Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Midnight’s Children

By Amit Sen Gupta

Chino Arab Hamara, Hindostan Hamara…
Rehne Ko Ghar Nahin Hain, Saara Jahan Hamara…

Sahir’s immortal dark irony, in Bombay’s Gateway of India, has arrived once again. The nip in the air, too, has arrived and the chill is just about moving inside the bones, like a familiar memory. It’s like reopening an old Edgar Allen Poe book, watching an old Alfred Hitchcock film, reading an old Munshi Premchand short story, as relevant now as ever. It’s like looking through the layers of an old trunk and finding a naphthalene ball inside an ancient jacket with a letter to an unknown lover.

Winter opens up new wounds, subterranean streams of desire, unopened letters, smells and skin which hang in the stillness of the frozen air, unrequited love in the time of viral infections. The memories of mother in a small kitchen with firewood and cow dung cakes.

Don’t worry, the meteorologist will tell you. Don’t worry too much about the fog or the smog in the metros, this is as deceptive and lovely as the night, winter has still not arrived because the western disturbances are far away. Perhaps around Christmas night, when the midnight worshippers trek back home, the first wave of freezing cold will arrive. Like a full moon tide.

As young reporters we always knew that this means a story, the cold wave story. That was in the early 1980s. Now, as senior pros, we know: no paper wants this story. The cold wave story.

It’s not the story of the death wish. It’s the story of the death count. Of dying slowly inside your skin and eyes. Those who die on the streets, especially in the metro’s suburbs, the walled city of old Delhi, between exile and kingdom, as the frozen narrative enters the lungs and the intestines, as they remove the posters from the walls near Jama Masjid and the Old Delhi Railway Station, Congress and BJP posters, and meticulously wrap them on their hands, legs, heads, with the last puff of the bidi, its dying fire a dying solace.

You zigzag through their bodies in this open-to-sky courtyard, little children, huddled together outside near the Nizamuddin dargah, a mother and her daughter clutching each other under a plastic sheet, a rickshawpuller on his rickshaw, his horizontal body hanging in time and space, a cap on his head, his hands like that of a forgotten musician.

The chill comes like an angel of death. It floats on a frozen liquid of icy winds. It enters the nooks and crevices of the exiled human body. It breaks resistance, the resistance of the weak, the hardworking homeless. We are so eternally fragile. The body is so ephemeral. And the weapons of the weak have all rusted with the brutality of the times.

At the Daryaganj police station near Golcha cinema, you can check the death count next morning. Unknown bodies found on the streets. No friends or relatives or lovers. Citizens of nowhere land. Midnight’s children of the largest democracy.

Chino Arab Hamara, Hindostan Hamara…
Rehne Ko Ghar Nahin Hain, Saara Jahan Hamara…

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