Jan 19 Friday:
My last working day at my Bangalore company. I am moved that so many people will miss me once I leave this place. I managed to make some lovely friends in this place and will always miss them.
I will also miss the daily azaan that I can hear when I used to leave the office at 5:30 pm. One of the most striking images I have seen here as I looked up and saw a scattered mass of swaying birds flying against the blue late afternoon sky while the azaan flooded my ears with music. That one time, I almost felt like time stood still.
Jan 20 Saturday:
I go to Commercial street for shopping. It’s only my second time in Commercial street, the shopping district of Bangalore. The weekend before, I went with my Bangalore friends. This time, Mom is with me. We are making our way in the middle of a maze of streets filled with shiny sandals, mirror-work bags, chikankari dupattas, and sequined trinkets. I find this old shop, where they sell beads. I spot this lovely yellow beaded necklace, mom is pouring her attention on white sequins when suddenly people start running past the store into the lane which leads to the restaurant Woody’s. I am not sure what to do. My first instinct is to hang around and watch, preferably go to the source and find out what’s happening. Why are people running as though their life depended on it?
It’s obvious that I have never been in the middle of a riot before. My mother, a survivor of the Naxal atrocities in Calcutta in the 1970s (she was a student then), has other ideas. Her MO is to run away from trouble no matter who caused it. Surrounded by colored hanging beads and other trinkets of various sizes, the medium sized shop had 4 men with skull caps and white kurta-pajamas and two women, one in a blue saree and a big black bindi and the other in an easy-to-wash blue salwar-kurta. For a second, I am dazed. The men ask us to stay in the shop as they pull down the shutter and stash inside the aluminum stand full of plastic toys, which was standing outside. Mom pulls my resisting hand and runs out of the now dark shop. She hits her head on the half-downed shutter while we rush out. We turn left into the Woody’s lane and continue running against the traffic.
After running frantically for a few minutes, I stop and argue with mom as to why we shouldn’t run: look, no one else is running (true, they were stuck in a traffic jam inside the lane), why are you panicking (indeed, why?) and calm down, (while other shops were pulling their shutters down one by one). I stop to get a pair of silver sandals, which is all the rage in Bangalore right now. The sun shines on a shop which has a dented cardboard standing at a jaunty angle on rows and rows of tantalizingly multi-colored shoes “only Rs.100/-” it screams. I cannot help myself. I have to have a look even if I don’t buy anything. Outside people have stopped running. Things seem kind of normal. I’m checking out the sandals when suddenly the second rush of people running past the store, from the Woody’s lane, turn right and across to circle at the end of Dispensary Road. This time I don’t argue. I drop a pretty silver sandal, which I was holding, and rush along with the crowd. I spot two white women running with me and we discuss why we all are running. Someone says, “they are protesting against the execution of Saddam Hussain.” “Yeeaaas, yeaaas.. Saddam Hussain,” they enlighten me. From afar I can see a series of police jeeps, shops downing their shutters, and lots of dazed confused people.
We walk to another Circle (here crossroads are called circles) a long rather tense walk where we cannot get an auto to take us to Koramangala, where I stay. Soon, we almost reach M G Road before we get an auto. All along that walk, I get a lowdown on how pitifully little I have been exposed to riots and do not know how to handle myself in a crisis. Phew!