31st October 1984 turned out to be a historic day of sorts for India. Amongst others, my hard earned pocket money was wasted when a mob stormed the auditorium and stopped screening the movie, a Mithun Chakraborty starrer, we were watching. As the audience moved out and the auditorium was shut down, amidst the pandemonium of loud slogans, we heard “Indira Gandhi Amar Rahe” (Long Live Indira Gandhi) and that “Indira Gandhi has been killed” – Absurd, as it may have sounded to us, this was the first assassination that happened in my lifetime of a stalwart we knew of.
The assassination of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman of Bangladesh, or Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979 did not impact us as much the Indian Prime Minister’s assassination did. For one, we did not imagine a world so violent is so close to us. We imagined we were safe and we will eventually lead a good healthy life after our education – the sophomore worldview was nourished by with music, movies, philately, ornithology and disappointment of familial discrimination.
Russa Road South Second Lane, was the place where we used to live less than a year back, before moving to a the remote outskirts of Calcutta – a place called Banerjihat.
In Tollygaunge, Dinesh Pal Singh, Jitender Pal Singh, and Nirmail Singh Sandhu were young bank employees and my father’s friends. How and where the friendship started is still not known to me, but the trios shanty home in south of Tollygaunge became my frequent haunt. I do not recall why I would spend more time with Dineshkaku (Dinesh uncle), amongst the three nor when did I acquired such bundles of affection.
Dinesh-kaku and his wife Rashmi auntie stayed in Calcutta for a very short while, and in those few days of her stay, she introduced me to two special Punjabi cuisine – “Rajma” and “gaajar-halwa”. It continues to beguile me then, how, having had rajma-chawal and gaajar halwa for the last three decades in various parts of the world and home, that that helping of rajma and gaajar-halwa I had thirty years ago will become a memoir and may cajole me from time to time to continue looking for the trio.
For come 1st November 1984, as news of massacre of Sikhs and the frenzy of a large part of the nation against the community kept bleeding our hearts – I lost all contact with the trio. For six months I dropped by at their home in Tollygaunge and none would have or give any clue of their whereabouts. On my way back from school and often at the cost of bunking school, I stood near different Gurudwaras, not knowing how to approach, and just hoping that I might just be lucky to find them.
As I graduated from college, Calcutta did not offer anything interesting nor were there any grave familial tie that offered by any relationship of gore to stick back – I donated the bicycle I bought selling my stamp collections to Dr. Manas Ghosh, the white Sony Walkman and a few other belongings to my would-be estranged siblings & and took the train to Delhi on 15th July 1989.
Once in Delhi, I was quick to call up the local branch of the bank where Nirmail worked and able to meet up with him. We met up at Rajinder Place, he treated me to Kulcha-chholey and we shared our co-ordinates. JP was all lost till then and beyond. And Dinesh Pal’s contact remained in some corner of my memory, as one who hailed from Gurdaspur district of Punjab. Yet the meeting had to wait till 2012…
It took another decade before BSNL, India’s government run telephone service company to come up with a crude directory on the internet. Gurdaspur district telephone directory threw up a few “Dinesh Kumar Pal”s, and by the third call, the young lady who picked up the phone said, “..Haanji, …ji .. Punjab National Bank… ji… wohi hain… lekin woh to Pathankot rehtein hain… mobile number….ji… ek minute… ” (Of course… same person…but he lives in Pathankot… ) and without any warning my tear glands betrayed me as I meticulously jotted down the phone number, thanked the lady, my throat all choked up. Dinesh and Rashmi Pal were settled in Pathankot all these years. They have been there, even when we passed by the city, in 2003 while driving to Dharamsala – the Dalai Lama’s abode, and we had had no clue.
The cellular connectivity was poor, but the conversation went somewhat like this…
Me: Hello, aap Dinesh Pal ji bol rahein ho? (Am I speaking with Mr. Dinesh Pal?)
Dinesh Pal : Haanji, aap kaun? (Yes, who are you?)
Me: “Dinesh Kaku, main Joy bol raha hoon… Joy from …”
Dinesh Pal: “Puttar… Joy… ” (Joy…Son…)
Beyond this point, it took some time, to compose ourselves before any meaningful conversation could begin, I admit.
Dinesh Kaku & Rashmi Auntie’s home in Pathankot, is Sujatha’s de-facto “sasural”, Dinesh Kaku is Archita’s favourite Punjabi-speaking “dadu” and as of 2016, we keep driving to and fro.
As for Dinesh-kaku, he is never tired of talking about his memories in Calcutta, and about his “Das-Babu”, my father and often about how he sang Rabindrasangeet.
Today, our lives and that of our children and of our previous generation is filled with much more difficult moments than when we had met and lost touch with Dineshkaku to the designs of goons. To my mind, I have been able to conquer the goons who had succeeded in hurting and separating innocent people – Sikhs and Punjabis from us in 1984. But I will not be able to conquer the kind of hurt inflicted by people responsible for attacks on Pathankot, that Wikipedia notes “The 2016 Pathankot attack was a terrorist attack committed on 2 January 2016 by a heavily armed group which attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force.”