“Dada, do something, please,” begged his sister, Maya.
“Something terrible might happen if we wait too long.” Suronjon knew that “doing something” was finding a place to hide. Like frightened rats that hide in a hole and then creep out when there’s nothing to fear, they too were expected to hide till things quietened down, look left and right and then crawl out when the coast was clear. Did he have to leave his home just because he was called Suronjon Datta? His father was called Sudhamoy Datta, his mother was Kironmoyee Datta, and his sister’s name was Neelanjona Datta and so, would they too be expected to leave? Would they have to take refuge in either Kemal’s home or Belal’s or Hyder’s, as they had done two years ago? Sensing danger, Kemal had come running from his home in Iskaton that morning of 30 October. “Hurry,” he had said, shaking Suronjon awake, “pack a few clothes as fast as possible. Lock your home and all of you come along, please. Don’t waste time. Let’s go, please.” They did not want for anything while they stayed at Kemal’s. In fact, they had had a wonderful time – there were bread and eggs in the morning, fish and rice in the afternoon, and in the evening there would be great times in the garden as they sat around, talking. They slept soundly at night on thick mattresses. But why did he need to seek refuge in Kemal’s house? Kemal and he were old friends and it was perfectly fine for him to spend a few days at Kemal’s with his family. But why should he be compelled to stay? Why did he need to flee his own home while Kemal did not? This country was his as much as it was Kemal’s and they should have the same rights as citizens. But why was he unable to stand proud like Kemal? Why could he not claim that he was a child of this land and that no harm should come to him?
Suronjon lay in bed and did not make any effort to get up. Maya went restlessly from room to room. She tried to explain that it would not make sense to grieve after something awful had happened. CNN was broadcasting images of the Babri Masjid being broken. Sudhamoy and Kironmoyee sat stunned before the TV. They believed that this time too, like in October 1990, Suronjon would take them to some Muslim home to hide. But Suronjon did not feel like going anywhere. He meant to stay in bed all day.
“I won’t leave my house, come what may,” Suronjon meant to tell Kemal or anyone else who came to fetch them.
It was 7 December. The day before, in the afternoon, a deep darkness had descended on the banks of the Sarayu River at Ayodhya. Kar sevaks had brought down a 400-year-old mosque. This destruction happened twenty-five minutes before the kar seva – that is, selfless service – announced by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was expected to begin. The kar sevaks worked for nearly five hours to pound the entire structure, complete with its three minarets, to dust. The top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the VHP, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal were all there when the events took place. Central security personnel, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and the Uttar Pradesh police did nothing; they stood there watching the brutal acts of the kar sevaks. The first minaret was broken in the afternoon at two forty-five, the second at four o”clock, and at four forty-five the kar sevaks brought down the third minaret too. Four kar sevaks were buried under the debris and killed as they tried to bring the structure down. More than a hundred kar sevaks were injured.