The convoy passes down the narrow lanes, elbowing vehicles and pedestrians off the road. A chill descends. The chatter quiets as trucks, official cars and jeeps pass by. Men in uniform look out of the vehicles. Dead eyes look through you. Their faces say they’ve witnessed untold horrors and nothing you do will shock them. Others have black fabric wrapped around their faces, almost menacing in their posture. It’s a show of strength. The authorities are keeping an eye on us. We’re meant to be very scared. And we are.
Our car, shoved to the kerb waits until they pass by. My mother and I watch silently, our conversation broken mid-sentence. I wonder whether it was safe to have brought my old mother out, and thank God that the kids are home with my dad. Although technically she’s brought me out because she is driving and she’s not old – barely past 50. Anyway. You get the point. We’re 24 hours away from the verdict being announced in our Allahabad High Court and the streets are teaming with people rushing to do their last minute shopping. Cops are spilling out on the street corners.
We get to our destination. We’re buying Lucknow chikan kurtas and as we settle in, women in black burkhas walk in and ask us to shift up. The shopkeeper adjusts his skull cap and begins to display his wares. He’s sold little chikan slips to me since I was a toddler. He asks after my kids. I tell him I didn’t bring them out because of the tension settling on the city like a shroud. He shakes his head sorrowfully – “We don’t want any trouble, gudiya. We’re all working people. What good is the masjid if we lose our sons in riots? We’re not going to support any trouble.” The burkhas nod in agreement. I don’t see their faces but they seem earnest enough.
I head home and the lady my mother has engaged to massage my knee with a medicated oil arrives. Her bangles clink as she rubs my knee. “My children told me to stay home today. But I was worried about your knee so I came. Tomorrow I won’t come if there is trouble after the verdict is announced. Faith is in the heart, gudiya. If I have God in my heart I don’t need a temple. I hope there is no trouble. We poor are the worst affected and least interested. I think they should just have a hospital or an ashram there.” I nod. I have no words to comfort her.
The next morning we lock our gate. Schools close early. My parents’ office shuts at half day. We’re well stocked in terms of provisions and we switch on the TV and wait. At 2 pm the electricity is cut and the net connection goes down. Coincidence? The generator comes on. Datacards are dug out. We log on and wait.
The verdict is out. Nobody seems very happy although the mango people say everyone should be satisfied. Each party thinks the glass is half empty. Streets are coming back to life. It is not particularly enjoyable to be stuck in the city that is announcing the verdict. Family jokes about going out to get some rum since its been a dry city for a while. I don’t want to know or joke. I want to hang a cross over the front door and get into a bunker. Memories of another curfew years ago still loom large. This isn’t funny anymore. I fear that the rumblings will begin soon. I fear that we haven’t seen what trouble is yet. I hope that I am wrong.
I want a safe country for my children. I want the CWG to stop being an embarrassment. As we turn off the TV a line on the ticker catches my attention – India wants to host Olympics. I bang my head against a wall. Can I migrate?