Here is a piece my mother wrote upon a trip in Uttar Pradesh a few days after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
It was the 9th of December 1992, three days after the incidents in Ayodhya. We were halting in Lucknow for a few days and were supposed to leave Lucknow on the 6th for our hometown in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Since things were not getting any better we decided to ‘risk’ it (disregarding the fears of our relatives) and book a car for our onward journey.
We arrived at the taxi-stand, but instead of being accosted by the drivers there, which was usually the case, we literally had to request them to drive us down. No one volunteered, but after a while a little, bespectacled man popped out from the small gathering of drivers and said that he had no qualms in driving us down, but the rates would be a litter higher what with the detours. We did not mind that of course. The driver was Shagir Mian.
There was an eerie silence on the streets. Only a few VIP cars and a convoy of army trucks were visible on the once-congested streets. It was worse on the highways and roads that passed through little townships and villages. There was not a soul in sight for miles – no street urchins to cheer us as we drove past, none of the friendly ‘dhabawalas’ to greet us with warm cups of ‘elaichi’ tea and above all the liveliness, verve and zest so typical of India and her villages, was missing.
We moved from one curfew-bound town to the next, with the police diverting our car each time. However, contrary to expectations, our journey did not turn out to be tedious, long and boring. Instead, all this while the driver kept us in good humour and thanks to him the journey turned out to be quite interesting. It could have been extremely monotonous but fortunately we were entertained to the hilt by Shagir Mian who cracked naughty jokes and narrated many delightful anecdotes. He was full of life and it seemed as though he had never had a bitter experience in his life. Not true, of course, for he had had many and he recounted one for us. It was the ever-poignant story of the partition days. The agonising wait for near and dear ones and then the painful reality that all was lost. Life can be harsh – too harsh sometimes.
We were advised not to take the Ayodhya-Faizabad road and so there was another detour. We had been on that route earlier on another trip and recalled the colourful little shops with all their religious paraphernalia lined and arranged attractively for the gullible passers-by, the sadhus in their saffron robes, the quaint row of houses, some with traditional architecture on their balconies, the narrow winding lanes and the picturesque temples and ghats – reminded us of a mini-Varanasi.
We reached our destination safely and in one piece with everyone aghast at our daring, daylight adventure. Oh it was nothing, we said, taking pride in the fact that we had mustered enough courage to show the world that nothing can go wrong – fear is in the minds of men and if we succumb to that devil, then all is lost. It is obvious that instigated violence which instils fear in us, is the devil we have to fight today in our society and for that we need a band of courageous and broad-minded men and women.
We are indeed thankful that the likes of Shagir Mian still roam this earth, reminding us that humanity is one.