Good Old Fashioned

Entry by: daddy

17th June 2016
Billowing Dust

Memories have a strange way of creeping upon you and then overwhelm you, by pouring down in a deluge. You see every incident as it may have happened then!
It was 2011 and I was returning from my daily stroll in a park next to my house in Delhi. When one of my knees protested forcing me to rest at the nearest bus stop, as I sat down a city bus departed leaving a billowing cloud of dust – and in a flash the memories of the last year of my college in 1974 at the desert city of Jodhpur came alive.
The way life used to ‘float on’ in the campuses those days, had more to do with severe unemployment crises than anything else did. Engineers were out of jobs, doctors could hardly make two ends meet, and postgraduates were not even getting a job of a postman. In my university, the previous six postgraduate toppers in my subject were idling. They were down to search for a teacher’s job in village schools. I was in MSc final in ’74, when the largest public movement against Indira Gandhi government found its reverberations in the sleepy desert town of Jodhpur. A word about the town, it was a rather peaceful town, with honest people. You could forget your purse in the market and it would be returned to you intact when you looked for it. People would guide you to your destination; in fact go along with you setting aside their own work. The city had a rich cultural heritage and leading classical singers used to perform in the city. I particularly remember Begum Akhtar, in her frail form sitting on the otherwise empty stage, singing in her unique gifted powerful voice, on a day when it poured as if the floodgates had opened up in the sky, (I thought so, until I saw monsoon at Cochin and Mumbai!). Unfortunately, three days later, she collapsed during her concert at Ahemdabad and died. Likes of Shri MGK Menon (Scientist) and Shri VV John the educationist were the Vice Chancellors, and Shri Ashok Gehlot (who later became Chie Minister of Rajasthan) sought votes for election as the President of the University. Periodically the Jat-Rajput community divide inflamed the campus.
The Jai Prakash Narayan (JP) wave struck all in my university. The first symbolic protest morchas (organized rallies) were spearheaded by the budhijeevees (the intelligentsia). However, as the morcha meandered itself through the lanes, the hardest to be struck were the Mithaiwalas (sweet merchants), the restaurants, and the liquor vendors. The mob frenzy just took over and we saw trays of sweetmeats and savories like gulabjamuns, barfis, kalakands, kachoris, and samosas just vanish down hungry throats. The stalwarts even gulped down the chashni (sugar syrup) off the Kadhais (containers), leaving nothing edible behind. The intelligentsia vanished at the first signs of mob fury, and even the cool collegians looked aghast, as the raw face of hunger unveiled itself. It was a real movement of the starved masses.
JP’s repeated appeals of ‘no violence’ went unheeded, I am sure he had no idea what was happening in his name in the farthest corners of India. The police were out numbered and reinforcements were not available. In the inner city, the police just stood and watched as the public, with a good mix of hooligans, unemployed youth, and idle students, went on a rampage, looting whatever could be converted into ready cash. Clothing bales (ready-mades were not in vogue then), electric goods like steam presses, transistors (TVs had not come in retail yet), hardware items, Attar (perfume) bottles, grocery , oil tins, gunny bags of dals (pulses), wheat, sugar, spices - whatever one could lay hands on was carted away to the houses. Rampant eve teasing, vandalizing rival’s shops, beating opponents, and blatant hooliganism took over the noble movement. The so-called students (rowdies who remain for eternity in the colleges) cajoled the police, ridiculed them, challenged them to stop the march if they could in the face of Jan-andolan (public movement). Effigies of police officials were slapped and abused.
The police just kept taking notes for about two days and then they struck. Searching house after house where they had seen goods being taken to…and the items were recovered as if it was raining goods. People, who were afraid of being branded as kalu chor (black thieves), dumped the looted goods on the streets in the night to escape the wrath of the danda (stick) wielding mamu (beat policemen). In retaliation, the so-called students took out a morcha from the inner city to the maidan (main public ground) against the Police and the administration. As they came out of the walled confines of the city to spread a reign of utter lawlessness and terror in the name of JP in the whole city, they encountered the police barricades and were hammered with batons and sticks. The main leaders were carted off to the police lines and were not seen for two three days. They could not walk afterwards, and were hospitalized and seen in plaster casts for months thereafter. JP’s movement had been hijacked by the goondas (goons) with their personal agenda and the police controlled it in its own way, a bit late but effectively. JP’s revolution ended in emergency being imposed in the country thereby ending the endless gossiping at chaiwalas (tea vendors) and street corners.
The college life in those days had a tranquilizing, sleepy fervor. Who would go in the scorching, blistering heat to have a cup of tea beneath a babul tree at 3 pm? We would - every day of the college – sipping the nectar from our steaming cup and watching dust storms bellowing along the road. We would just park ourselves at the empty, lonely bus stops, since we had nowhere to go! Just watching buses going and coming, either way. Let the buses do what they were meant to do and we would do what we were doing or not doing…it would not matter!
We would follow the same routine day after day. The question “to be or not to be” “going or coming” never bothered us, we were the “just be” “just there” types. What did we do? Yapped away on everything under the sun, Kafka, Mukesh, Dilip Kumar, Harold Robbins, Nirala, Firaq, student movements, Jat - Rajput politics, Meena Kumari and so on, on and on..
A bus screeched to a wailing stop shaking me out of my stupor into the present.