Years ago, when I was a rookie, quite green behind the ears, in my profession, one of my earliest pieces was titled Fear Over The City. This was, I remember, part of a multi-city spotlight that focused on the issues of safety and tension, following killings and attacks in a few metros across India. I remember how I had travelled to Mumbai’s close neighbour Pune – a city where killings had occurred in quick succession — to speak to a few residents. A couple of days ago, news channels and then the papers reported the blasts in Hyderabad. We sat in the safety of our drawing rooms and watched in horror as the familiar images – but of a different kind and from a different place – played out on our small screens. Our minds screamed ‘Not again? Why?’ as we frantically tried to reach out to our friends and family in the city that is so well known for its cultural bent, cuisine and swift development. Along with that concern we felt the frustration and anger that these incidents do not seem to be ending!
Years have rolled by, decades I can say without impunity, but has the degree of fear reduced from our lives? I can say without a shadow of doubt that it has not. On the contrary, fear looms larger than ever in our lives even as we go about the humdrum business of our lives with stoic regularity. I am not referring here to the routine fears of being robbed, or getting involved in an accident.
At one point when air disasters had grabbed headlines, those became a cause of fear amongst frequent travellers here. Those were looked upon as one-offs compared to what is happening with almost clockwork regularity in our country and the world at large.
As we were growing up, and I am referring to the seventies, the largest fear that loomed in our mind was getting through the war. I was a tiny kid then but I remember the windows of my house in the plush area of Breach Candy being plastered with brown paper to keep in the lights at night. Of course, one could not expect to prevent aerial attacks by this minor ‘armour’ but why invite attention, was the logic. And when the siren used to go off, we would all dive under anything convenient in our room – be it a huge dining table or a double bed.
The wars were open battles with what foreign nations and had a beginning middle and end – if I can put it in simple language. But what about the blasts that are occurring with a seemingly random timeline. And no city seems to be spared either. New Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune…and more. And no one – whether you live in Mumbai or not – has forgotten 26/11 Cities and their residents no longer know what or when to expect a terror attack. Is that the way to live…or die?
Today, as the nation’s ‘age’ is increasing – and here I am referring to is growing and our parents and grandparents are growing old and living in many cases alone – we worry, not that they will be felled by a natural cause but if they will be assaulted by an intruder who knows that they live alone and are soft targets for theft that could so easily and tragically spiral into murder! Such is what city life has become and such is what the economics of our times have driven individuals to do.
I often wonder when all this will change. For the better. Will the future generations inherit a better world? While pondering on these lines, the words of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore come to mind: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high….. Let my country awake!” When will that happen? And where is that kind of world?