It was 42 years ago, I had passed Class 7 and was waiting for the school to open. I was told some kind of emergency had been declared by the Government and a lot of people from opposition parties were being arrested. My father started disappearing most of the time. After a few days, he stopped sleeping at home. Not sure, how he was attending the office every day which was located at ITO, New Delhi.
It was quite frustrating as our annual summer vacation (that I always loved to spend in ou native village) was ruined due to some kind of disturbances prior to this so-called emergency! Earlier prior to 26th June 1975 at least two times, I remember the SHO of the area came to our house twice to request my father not to go out of the house. I learnt the word house arrest for the first time then.
Some whispering started building up in our areas about possible arrests. Some kind of satyagraha had started taking place in Delhi and I could see all the participants being whisked away by police. I had read the word satyagraha in history books associated with India’s freedom struggle but observed it for the first time.
The School (Geeta Higher Secondary School) opened but only to be closed down by the Government. We were shifted to a government-run middle school nearby in Shankar Nagar which did not have the infrastructure to accommodate our additional 8th Class and probably one more class. Rest junior and senior classes were shifted to various other schools. Some of my financially affluent friends who could manage to get admission to good public schools after this forced transfer, moved away. I could hardly see my father during those days. I learned the word underground then for the first time.
Visit of the police at our house at midnight became a routine affair. I used to be very disappointed for not waking up at night or not having been awakened by my elder sister and brother. Every time they told me how police came and searched the house and even below the bed etc. One of our distant relatives who used to work in Usha Mills came from Faridabad unknowingly and had to stay overnight due to the distance. He had a very hard time that night when the police came and disturbed him even though my mother tried to explain. He never came back.
Neighbours started avoiding us and their looks changed. My mother only could make out this. I was clueless. Then one day a friend of mine (who was shifted to another school) came to my school to inform me that my father had been arrested in the Chandni Chowk area which by then I was anticipating. He was having lunch there when he was surrounded by plain-clothed policemen led by DSP.
I saw a police lockup for the first time. It was in Shahdara; the old railway station was the Court cum lockup. I was allowed to meet him from behind bars after many days in fact. He was there with many other criminals waiting to be transported to Tihar. He told me that my shirt was quite dirty and I should change it after going home. There was no change in his spirit, he looked tired though.
The then DSP who had arrested my father after days of efforts including intelligence input, came to our house one day to return my father’s HMT wristwatch and a blue colour Helmet (an expensive item those days). Poor guy only got some firing from my mother, whom we had to control somehow. Fortunately, he did not come with lady police with him or else.!
Then started a new cycle of running to court and Jail. Actually, I found it quite entertaining to realise little what state of mind my mother, sisters & brother were going through. My father was booked under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act) which requires permission from the court before you can meet him in Tihar in the presence of a magistrate. My brother was handling this process well.
My elder brother was in his final year of school. But then one day he too was arrested and booked under DIR (Defence India Rule)! He was in a group of people staging a demonstration. Best way to avoid school! DIR was enacted in 1915 by British Government in the aftermath of World War I. I learnt for the first time that British laws were still relevant in India.
I had passed class VIII and the Government announced that we could get admission only to one Government school (Baburam Sr. Sec School, Shahdara). My mother and I did not like new declared school, due to its reputation at that time. It was a punishment for studying in a school affiliated with some organisation that Government did not like, even though it was in existence for many decades.
She started running around for my admission to the 9th Class. I accompanied her to many schools. She was an uneducated lady. During this period she once told me on a bus ride, that this way she would be able to see me in school for the very first time. She had never been to any of my schools before, since my childhood.
In one school (in Daryaganj) she was asked if she had nasbandi done? She was furious and some heated arguments took place. Someone in school then informed her that there is a lot of pressure to meet some targets because of Sanjay Gandhi. Obviously, I did not get admission to this school. I learnt about nasbandi (sterilisation) for the first time.
After about two months she finally managed to get me admitted in Ramjas No. 3 School through my father’s friend, Devkinandan Sharma. My choice was not an option or mandatory. Those two months without school were fun.
But the location of the school was great near the old Delhi Railway station. Every Friday morning I used to go to Tees Hazari Court (before school) and used to submit an application in front of a magistrate. I used to be late for school due to this. But I had learned to manage by then. Every Monday afternoon I used to go to Tees Hazari again (after my school) to collect the permission from court to meet my father in Tihar. I had to be physically present in front of the magistrate (stone-faced) with a lawyer. I saw a Magistrate and Court Room for the very first time then. I used to carry our Ration Card with him. I could never understand the logic behind it though as it did not have a photo on it. But I realised how important documenting a Ration Card was for the first time.
