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Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #2004147
Schoolboy’s Perspective of Riot during 1969 - Ahmedabad.
Anatomy of a Riot – A Schoolboy’s Perspective.
By Nitin Wasant Shirsekar

The year was 1969.
I was a school boy then studying in class V at Ahmedabad.
Our stay in Ahmedabad for the last ten years from 1960 to 1969 was coming to an end as my father’s job transfer to Mumbai was eminent.
Finding a good school in Mumbai for me and my younger brother, (studying in class III) had become important to both my parents.
I was on the threshold of entering ‘secondary’ school and my parents decided that instead of continuing in our present Primary school it would be better if we got our school ‘Transfer Certificates’ from one of the bigger schools in Ahmedabad.
The choice fell on one of the best schools in Ahmedabad at that time, St Xaviers High School, Mirzapur.

Our residence was at Pritam Nagar near Vadilal Hospital, Pehlo Dhal (1st cross road).
The problem was while that the present school was very near to our home, the new school was very far away.
School bus services from the school to our part of the town were infrequent and did not come near our home.
Other students besides using school buses either rode bicycles or were dropped by auto rickshaws or their own vehicles.
Contacting auto / cycle rickshaw operators was in vain.
No one was willing to go that far and return empty.
Although we had a car my father had a travelling job and he could not drop us daily.
Dad also had to leave Ahmedabad soon to take charge of his duties in Mumbai.
We would follow in April at the end of our school term.
The next academic year would begin in a Mumbai school but for now we would had to manage.

My mother decided that if we wanted to go to the best school then we had to commute on our own.
‘I was old enough to hire an auto rickshaw and commute’ she said.
So daily I and my brother togged up in school uniform of white shirt and khaki shorts with bags on our shoulders would hail an auto rickshaw for going to school, tell him of our destination and get in.
It was a long distance fare and rickshaws were willing.
Many auto wallas used to look around and ask if there was anyone else, perhaps an adult person accompanying us.
But after we appeared confident enough they usually went about their business and briskly drove us to our destination without further ado.
Some used to ask point blank upfront if we had the money to pay at the end.
One even asked me to show him the coins upfront before boarding the vehicle.
But it was a credit to the Ahmedabad auto wallas of that time, that our daily trips to and from school went without mishap.

The auto fare from Pritam Nagar to Mirzapur in 1969 was 90 paise one way. (Neyu paise as we called it in Gujarati). Rarely did I have any disagreement with the auto driver over the fare.
I got two bucks from Mom daily for our journey to and from school.
Matters proceeded smoothly and we soon settled down to the routine.
Neighbors’ were surprised how we two young kids managed to go and come alone daily.
Mom said nothing.
There was no other option.

But there was to be an interruption to our routine - a disruption that is still etched in my memory.
We left for school normally that morning to what promised to be a routine day.
It should be remembered that in 1969 there were no mobile phones, internet or cable television.
They were to come fifteen years later.
Newspapers and Radio were the only medium of ‘mass-media’.
Telephones were rare and far between.
I remember our family Doctor having the only residential telephone in the vicinity.

School began normally with prayers and class, but as the day progressed rumors took over.
This had happened here and that has happened there.
Teachers appeared worried.
The Principal in his white cassock made the rounds appearing disturbed.
The normally busy school slowly came to a halt by midday.
Free periods were declared for all classes.
By lunch time parents started coming in one by one to collect their wards.
The trickle soon became a flood.
The boys from my class were leaving as their names were called out.
I sat quietly at my bench.
Soon I was surrounded by empty benches as all the boys in my class were had left.

My teachers ware earnestly inquiring about where I lived,
‘Your parents have not come??. they asked.
‘Who brings you to school?’
‘We come to school on our own’ I said.
‘We meaning….who.’ they asked.
‘Me and my brother in class III’.
‘Oh…great’ said the teacher.

The Ahmedabad office number given by my father in the school records was of no use.
A few handful of remaining students including myself were ushered into a ground floor classroom.
My brother was also there.
The people minding the class stared at me.
'I should try to get home' they said.
Watching the other boys leave had emboldened me.
I took my younger brothers hand and went out of the class telling the teacher that my parents had come.
It was surprisingly easy to leave through the confusion and crowd of parents and students near the gate.

On the streets there was an urgency amongst the passerby and vehicles.
I saw a rickshaw stopping nearby as a man got out and walked fast towards the school gate.
I asked the rickshawalla if he would come to Pritam nagar.
He readily agreed.
Many say that it was a miracle that at such a time a rickshawalla would take on a fare like us.
But I was too young to understand then.
We started out for home.

Along the way the driver made many detours saying that this road was closed and there was not way to go from here.
But he pressed on never stopping.
The ‘old city of Ahmedabad across the Sabarmati river where our school was located had narrow busy lanes.
On that day they appeared empty.
I had a fair idea of the general direction we were going by did not know some of the streets that we went across.
After some time we reached familiar territory near ‘Ellis Bridge’.
We had almost crossed the old city.
From there it was a straight ride home across broad new avenues.

As we arrived in our lane and got out of the auto we were surrounded by neighbor's and my very relieved mom.
They thanked the autowalla and I think someone gave a ‘baksheesh’.
We were beleaguered with questions.
How did you come.
The roads are closed.
There is curfew here.
There is no transport.
My mom had tears in her eyes on seeing both of us safe and sound.

We were bewildered by their concern.
Later we came to know that some neighbor's and my mom had tried to reach our school, but could not get past ‘Teen Darwaja’ (Three Gates) area where some incidents had occurred and the rickshawalla had refused to go further and they had to turn back.
They were desperate to get to us but had returned home to decide on the next course of action when our auto turned up.

Well,…we were safe and sound and went about enjoying ourselves obvious of the sensation we had caused by coming alone.
Later we came to know the magnitude of the problem.
Curfew was imposed in parts of the city that night.
Our school was closed for several weeks.
Rumors were circulating everywhere.

When we joined school again after the hiatus, there was an Indian Army platoon stationed at our school to maintain law and order in the vicinity.
I still remember entering the school gate with an army soldier with a rifle and naked bayonet standing guard.
The unit was staying on the ground floor and during recess breaks we used to go there to have a look at their weapons and machine guns kept upright against the class room walls were they were billeted.

Our teachers were strict.
No discussion about riots in the classroom they warned.
Just concentrate on your studies they said.

I told my mom about the soldiers in the evening after returning from school.
She was really worried about our safety and called up my Dad in Mumbai about it.

Time passed quickly however and our final exams were soon over.

School ended for us at Ahmedabad.

We left the city in May to begin a new chapter in our lives in Mumbai.
© Copyright 2014 NITIN WASANT SHIRSEKAR (nitinshirsekar at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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