Thursday, January 18, 2007

Born under a bad sign

The other day, I was reading an article on the power of journalism, trumpeting the "journalism of courage" of the Indian Express. It recalled one oft-quoted anecdote from during the state of Emergency (1975-1977) when the press had been muzzled, and the press had to get creative to get one past the censors' noses. One day during the Emergency the Indian Express carried, hidden among dozens of other authentic obituaries on the innocuous classifieds page of the newspaper, this one - "...death of Liberty, mother of Hope, Faith and Justicia" (or something to this effect). Ever since I first read about it a couple of decades ago as a child, I have been fascinated by the dark humour of the act and it comes to mind first when I think of the Emergency.

And I have at least one reason to have the Emergency on my mind - I was born during that period. Though only at the very fag end, when many Opposition leaders were still in jail but JP had begun to clinch his dialitic fist in anticipation of the upcoming (and very very successful) political battle; when Sam Manekshaw hadnt yet sat down with his generals over glasses of fine Scotch to weigh the option of a military coup but Indira had begun to dither for fear that he already had. Indeed, the day of my baarsa (naming ceremony) was the same day that the Emergency was lifted, and many a time have I cornered my mother with the wrenching question - why did you not, symbolically, name me Azad or somesuch?

The answer, though never said, was that my parents had had enough of the Emergency by that time. For, a couple of months prior to my birth, they had gotten a phone call and a disguised voice asked if they were home or not. Puzzled, they waited for a couple of days till an unexpected visitor turned up at their door - it was ___, my father's langotiya friend, seeking refuge with his wife and baby in tow! After getting a PhD from the US, he went to live and work in the rural areas around Nanded in Maharashtra in association with the CPI(ML); he was one of the much-glorified (see Hazaaro Khwaishein Aisi) breed of bourgeois-turned-Naxalite, and was now on the run. So for weeks, the entire family stayed in the talghar (cellar) of our Ahmedabad house, never meeting anyone, surfacing only for meals and essentials. After hearing this tale in my childhood, for a long time I associated "going underground" with physically hiding in a cellar!

"As at birth, so in life". Sometimes when I argue on political matters with people, they remark distastefully that I come across as authoritarian. I beg one thing of them. Like some criminals who get lenient justice in consideration of their terrible childhood experiences, judge me too kindly, for I am a child of the Emergency.

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