Then on Tuesday or Wednesday, we used to take 2 hours Bus journey to Tihar. The first ride used to be to Central Secretariat from Krishan Nagar. The second ride used to be up to Lajwanti Garden near Tilak Nagar. Then a short bus ride up to the front of Tihar Jail. A total of 3 bus rides were involved. It used to be a picnic as lots of people I used to meet outside Tihar waiting, whom I knew from childhood. But it was very taxing for my mother who had undergone a 6 hours major back bone surgery just 3 years ago.
We, with hundreds of others, used to be standing here and there in a vast open area in front of the main gate of Tihar Jail. We used to submit the court document which had visitors’ names on it to a constable outside the gate.
Our forearms used to be stamped for identification before entry inside. The meeting area was in the complex between the main entrance and the second entrance to the prison.
I used to meet my father in a big hall on the 3rd floor with many other well-known personalities. On a raised platform, a magistrate used to sit & watching all of us while we sat eating and talking. My father seems to be enjoying life inside while we were struggling outside, or at least he pretended to do so.
Meeting my brother in another area was like a buy 2 get 1 free offer. It was natural to meet him during these visits. It used to be in a narrow corridor on the 2nd floor with no seating arrangement. Hundreds of people used to be there and finding your loved one used to be a difficult task. My brother was certainly enjoying life there. I was envious of him for the first time.
I saw a Jail from inside for the first time.
My father was suspended from his job and only one-third salary was given. The problem was how to collect his salary. None of his colleagues (whom we knew for decades) wanted to collect and deliver it to our house. They were scared and it was justified then.
I started going to my father’s office and collecting his one-third salary each month. Many of his friends, I called uncle, used to guide me on how to and in which pocket of my trousers, to keep the money while going back to home on the DTC bus. Among them, I felt big and responsible.
I came to know what was my father’s monthly salary for the first time.
My brother was released along with many other young boys after a court struggle. He was in jail for a few months. Moreover, an arrest under DIR was a bailable offence. His struggle to get admission to a good college started just like mine for class 9. He had an additional certificate in his name—been in Jail! But he managed to get admission to PGDAV college in the Lajpat Nagar area, quite a distance in those days.
Imprisonment in Jail took its toll on many families and individuals. Many families were struggling with day-to-day basic needs. One day I had gone to one of our family friends (Mr & Mrs Dangi) house opposite Lal Quarter Park, whom we knew since childhood. None of their family was in jail so all was ok there. The lady whom I used to call Auntiji called me one day and gave me her son’s trousers and shirt. Although they were used but were in good condition. It fitted me well. I started wearing them and my mother did not object. It became a practice then. I did realise later that my clothing during those days was in bad shape which I was unaware of. Good clothing was neither a priority nor a need in those difficult days. Although I did use my elder brother’s clothes earlier, used an outsider’s clothes for the first time.
Many young boys lost precious one or two years of study. Many lives were also lost inside the jail as well as outside. One Vaidya a famous Chemist Shop owner of Lal Quarter, Krishna Nagar died in front of my father’s eyes in Jail. His cot was next to my father’s and he started coughing one morning, vomited and collapsed. Within a few minutes, he was gone. His medical check-ups were not being done as required. None of his prisoner friends could do anything.
Tilak Raj Narula was a rich businessman in Krishna Nagar who was famous for Wrist Watch Trade. He had a huge bungalow and was very beautifully decorated with expensive artefacts. He was a Corporator and also the Chairman of the Standing Council of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTU). He is remembered as the one who connected the trans-Yamuna area with the rest of Delhi through long-route buses. Until then there were only two buses. One of them was for Kauria Pull (Old Delhi). He too was arrested under MISA and was with my father in Tihar Jail. He developed some complications while in Jail. Even though he was taken to hospital but could not survive.
I am not sure if Vaidya and Tilak Raj Narula would have lived longer had they not been in Jail then, but they wouldn’t have died as prisoners.
It was a day before Lohri, January 13, 1977. One of my father’s friends came home to invite me to a programme in Kamla Nagar. I was excited as I had to speak on Vivekananda from a stage. It was around 3.30 or 4.00 PM in the afternoon and very cold. My mother, elder and younger sisters were at home. Since my mother was not very well, my elder sister prepared tea for the visitor and me as well. Even though she was in 10th standard, she used to handle cooking and household work due to my mother’s illness. She was a non-complaining child and I had seen her crying only once in my lifetime. I left immediately after the tea with that person. I taste of the tea she prepared that winter evening, and I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I never knew that this would be the last time I shall be seeing her.
