crowd, the uneasiness of the sky.
He reached his compartment, sweating from his mile run. He opened the door and gazed in horror. His life now lay in rubbles.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis.