Alright girlies, enough fun and games. Lets get back to the serious stuff. Was recently talking to a self-righteous Indian prig who was rattling on about the lack of morals in the West – going back to the favourite example of school yard shootouts. I often wonder where such people grew up. Maybe on a parallel planet to mine. The OA was probably on it too because he grew up rather innocent compared to me.
I often think back on my misspent youth and scandalise the OA with the frequent references to violence. For instance, there was this time recall a guy bumped into me on the school stairwell and went on to brag about it in the boys’ toilet. It might seem like nothing to most of you – but those who grew up in small town UP will know what that means. It means war.
The childhood sweetheart and a friend got to hear of it. They caught him outside school, walked up to his cycle, leaned on the handlebars and casually asked him what he was up to. And this being small town UP, the guy knew they were all part of my life in one way or another, knew exactly what they were referring to and pretty much shat his pants. He swore to stay ten feet away from me and to his credit, he did.
They told me about it later and I was mad at them for getting into a fight over what I thought was a non-issue. Anyhow. The incidents involving me didn’t stop. And the last couple ended in one of them pulling out a katta. A country pistol. It didn’t surprise me. I’d grown up knowing that they were part of our lives and I also knew they could sometimes just explode in the user’s hands, injuring him more than the intended victim.
But that is small town UP for you. Insults fly fast and thick. Sisters and mothers are defended as aggressively as they are used in abuse. Country made pistols and country liquor is available for a song. Even school boys know how to get their revenge by breaking your arm just the night before the board exams so that you can’t even get a writer for the papers. A classmate’s body found floating down the Ganga on the morning of our 12th boards ensured that all of us girls cried through our English paper.
The last incident before I left for college ensured that my boyfriend didn’t go alone anywhere for the month before the exams. Four of them (including my brother) were surrounded at our favourite coffee shop, by 40 guys pulling up in Maruti vans with chains and hockey sticks and guns. There was negotiation and politics and finally an uneasy truce was reached. One we couldn’t trust. He didn’t appreciate it but my brother was his best friend and picked him up each morning and dropped him home each night – brooking no further argument. It was the best protection he could have had. If you want to woo a girl, you can beat up her boyfriend but not her brother. Those are the rules. The honour among thieves so to speak.
I look back on the years and wonder if I really lived through them as calmly as I did. It was all so cool in those days. My friends have all grown up to be respectable bankers and software engineers now and I wonder if they look back on those days fondly or with embarrassment. Long, hot, dusty afternoons spent sitting in the semi-dark coolth(!) of the desert coolers, talking in low voices as family slept around us, discussing who had stepped out of line and needed to be taken down a peg or two.
Of course it wasn’t all blood and gore. Sometimes it was quite hilarious. One afternoon an admirer (a classmate) who kept borrowing my notebooks decided to use that pretext to visit me and turned up home to return a register. The entire gang was shooting the crap at my place, drinking Pepsi, playing carom and generally doing the only things you can do in a small dead-end town. I begged the boys to shut up and let me deal with it. Then I walked out, took my register, and exchanged a few polite words with him before I sent him on his way. As the words came to an end I saw him start to shuffle nervously backwards. I turned around to see all the guys had silently lined up behind me, arms calmly crossed – very filmy. The guy never borrowed my notes again. I didn’t speak to them for the rest of the day. I really did think I could handle my problems. This one is only funny in retrospect!
When I met the OA and he began to hear childhood stories, he laughed. They sounded possible – just not plausible. Then he came home with me, met the guys, realised how casual violence was in small town UP and came back a changed man. His wife, was not what he thought she was. She actually had – a violent past!
When I told him one of the terms of endearment was – excuse the french – chutiyam sulphate, he died laughing. It means nothing really – it’s just a very local crudity! I made my brother confirm it and I think the icing on the cake was hearing it in the film Ishqiya, recently. I feel vindicated.
Anyhow, its only when you become a parent that you realise how scary it is to know that your child could be neck deep in bicycle chains, home-made bombs (yes, I learned how to make one), molotov cocktails, knuckle dusters, knives, kattas, and nunchakus.
I had earlier written about Irom Sharmila and in the last few months I’ve had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Binalakshmi Nepram. Each time I talk to her I hear of a new atrocity in Manipur that the media has neglected to report and then I figure that whining isn’t going to help and I should use the little platform I have here to do some good. I don’t want my kids growing up and having as easy access to violence as we did. And if you don’t believe me, well, here’s a list I got from Bina. You can get more information here.
Forty bucks for a landmine. Can you beat that? Two hundred bucks for a hand grenade. That’s all it costs. Why are arms so easily accessible and affordable?
And if this wasn’t bad enough, I recently came across this. Indians for Guns. Err… why? Don’t we have enough violence on the streets of Delhi with drunk men shooting celebrity bartenders because the bar has shut for the day? Or must one remind readers of Soumya Vishwanathan? I don’t see how it is fair to ensure rights for gun holders, when the average citizen on the street seems to have fewer rights to living fearlessly and peacefully.
I am sure there are statistics about crimes being committed with unlicensed arms etc, but what exactly are we keeping licensed guns for in that case? Hunting game? Black buck, anyone? Or to protect ourselves. In which case, why go about this in the aggressive manner? Why the need to have personal arms? Why is no one working for a better police system and judiciary? Why not citizens watch groups? I notice two MPs on the list – why don’t they help the legal system along and make it a safer country for us instead of making it easier to have arms. Why should a citizen need to protect himself when he has a government?
There will be plenty talking about how we NEED this protection. But I am tired of negative thought and negative action. How about some constructive thought and action? How about setting up a group for a safer country for us and our children. So that our honourable MPs don’t have to send their kids to school with bodyguards. Violence is not the answer. It never is. And if even the leaders of our nation don’t see that, it’s a sad day indeed.