It was about 8.30 PM when the programme was over; I asked the person with whom I had come, to go back home. Being winter, my young age and night time travel in Delhi (even though I used to travel to school by bus every day), I was told to sleep there only. I insisted on going in the back but was convinced to stay back at night. Few other people were staying overnight. It was an old colonial-era house of Pushkarna’s family. Large rooms with high ceilings.
I did not know the family but was looked after well as they knew my father. So I stayed back and slept almost instantly (which I always used to) in a warm quilt and nice bed. I was known to be a hardcore sleeper who never got up in any disturbances or even loud noises. Not even when the Police team used to come to our place and remove my quilt for checking after switching on all the lights in the room. There was no telephone at home. So no info exchange with my mother. But she knew the person with whom I had come and had anticipated my night stay. She knew I had been travelling to court etc alone for many months now.
I got up around 3.40 AM that morning all of a sudden. I did not find anything unusual but I had never got up so early before on my own. Everyone was fast asleep. I was awake for about one hour feeling very uneasy. Tried to sleep again only to get up at about 7.30 AM. I reached home in the normal manner by DTC bus without any clue of what had happened at home in my absence. One person was waiting for me to take me to the Irwin (now Jai Prakash Narayan) hospital. I was taken to the emergency ward where I could see my wailing mother, brother and many others, most of them I knew. My sister was no more.
I was told she died of Diphtheria. She started feeling uncomfortable at night and was taken to a doctor’s residence cum clinic nearby. I had seen this clinic since I was a young child. She had difficulty in breathing. He did not open the Iron grill door and saw her from inside and advised her to be taken to the hospital. It was not clear whether he refused to see her due to my father being in jail or otherwise. But I could not understand how he could conclude it from inside the grill door and why he could not call the hospital as he had a phone!
There was difficulty in finding a taxi (very few in that area) on a late winter pre-Lohri night. So she was taken on the same scooter on which she was brought to this clinic. It was driven by our landlord with my elder brother holding my sister in between. It was a long journey in the middle of a cold night from Krishna Nagar to Delhi Gate via the old Railway Bridge. She was admitted in an emergency but the doctor on duty was not available. He had gone to his quarters within the huge hospital complex. Her throat was choking by now and she was gasping for breath. They had tied her hands with a rope as she was struggling, to cut open her throat to put oxygen tube probably, which they could not. The hospital staff failed to save her.
I also came to know that she died around 3.45 AM. I always thought she was remembering me or looking for me just before her death in that unbearable pain. I was not sure about this phenomenon until November 12, 2007, when my mother passed away at about 08.30 AM in Delhi and my wife got a call from my son’s school in Yokohama at about noon time (India time 08.30 am), that he is not feeling well and wants to come back home. He was put on a bus back to home when my wife got a call from Delhi that my mother was no more. The same day my younger sister’s daughter (in Delhi) who has a record of not missing any school day, came back from the bus stop because the bus had left, although there were two more buses thereafter which she used to take quite often. She told my sister that she is not feeling like going to school.
All of us had returned from the hospital with my sister’s body. I was desperate to see her face which was covered with her whole body. I had last seen her on the previous day afternoon time when she served tea.
Efforts were being made for my father’s temporary release from prison. I learned the word parole for the first time. He was released on parole for one or two days. But the cumbersome formalities involved could bring him home only after sunset.
When my father arrived at the house gate, instead of him, I immediately ran towards my sister’s body as I was sure to see her now. My father removed the white cloth from her face. Her hands were still tied up. The hospital staff had not removed the rope prior to handing over the body. My father opened up her hands. Cremation is avoided after sunset, I came to know for the first time. But had to do it under current circumstances as my father’s stay on the second day was not confirmed. My brother had to light the fire as my father could not perform the rituals and practices (inside the jail) required after one cremates his loved ones.
Many people were rewarded for spending time in Jail and for their heroics during the Emergency. But for me, heroes were those who died in jail or outside because someone close to them was in jail. My sister Shikha Tripathi was a Hero.
There had been many conferences on every anniversary of the Emergency all over India. But I have never seen any of those who died during the Emergency, being ever remembered. I doubt that there is any database of such martyrs. On the occasion of the 42nd anniversary, I pay homage to all those who died during emergency and my loving sister Shikha, who would have been alive if not for that Emergency!
[This piece was originally published in June 2017]