September 9, 2019
The faces of the soldiers posted outside became all too familiar as we settled into a pointless daily routine of visiting the police station, walking up and down our street, and coming back to watch the news. Today the absence of the faces we usually passed on the street was suddenly jarring- the puchkawala, the cobbler, Arjun, the ironing guy. I had been so consumed by worry for my parents, that I had spared no room for any additional sympathies. But today I noticed the smell of rotting fruit at Munna’s abandoned fruit shop as we passed the corner, and remembered how he always wished us on Eid. He was on my mind when I listened for the sound of the last azan, and also when I thought I heard gunshots as the time for namaaz ended.
Overnight a new level of military infrastructure was set up — loudspeakers, bulletproof surveillance booths, cameras and rows after rows of razor barricades. As we walked up and down our street faceless men barked out warnings. We were afraid to ask what had happened. But knew these were signs that the rumours were truer than the news. We had been assured that the curfew would be lifted after August 15th. Who would believe any of this now. I saw a stone on the street, flicked it around distractedly, waited for the soldiers to look away, glanced at the cameras, and kicked it, watching it bounce past the gaps in the razor fences. It gave me a strange sense of satisfaction, and I wondered how I would feel about picking it up and throwing it straight at the camera or even the people behind it.
Biscuit tin — empty. Rice Container — empty. Dal, oats, muri, chanachur — empty. Even the prawn chammanthi podi powder was over. It seemed like a silly thing to obsess over. But it was a taste of home and family, the one thing that had made the worst day and the worst meal palatable.
The charade of thana-walk-news. Too empty to continue.
The promise of the curfew lifting soon. You get the drift.
That was the first day I refused to leave the house.
The national anthem started playing on the loudspeakers from dawn. I drew the windows shut and decided that I would not go down again today. There were frequent announcements that drifted up, as I tossed and turned and tried to sleep. The national anthem started again, when the doorbell rang. It had not rung in days. “I’ll get it, you sleep”. I walked to the door bleary eyed. Opened it without checking through the peephole. A soldier stepped forward, looming over me, face hidden behind his armour. “Happy Independence Day. Please take a pamphlet to know about the benefits being provided to you by our government”. I reached out, grabbed it, and shut the door as fast as I could. Thank god Avneesh had remembered to put the chain last night.
We had different ways of preparing to live without the certainty of an endpoint. Avneesh spent the morning putting the modem on and off, resetting the phone lines and making inventories on Excel. I spent the morning looking at the smoke swirling in the sky over Park Circus, Beckbagan and Ripon Street, trying to convert sadness to anger to resolve. It was the day the monsoons finally arrived, with rain, thunder, and lightning putting out the fires, and covering the city in a chilly haze. It should have been a relief, after months of heat, but the darkness and cold seeped into our home.
Thunder replaced gunshots and the static of rain drowned out the constant loudspeaker announcements. Ramesh from the mudir dokan round the corner had not dared to open his shop so far. But today he snuck out with a basket of groceries, wading through flooded streets and praying there were no soldiers in the shadows. By the time he reached us on the tenth floor only some rice and dal was left, but we bought it gratefully at double the price. We gladly put away our stale rotis, and ate something that tasted like khichuri as we watched the rain, hoping he had returned safely.
Ramesh’s small act of defiance gave us the courage we needed to start subverting the rule. We set out before dawn to find other shops who may be operating unofficially within the 1 kilometer perimeter of our curfew zone. Before stepping out we left behind a note “4:30 am — went out for supplies. Expected time of return — 6 am.” We also made a route map. Just in case we did not make it back, and our families needed to know what had happened.
#30DaysofCurfew part I
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