– ‘Ek dhakka aur do ” Toppled many of our  smug assumptions

Bachi Karkaria 06 December 2012,TOI

 It`s still called ‘December 6’. America’s ‘9/11’ hadn`t yet changed the way we label momentous events, so no one talks of ‘6/12’, but it was arguably the first since ‘August 15’ or ‘June 26’ to make a date with calendar immortality. Sixteen years before 26/11, we had sat transfixed to the TV screen, and felt the clammy hand of future history. Trishul-brandishing kar sevaks smashing those domes to the hysterical chorus of instigation marked the triumph of Hindutva, which had rolled forth with L K Advani`s Toyota-turned-rath-turned juggernaut. It had crushed all the bleating opponents in its path – indignant `pseudo-secularists` and fearful minorities alike. Parsi me, a mere molecularity, what would i know of majority resurgence and its embarrassing cousin, betrayal?
Yet, far away, the reverberating crash of those totemic domes was felt in a Bombay still to become Mumbai, still foolishly cosmopolitan, still hopelessly obsessed with being the city of gold for all those willing to work hard at bettering their lives, regardless of caste, creed and class of birth. Indeed, we, so ostensibly far removed in space, time and mojo from that allegedly modern epic unfolding in Ayodhya, we felt it harder than many places closer to it, on all these counts.

We were hit by a not-known-before intensity of communal riots. More portentously, we became the country`s first urban killing field of RDX. And under that macabre pile-up of bodies and rubble, died the raison d`etre of Bombay. We still await the resurrection. That`s if anyone still hopes for it. Or even wants it.

To watch the fall of the Babri domes was to witness an iconic moment. Then, a more pedestrian thought bludgeoned our consciousness. The children were in a school in the predominantly Muslim Mazgaon area. We rushed to bring them home. But it was only a precautionary measure. Who would have thought how ferociously Ayodhya`s tidal wave would break on a seemingly communalism-neutral Bombay?

Coming from a Calcutta, which shut down fully during Durga Puja, i had been dismissive of this city where business shutters weren`t downed during the parallel Ganeshotsav. It was evident that the preferred Poojas were the nubile Bedi and Bhatt. Who would have imagined the communal insanity, which killed 900 people, and wasn`t tamed till January 5, 1993?

And who could have ever visualised the surreal image of Bombay`s power towers literally brought to their knees the following March 12, when 13 serial blasts shook the city, claiming 250 unsuspecting lives and injuring 700 within minutes.

As a journalist reporting on both, the riots and the blasts, it was a ghoulishly exciting time. Two cameos have stayed with me. That of a dazed greybeard clutching on to his caged parrot as he stood beneath the dusty oil painting of a Parsi worthy in the Dadar Parsi Colony`s Palamkot Hall; the wizened Muslim was among the petrified inmates of the nearby Muslim slum who had swarmed through its placid gates. And the equally incongruous image of three delicate tea-cups hanging intact from a kitchen rack in a Worli building blown apart in the blast.

As a human being, it was shaming. So many of our assumptions about Bombay were shattered along with those faraway domes. People i had known closely turned out to be unmitigated bigots just under their sophisticated skin. Hindu-Muslim couples found themselves socially split apart. And i still can`t forget how it utterly broke my proud friend Habiba Miranda when her grown-up boys requested her to let them take down the calligraphed blessing which had hung above their front door forever; they didn`t want to attract the attention of the vengeful mobs breaking into Bombay`s most exclusive buildings. Wealth, for the first time, was not a cordon sanitaire.