Its been 25 years, and it still seems like yesterday….I heard about it on my return from school, the unbelievable had happened…… dozens of bullets had been pumped into Mrs. Indira Gandhi by her own guards and she was now battling for life at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Just like that…. The news was still to sink-in when I heard my friends call me downstairs for cricket. The tension was palpable in South Avenue that day, worries were writ large on faces I normally saw wink or wave at me…..and most of my countrymen saw smiling down at them from election paraphernalia that has come to symbolize democracy, especially in developing economies.
Cricket and I were never friends, but it still scored over math and I often (everyday) prayed that Sardar Dharam Singh, my math tutor, would not turn up allowing me another hour of humiliation on the playground rather than the intricacies of commercial math or even algebra.
No such luck! 15 minutes on the ground, I saw Sardarji turn left and park in front of my place. Bag, books, pens, cramming and the realisation that I was an ‘idiot’, this was long before Taare walked the Zameen and learning disorders like mine were normally treated with regular thrashings meted out by fathers, worried over their progeny’s future.
No, I didn’t like math, or even Sardar Dharam Singh, who for the life of him could not explain to me even the most basic of mathematical concepts (no fault of his) but did provide me with a few laughs by his way of explaining things and his pronunciation. For some reason he always pronounced measure as ‘maiyyar’ and pleasure as ‘plaiyyar’ and so on and forth. He also had this habit of explaining to me the lessons in Hindi, and speaking of the writer or narrator in the third person.
Once helping me out for a physics test, in a business-like tone he told me “Akbar, ik scientist boil (Boyle) hua tha” and looked at me with exasperation when I burst out laughing and asked him ‘kyon?” he sourly said: “tch! uska naam tha.”
And now he was here, I left the hard place for the rock and walked home, once inside, he asked me to switch on the TV in the other room. It was then that Doordarshan announced it, Mrs. Gandhi was no more. It also mentioned some minor scuffles with Sikh pedestrians passing through the area outside the AIIMS.
I walked back to the study table and told Dharam Singh, sir, you know, you should leave, there’s trouble around AIIMS. I think, I saw a trace of worry pass his face before he looked at me and asked me to sit down with my book. That day he tried to explain to me the difference between simple and compound interest, but he just wasn’t his usual self…..not that it would’ve helped.
Mrs. Gandhi’s remains were later shifted to the Teen Murti Bhawan, a stone’s throw from where I lived. Schools were closed indefinitely as the nation went into mourning, the howls in Delhi were particularly loud….. Batch after batch of Congress workers walked past my window shouting slogans that rent the air with promises of an everlasting place for the departed leader in the country’s history (“Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega”).
Wherever I turned, I saw pictures of Mrs. Gandhi inscribed with what proved to be her last famous quote “Even if I died in the service of the nation, I would be proud of it. Every drop of my blood… will contribute to the growth of this nation and to make it strong and dynamic.”
Congress parliamentarians had nominated Rajiv Gandhi as his mother’s successor, but my teenaged tongue refused to roll with the verdict, for me the Prime Minister was Mrs. Indira Gandhi her smile was etched in my memory, too deep to fade away.
The schools reopened after nearly a fortnight, in class, I saw some faces I hadn’t noticed earlier, funnily they had recognizable voices. Cricket had lost – the school team captain Devender Singh was no more, but thankfully math had not – Sardar Dharam Singh returned to teach me after almost a month.
Lost forever was the Iron Lady of Indian politics who set the country up for sustained growth, the spirit of her years in office were enshrined in her words: “A nation’ s strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not in what it can borrow from others,” perhaps, a leaf from her book that needs to be borrowed by leaders of today………and tomorrow.
(Views expressed by the author are his own)