The day had the feel of an eclipse to it. It was as if some evil force had suddenly cast an eerie shadow on earth. Dark clouds gathered in the sky, and towards afternoon, they had blocked out the sun completely. An eerie darkness enveloped earth, suggestive of an impending doom.
The previous evening, four political murders had taken place in various parts of this town, all being incidents of stabbing and slashing. One took place in my neighborhood, where a CPM activist was pulled out of the car he was driving, and as he attempted to escape, he was chased by youth armed with knives and sickles. They closed in on him in the backyard of a house, and slashed his throat.
The shattered glass from his car still adorns the street. They were all that remained of the incident- broken pieces of glass in which I could read the anguish of a human being who was running for dear life.
I couldn’t sleep all of last night- the scene replayed in my mind over and over again. Morning saw me bleary-eyed and intensely disturbed in my mind. A day had passed, a life was gone. This is the fourth bandh that the state has witnessed in the last 2 months. Political murders are a routine part of life here. Every day, one ventures out, not knowing what is in store. It is commonplace to witness a murder or physical violence. Every morning, it is with a prayer in my heart that I leave home-‘Please God, May I never be witness to a murder’!
It is a bandh, and I walk to the bus stop. A few buses are operating. I think to myself- ‘Are we really a democracy in Kerala? At least Kannur district is not. This is a primitive society, comprising of cannibals, who slay each other for power.’
Beautiful Kerala….God’s own country!
I look up at the coconut palms, and a patch of clear blue sky, where birds are soaring. They are distant- that world is far above us. In that world of God, the sun shines, the wind blows, the coconut palms sway, the birds fly- life goes on uninterrupted. But the street below is deserted. Only police patrols and some others like me (who have to work), dot the streets. In this world, life has come to a standstill. It has the feel of a curfew-hit town.
I am numbed, and at a loss for words. As I leave in the afternoon, dark clouds greet me. I am terrified. The overcast sky threatens to close in upon earth. I walk hastily, hoping to board the bus before it pours. Three muslim women accompany me; one of them is an elderly lady. Thunder and lightning interrupt the eerie silence. On either side of the road, there are only coconut palms and fields. Thunder sounds like God’s wrath, and the lightning is in sharp streaks. We tremble in fright. The muslim ladies have started praying- ‘la ilah’. With each clap of thunder, their prayers demonstrate a sharp rise in pitch. I find myself praying too. I have never held onto life like I do now; I so badly want to live. I think of the people I love and the people who love me, and I say-‘God, not now! I have been a good girl. Don’t let me die today!’
The old lady cannot walk anymore. She is out of breath, and half-dead from fear.
We see a house in the clearing, and walk towards it. An old couple greet us, and they give us refuge. It is an old, traditional house- one with wooden shutters for the windows, and no glass panes. The walls and windows keep the lightning away, and we are relieved. A talking parrot screeches from its cage in the verandah.
In a little while, something clatters noisily on the roof, and we realize that it is a shower of hailstones.
Hailstones! In Kerala!
We step out and pick some. The hailstones bring an abrupt joy in our terrified minds. The old muslim lady is seated on a chair, and we gather around her. At that moment in time, to each one of us gathered there, all that matters is our life. We are glad to be away from nature’s wrath, and we huddle close to each other as one, united mysteriously by a taste of nature’s wrath. A group of total strangers, holding on to each other, holding on to dear life.
The old woman is now relaxed, and she talks about her younger days-the good old days of community life. Her reminiscence is full of togetherness and bonding. Her eyes are misty as she talks about a bygone era, and then, as she dwells upon the recent murders, an uncomfortable silence takes over.
The rain has stopped, and we leave, thanking the old couple who gave us refuge. We all walk separate ways, but we have all touched each other in what has been a strange, mysterious experience that has found its way into my heart.
I dwell upon the contrast of these experiences. A violent mob, chasing a man, and murdering him brutally, with no reverence for the life of a fellow human being. And then, a group of strangers from diverse backgrounds, united by a mysterious spell of nature, holding on to dear life, grateful for each others’ presence!