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A past to remember, so we realise the present


I am guilty of forgetting birthdays and anniversaries, but June 25 never ceases to remind me of the Emergency. It rekindles some disturbing childhood memories. And I realise how harrowing it would have been for those adults of the time (1975-1977) who refused to pawn their convictions to buy peace of shame.

This time those memories were about to retire into their uneasy hibernation when I was invited to a discussion on a book on Saturday. Authored by P K Sreenivasan, the Malayalam novel ‘Rathrimuthal Rathrivare (From Night to Night)’ uses mostly real characters to tell a real story of 21 months of horror, under the garb of fiction. It’s as political as literature can get. It’s haunting.

So, how was a four-year-old affected so much to remember Indira’s Emergency 48 years on? Much before I heard and read about the police brutality that killed scores of men and women like Rajan, whose father’s fight for closure was immortalised by the award-winning movie ‘Piravi’, my pain was personal. My dad, a communist, was on the run from K Karunakaran’s police in Kerala.

On some mornings, mom told us – three siblings – that dad had come in the wee hours to see us. “He kissed you,” she said. One night I kept awake to ‘catch’ dad. Well past midnight, I crept into the kitchen from where the noise came, and saw mom serving dad his favourite rice-chammanthi-pappadom. Dad made a ball of rice in his typical rolling of the wrist and was about to eat it when a police jeep screeched to a halt in front of the house. Zuber, a daring youth who threw away his job as a police driver to guard and move dad to safety, came rushing. “Drop the food and come,” he ordered. They disappeared through the backdoor. Mom sat there, her moist eyes fixed on the broken ball of rice her husband had left uneaten.

Months later, dad surrendered to the police. As a political prisoner, he was allowed to meet the family – from the other side of the bars. Mom packed a couple of dhotis and some peanut brittle (chikki or kadalai mittai). The guards at the Trivandrum sub jail checked the bag, allowed the clothes to be passed on to dad and threw away the sweet. This time mom didn’t cry.

Growing up, reading more about Emergency, I realised how insignificant my family’s pain was compared to thousands of others’. My dad returned from jail; many did not. Young men and women across the country, who questioned the biggest assault on Indian democracy, were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin is one of the present-day politicians who carries its scars). Many died while in police custody, some soon after the release. In the northern states, innocents were tortured when they refused to undergo forced vasectomy which was Sanjay Gandhi’s helping hand to Emergency. Newspapers were censored; editors and reporters who refused to crawl were put behind bars.

Forty-eight years later, an irony is playing out. Today, we are – knowingly and unknowingly – being engineered into an ‘internal emergency’ by the progenies of the Jan Sangh that was at the forefront of the pushback against Indira’s Emergency. When we are cajoled, conditioned and browbeaten into poles, a growing graveyard of humour separates ‘us’ from ‘them’. The result is sometimes as bloody as Manipur, but mostly a festering hatred that threatens to decimate love and kindness that is the foundation of human civilisations.

As social activist K E N Kunjahammed said citing Vinod Krishna’s book ‘9mm Baretta’, when someone bleeds on the road people come to help, but when our love for others drains away, nobody sees it. To realise and plug the present drain, it’s imperative to remember the past pain. For, as Ramin Jahanbegloo in conversation with Romila Thapar said, history is an unending dialogue between the past and the present.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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