They say he’s gone!

It’s the kind of phone call you don’t want to receive in the morning. ‘Listen there’s a bad news. A is gone, killed in a road accident.’ And for the next 20 minutes I thought it was just the kind of prank A would play, of course you are joking. And the caller says no Kajal, he really is dead. Dead and gone. His bike tire burst because of the heat and he lost control.

Sometimes you just meet people randomly and you become such good friends with them. A was one such friend. I had met him while on assignment 3 years ago, while I was getting vox pops for a cricket show. He was one of those college boys hanging around Shivaji Park with his circle of friends and they all even did a celebratory dance for the camera when India won. Of all the guys, A was the only one who requested for my phone number and a journalist never lets go of an opportunity to make a new source. So I had given him my number. In the next one year, A would call me randomly just to say hi and then the phone calls stopped. I didn’t bother much because the phone calls were completely random.

Then about a year ago, I got a call from a new number. It was A. He had graduated and had started working. He was talking almost normally but there was an undercurrent. I asked him and he almost broke down as he narrated the story of how he had just recently broken up with his girlfriend of 4 years and how his obsession to just speak to her once had almost sent him to prison for harassment. This surely was not like the carefree college boy I knew. Here was the maturity and perspective that only pain gives you. It was all done and over, but A just couldn’t fathom how something that started out so beautifully could have ended so horribly. Over the next few months he would call sometimes just to chat and we became fast friends. Along with some other friends of his, I would take turns to scold him, tease him and coax him out of his ‘undying’ love. And he would take it all in stride, keep smiling and in a mock imitation of a Bollywood hero would say ‘this is A’s love story, its gotta be different.’

Never once had I thought that this seemingly immature boy, whom we used to all advice about his heartaches, would ultimately be one of those few people who would help me out when I went through a bad phase recently. I could call him at any time of the day or night and he would patiently listen, divert my attention, give me surprise visits just to cheer me up. And he never expected anything but friendship from me. I didn’t feel that I was burdening him with my emotions, I didn’t have to be careful, I could be the emotional girl I am with him. I didn’t have to carry a rep with him or wonder that he would demand a price for his show of affection. All that he expected was a smiling friend in return for his troubles.

Then around 3 months ago, he moved back to Delhi, his hometown. Most of us friends were sad but we felt that after all that he had gone through the last year, going back home would do him good. And true to his style, just last month he came down on a surprise visit to Mumbai just a week prior to my birthday. All of us went out to Gorai to celebrate the engagement of another friend and we were again ribbing him about how he should now get married. His parents were pressurising him and he was dodging it off because he was still in love with his girl and we had again started scolding him.
And now I am left with so much unsaid, so much anger that he is dead. Since morning, I have only been repeating to myself, he is dead, he is dead, as if my repetition would somehow change the reality. I still half expect him to call and say it was all a prank. Listening to ‘kaise batayein kyun tumko chahein’ would be a painful reminder as that was his ringtone. There are so many little things about this friendship, this boy I have only met half a dozen times, things that might live on for quite some time even though he didn’t. Heck he wasn’t even 25. Why this boy who may have only hurt people in ignorance, why not those who make a living out of hurting people? Anger, confusion and just pain at a life that was lost. But A you had a full life, you had friends, you loved like never before and you touched the lives of many. Yes, the few years you lived, you probably lived more than many a lifetime. RIP. Miss you ever.

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Maar diya jaaye ki chod diya jaaye

Originally published for the company website www.ibnlive.com

When it comes to Kasab, this is a no brainer you would say. Maar diya jaaye. One of the few terrorists in the world who was caught alive, Ajmal Amir Kasab has now been in jail for around 18 months. And in this period he has been a living, breathing, unscathed reminder of the horrors of the most dramatic terror attack in the history of the world. As I write this, the Mumbai police is in deep discussion with journalists of the city to provide for unhitched and secure media coverage. Security has been increased near the Arthur Road Jail complex and by Monday there will be many more road diversions and restrictions around the area. Newsrooms are abuzz with discussions on how to carry the story, who would follow it and who are the talking heads to consult about this trial.

Everything about Kasab has till now generated a lot of curiosity. He was the one man the nation could punish for not just his acts but for the failure of important security agencies. He was the embodiment of the nation’s frustration, the living proof of why we no longer felt safe in this country. And so the brash behaviour of this 21 year old became the topic of great discussion. ‘Look at how fearlessly and remorselessly he was shooting those people at CST’, ‘He is the one who killed our brave officers’, ‘Look at how he mocks the judges at court’, these were oft repeated sentences showing our collective hatred of one man who reminded us time and again of what we lost and how we failed on 26/11. We burnt effigies, staged plays, made Ganpati pandals and did whatever we could to act out our anger towards him and the ideology he represented.

Since day one every report has been about what is going on in Kasab’s mind, what did he eat, what was he wearing, was he laughing, was he frowning, did he understand the question, has he picked up Marathi, any and every information about the kind of person the aam aadmi is never going to become. We even had people commenting on how well kept he looked, how he was ‘handsome’ (yeah right) and there was also the youngster who declared live on FM radio how she found Kasab cute and would like to meet him (Stockholm syndrome or its variant?). Notoriety after all is not exactly the opposite of popularity, its just the other side of the same coin.

The trial itself went through a lot of twists and turns. First there was no lawyer and the late Shahid Azmi had said that Kasab should be hanged without trial after declaring him a state enemy. Then a little known Anjali Waghmare came in, was spooked out by the Sena and enter Abbas Kazmi, who was later sacked for inconsistencies. And all through this time there was the push and pull between India and Pakistan about who was Kasab. There were the various confessions and retractions and allegations and counter allegations. And despite the heinous crimes, it seemed that Ajmal Kasab had also become a prime time entertainer for our voyeuristic pleasures. Every story about him fed the curiosity of a public trying to decode the mind of a terrorist. The only ones who hated every bit of it were understandably, the victims. Many of those from the lower strata of the society wondered why 31 crores were spent on him, when some of them are still waiting for the lakh or two of compensation sanctioned by government authorities.

On Monday, though it might seem to be the beginning of the end. A verdict shall be pronounced and the question Maar diya jaaye ki nahin would hopefully be answered. But the saga seems to be far from over. In a country where there is a huge gap between the sentencing and the actual punishment, this could just be the beginning of another long drawn process. The questions might shift from whether to hang him to when to hang him, where to hang him and even is there an executioner available? If there is another appeal, then the process could even get longer.

But these questions seem irrelevant to many Mumbaikars. The bigger question as always is whether this would be an exemplary verdict, which would discourage any such attacks in future. Doubtful. Or maybe the mundane question of the layman is more important, ‘Madam Kasab ko phaansi hone ke baad Arthur road ko jo one way banaya tha voh wapas se two way hoga ki nahin?’