May morning, 1991-A page from memory

I was seven then, whose world revolved around playground, music classes and DD. Holidays had a different flavour to them. Sundry things like studies and homework were tied up and abandoned in the backyard for the next two and a half months. Unrelenting sessions of hide and seek under the blazing sun and even more endless hours in front of the TV brought excitement. There was some pleasure in coming home with sun-burnt faces and then throwing yourself on the sofa, greedily sipping a glass of Rasna, or Shahi Gulab. All these could happen without earning the wrath of the mother, or teacher.
It was a different world altogether, the world in general. Privatisation hadn’t happened as yet; and Babri Masjid was to happen only a year later. The biggest revolution in media called 24*7 news was nowhere in sight. We only had DD and AIR to turn to. But something was looming large: different flags and blaring loudspeakers were planted in every street corner. General Elections were around the corner, I was told. My knowledge of politics was restricted to knowing the names of Prime Minister and President of the country.

On a May morning that meant sleeping till my mother lost her patience, I woke up to the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s death. I had no clue who that person was. Who is that, I asked, rubbing my eyes in sleep. Our former Prime Minister, my dad said, trying to make me understand the magnitude of the news. He was killed in a place called Sriperumbudur, 40 kms from Chennai city (then Madras).  Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by LTTE suicide bombers the earlier night. However, it was in the morning that the whole country woke up to the news. Remember, no NDTV or Times Now existed then. Okay, I said getting back to bed. Barely a few minutes later loud cries from the street nearby jolted me from my sleep. I peeped out of my room window and saw scores of men being lathi charged, passers-by ran helter-skelter. That was the biggest mob I had seen till then. I ran to the balcony to join my mom dad, grandmother and brothers.

As the mob vanished out of sight, we joined our neighbours. Someone whispered that the couple next door has cancelled the first birthday party of their daughter. It is state holiday; no services will be available, he said. Another reckoned,  PV Narasimha Rao will be the next PM. Rao did go on to become the next PM, after the elections that was held a few months later.

And, for me it was the beginning of my trysts with dates and politics since after that May 21 became an indelible date in my memory. Never will I remember any other political assassination as vividly as this one.

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