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It was 9/11 again last week. As I changed channels on my T.V all I could see were the images of the world trade center collapsing from different angles. The many “miracle survivors” were invited on the talk shows..they re-lived their tragedy…many of them breaking down and weeping copiously and America wept with them. Several other people in far corners of America took the day off from work to sit with their families….Others simply couldn’t work on such a day….May people prayed especially hard that day…american flags waved from most houses, offices and cars. It was the anniversary of the national disaster.

Try as I might I really cannot feel the anguish of the people here…Don’t get me wrong I am definitely sorry for all the people who perished that day and all the people who mourn their dear ones. It’s not something I ever want to happen…..but again its impersonal. Every person has their own views of their national disasters. For me the worst disaster I ever experienced and the day i shall always remember is the December 6 and January 6, the anniversary of the Babri masjid demolition and the Bombay riots respectively…That to me was probably the worst tragedy to strike in India and especially Bombay. The reason that I feel that way could be because i was in the thick of the riots.

So this 9/11, I was thinking about the riots, its victims and its repercussions. In the last few years i have heard several stories of people who saw atrocities, committed them, escaped them or are still haunted by them. Some of these are ghastly, some are trivial but these memories are what associates many people with those days of rioting. Here are some of the stories, I heard …

Atul’s story :

I was in my fifth semester engineering. We had our exams and my center was at RAIT,Vashi. We did not think the riots were that serious and we didn’t bother to check whether the exams are being held or not. My friend Milind and I were on our way to RAIT. That day buses were not working properly. We decided to take a bus to Bandra and catch another bus going to New Bombay from there. When we reached Bandra we saw that none of the buses were running. At that time the only thought was my exams and the scare of KT. So we decided to take a cab to Kurla thinking that once we get near Mankhurd we can always get to RAIT.

Our can driver was a Sardarji who promised to get us to Kurla..Unfortunately the route he chose was through the areas which had active rioting. As we were going i saw a car which was still burning ..I didn’t even want to think whether it actually had somebody in it. Far away we could see the smoke from other burnt cars and houses. There was a huge crowd gathering in front of us. They were Muslims holding swords and other weapons….The Sardarji told us to duck down in the seats and remain hidden. We did that and we could hear the crowd demanding the Sardarji to answer “Kyon Sardarji kya unlogon ne jo kiya woh theek kiya..Masjid tod dala”,The Sardarji said “nahi saab bilkul galat tha”. Pleased by the answer they said “theek hai tum sardarjee hai isiliye chod dete hai…par aaj band hai…gaadi mat chalao”

Sardarji assented and told bas udhar tak jaakar rok deta hoon

As soon as we went past the mob there was stone throwing…one stone came and hit the rear windshield of the taxi. Turning behind we saw that the police had already cordoned off that area and were trying to control the mob. The Sardarji dropped us at Kurla station and scared we ran away from that place..We reached RAIT late ,found that exams were postponed .We stayed over at New bombay for two days ….we were too scared to come back. Looking back i can only thank my stars that the can driver was a nice guy and a Sardar. Otherwise……..

Shyam’s’ story.

I was in 10 standard when the riots took place. Our area was a predominantly Hindu area so we did not see much trouble. It was relatively calm and quiet. At school too we were pretty much oblivious to the tension outside….busy preparing for our prelims. One of the guys in my group in school was Shadab. He was a roly-poly guy…fun to be around with. Soon after the riots he stopped coming to school. We later found out that he along with his family had moved away. At first we wondered why he did that….later with the typical callousness of school boys we forgot about him. Our lives were busy our board exams, results ,junior college and the twelve standard boards, admission tension and then engineering.

3 years back I met Shadab again in the local train. After cheery greeting and a few friendly swears, we exchanged information about our current education . I asked Shadab then”abe yaar tu dasvi ke baad gaya kahan….dikha hi nahi” and Shadab replied “You know i stayed in Jogeshwari. We were the only Muslims in the building. During those times it was so difficult to stay there….We only had to open our doors and somebody would be swearing at us. We were fed up of hearing all those insults...dar lagta tha bahar nikalne ko…..isiliye hum bandra shift ho gaye jahan hamare log rehte hai

It was an awkward moment ……..i didn’t know what to tell him. All i knew was that Bobmay was divided into “hamare log” and “tumhare log” and it was religion that divided it and it was the riots that perpetuated that division…

Meenaz’s story ( told to me a few days after the riots when i asked her why  she was wearing the same clothes for more than a week..and that too not the school uniform)

Sab kuch jal gaya….bas yahi baaki hai. Why are you looking surprised….It was these dange u know. My father you know is a taxi driver….he thought there would be trouble so we went to our khalla’s house…We stayed there for a week…Jab vapas ghar aaye to dekha ki poora ghar jala diya hai….ghar se bahut cheezen gayab hai..…Luckily we are all alive.

Did i see anything ….oh yes i did…

All our neighbors were not this lucky….several people were wounded….suna ki kuch gunde ghar mein ghus aaye aur bahut peeta mere bajuwale ko. I also saw a young girl running away trying to save herself while some louts were chasing here….pata nahi hindu the ke mussalman. par humara to sab kuch chala gaya…..

agar mere paas bandook hoti to mein aaj har hindu ko goli maar deti....hmmm may be i will spare you Deepa ….

Asma’s story ( She was on the phone with me on the day of the riots)

Asma: Hello Deepa ?

Deepa: Hi Asma…everyhthing ok there?

Asma:(weeping): I am so scared….there is a lot of noise outside…I can hear lot of people yelling. I am scared

Deepa: Arre don’t worry , these are probably just one of those awara guys out to scare people….u relax. I assume you have shut your doors

There is silence for some time on the other end….in the background i can hear arguments and in the far background noises made by the mob outside.

Asma : My abba is not listening to us ,,,,,there are people fighting outside..He wants to go and pacify them…He says samjhate hai ki jhagda nahi karna hai…i am telling him not to go and he is not listening….(sobbing more ) Deepa he has gone out…I am frightened….i hope he comes back in….

Deepa (confused ): He probably knows those people….nothing is going to happen he will be back soon see

Suddenly there is a loud noise .Although it sounds muffled through phone i can make out that it sounds like a gunshot.

Asma (screaming): Thats a shot….kisine golimaara…..pata nahi abba .…(she is hysterical now….)

Deepa: Asma don’t cry don’t cry….

There is a sudden click and the receiver is kept down…..

It took me all of 15 minutes to recover my guts to call her back again just to make sure her dad is safe….

Fortunately he was…..He saw the guy who was shooting and the guy who was shot…but came inside before the mob took over.

Sanjay’s story

Riots….haan yaar solid lafda hua tha….chee par yahan par kuch nahi hua….ekdum shanti tha…It was really boring you know. But then we organized watches,,,,public raat ko baithta tha…guard karne ko..kuch hota nahi tha…par phir bhi….pathar jama kiya tha…

Hum logon se socha jaate hai kisiki ko hull dete hain par phir kuch kiya nahi……………….Woh peeche ********** street pe kuch logone ek katlu ka dukaan loota…glass vaas tod diya..par uske siva kuch hi nahi hua…Electronics ka dukaan tha…phir suna public TV radio sab utha rahe the…Jaana chahiye tha kuch apun bhi le sakta tha…par phir main to dar gaya baba..isilye gaya nahi …..main bolta hai parle ekdum boring jagah hai…yahan pe kuch nahi hota…..

.....and these are stories I have heard first hand….I know there are countless others….more horrifying more thought provoking, more callous……still…..

Most names have been changed…..

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