I'm seething with rage - the trembling-body, tears-threatening-to-spill-out kind of rage.
We moved to these flats that we currently live in a year back, uprooting ourselves from what was home and familiar to a new place where we're yet to make acquaintances, forget friends.
This morning, as I walked into the compound after my morning workout at 7, I saw a bunch of men mercilessly beating a young boy, who was surprisingly not wearing any pants. I enquired and nobody bothered to answer. So I walked ahead and saw a few women standing, silent spectators to the on-goings. What happened, I asked them. Two gutter covers (sort of like a manhole covering) - those non-descript dark grey metal rectangles that we drive/walk over without a second thought - had gone missing. It was the first time something has been stolen in our flats in 15 years, the lady said, stressing 15 years. This young kid was on duty as the security guard the previous night. And because of this, he was stripped, and beaten repeatedly.
I walked on to home and getting Nino ready for school, that young boy's face like a silent intrusion that crept in everytime I gave up my guard of routine. Eventually, routine gave way, and anger started to build up, at that particular bunch of men - most of whom are semi-retired, who sit on the benches in the compound gossiping, with whom Nino's Dad and I have individually had a few run-ins about those mundane issues that are the small print of living in a flat - lift etiquette, leaking water pipes, unaccounted for maintenance money, etc.
I walked back down purposefully from my 10th floor home - the security guards having stopped the lift till the flat's committee members apologized for the beating - and walked down to see one particularly rude man who'd been involved in the beating, bellowing. Next to him stood the police, hands on their hips, their expressions plainly stating that they'd seen this before, and couldn't wait to get it over and done with. The kid - now clothed - was crying, and was eventually manhandled into the waiting police jeep. 'Wait', I said. 'You do know that he was mercilessly beaten, right? That he was stripped and robbed of his dignity? That people here took the law into their own hands?' Everyone froze, and then, the cop nonchalantly stepped into the jeep and drove away. The same group of men who had participated in the beating stood around, watching me. 'Savages,' I said, breaking my resolve to use foul language. 'He was a kid'. A committee member came up to me and asked me to calm down. 'I'm a journalist,' I said. 'I'll have you hauled up for beating up that kid black and blue.' I asked them what police station the kid had been taken to - and I received silence as an answer. 'You're not the only ones who know how to beat up people,' I said, willing my words to shame them, willing them to try me.
It's the first time in my seven years as a journalist that I've used the press as a threat. And while it seemed like a great idea when we horsed around about wielding the power of the pen, it dint work in real life. There was no fear of me or my opinions - the bullies won in the end. I've no illusions about must have happened at the police station - the kid must have been beaten some more, the cops and the flat guys must have sat together and talked about how 'outsiders' are ruining Gujarat's 'safe state' image - most of the security guards in Ahmedabad are migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, sometimes Rajasthan - and the actual perpetrators of the violence must have driven back home, feeling all ballsy about their adventure-for-the-day.
Was it that I thought the beating was undeserved considering the petty nature of the alleged crime? Maybe. I remember watching a friend beat up another teenager - this time a lift boy - because he had fondled his four-year-old daughter and kissed her on the lips. At that time I felt none of these feelings. How different am I then from the bunch I condemn?
What is it that prompts us to resort to physical violence? Are we merely frustrated individuals, passing the rage on, like some psychological variant of Darwin's chain of evolution? What satisfaction does whacking someone, repeatedly, give - there must be something to it, so many people seem to enjoy indulging in it these days. And are we, who watch, sometimes speak, but give it up after venting a few emotions, any different? A perpetrator is one who indulges physically in the act of terror, as also the one who has the power to stop it, but doesn't. And also the one who may not have the power to stop it, but refuses to speak up, attempt to stop the crime. What deserves to be addressed with violence - and what does not?
Fists have become a language everywhere in my once-secular city - from traffic snarls to sectarian issues. Are we angrier as a city/state/country? Half a dozen people have been greviously injured or murdered in the city in the last year, in arguments over parking-lots.
I now no longer come from Gandhi's non-violent Gujarat, and instead hail from a state that, to use a friend's words, annihilated its own. I wrote on generalisations attached to a region sometime back - does this now mean that instead of Gujaratis being entrepreneurial but docile banias, our future generations will be referred to as a violent race whose rage boils over periodically? Historical monuments have disappeared overnight here - their cultural significance diminished in face of religious sentiment. We're the new Mahmud of Ghazni - a historical figure who children in the state have come to abhor after countless folktales about how he repeatedly plundered and butchered the state and its people. It's like the Crusades all over again - just that this time we're fighting for and against a bunch of self-perpetuated misconceptions instead of a single one.
I sit here, typing this, tears pooling on my chin, ashamed of myself. Of my inability to having taken up the cudgels for this kid. This is not what my parents, righteous government servants who seemed like a misfit in a world that worked on the power of money, raised me for. This is not what my son will look up to me for. This is not what you, my unseen friends, have to come to read me for.
3 hours ago