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Hand in hand for eternity

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dad's Diary 5 - Of Blood and Tears, and Hills and Humor

Sunset - nature at its wildest in Darjeeling
Darjeeling hills and surrounding areas are seething once again under the impact of a political movement that shows no sign of abating. The demand is for creation of a separate state of 'Gorkhaland' outside West Bengal. 

I was there when it was intensified in the mid-1980s by Gorkha National Liberation Front. The man responsible was the party's charismatic supremo, Subas Ghisingh. The movement is now being spearheaded by Gorkha Janamukti Morcha which has wrested the leadership from the GNLF. But that is not my story.

There is no dearth of armed political movement in India. Everywhere the crux of the story is that of a peoples' movement of blood and tears, of bullets and bombs. What, however, distinguishes Darjeeling movement is that the people and political leaders somehow retained their innate humor, even though at times it bordered on uncivil crudeness.

Traitors to the cause were decapitated, and the heads were hung at congested public places. The whispering campaign against betrayal that followed did not threaten beheading, but that the traitor's “height would be shortened by six inches!”

Unsuccessful police raids for the arrest of illegal bomb makers were characterized as “peeling onions layer by layer” on the part of the security forces. Police swooped down at dawn on areas where alleged culprits were hiding, only to find the area deserted. This was “pressing on a half-filled air-pillow,” obviously meaning that the fleeing people had filled up another part of the area.

A renewed refusal of the government to concede to the 'Gorkhaland' demand was once described by Subas Ghisingh in this manner: “There are many people who bring the ax on their own toes; but the West Bengal chief minister is rushing to strike his toes on the ax.”   

Such sarcasm found expression in describing the activities of some of his own pals. Chhatre Subba, a former army man like Ghisingh, was raising a 'Gorkhaland army,' promising his gullible men ample supply of Chinese arms and equipment to be smuggled in from Tibet in none too distant future. In the meantime, he would manufacture arms locally.

View from Tiger Hill - Darjeeling
Here is what Ghisingh had to say about that : “Chhatre's bullets don't kill. You know why? After firing, the bullet goes straight for some distance, and then turns side-wise before hitting the target.”

Chhatre Subba even built a cannon, and invited Ghisingh to inspect its  operations. Ghisingh : “Chhatre first filled up head-end of the cannon with dozens of match sticks in absence of lighting-explosives, and set fire to it. Boom, it went, leaving plumes of smoke behind. The cannon itself flew out and fell some distance away; I nearly jumped as I caught sight of Chhatre. He was plastered with black soot; so was I”.

When they became bitter enemies, Subba even made an attempt on Ghisingh's life. Ghisingh survived the attack. Subba had used a sophisticated AK 47 rifle, and nobody has since then heard Ghisingh complain about bullets hitting side-wise.

In those days young boys, particularly teenagers, found real time adventure in the movement. Playing pranks to ease up the tension was very much the in-thing. 

A group of teenagers, rope-bound to each other, were made to wait outside the judicial building pending their production before the judge. Why were they here? “Murder,” they chorused, uttering the pinnacle of offenses with as much nonchalance as would enable them to momentarily outlive their miserable teens.

In the hustle and bustle of court proceedings, the boys killed the heavy load of time by an ingenuous game. They had rolled up a ball with waste papers and strings lying about, and were passing it around themselves. But that was not the real game, only the cover for a more nefarious and hilarious activity at the same time.

The rolling tea gardens
One dexterous marksman among them placed pebbles in between his middle finger and thumb in both hands, and flipped them with remarkable aim at policemen and lawyers. Whenever  a contact was made the irate victim looked at them only to find a group of apparent street urchins totally absorbed in an innocent game of passing the ball.

 Faced with increasing incidence of 'eve teasing' amidst general lawlessness the police resorted to catching the 'Romeos' with 'amorous' long hair, force them into saloons, and make them pay for the hair cuts. The 'Romeos' soon responded by remaining indoors, and the program strayed into catching anybody with pony tails.

In such a situation, one day my daughter brought home a budding musician to introduce to me. “This is Jay,” she said, as if that was the whole explanation. I looked up from my book to find a boy with lustrous outcrop on his head that tumbled down well below his shoulders. Indeed no more explanation was needed.

What had long hair got to do with music? He was the 'lead guitarist' in the band, he wailed, and would lose his placement if he bore an ignominious crew cut. The prospect of losing his identity was quite despicable for him. I had to pull some strings with friends in the police administration to save Jay's 'guitarist icon'. But interference in such matters was quite risky as would the following incident proved.

The local government-run hospital administration had adopted a policy of making available medical treatment to all including those being sought by the police to save the building from getting burnt down. One late night five boys rushed in carrying a stretcher with a patient who had swathe of dirty white bandages on his head and hands, the elbows jutting out with extra paddings.

As soon as they placed the stretcher on the corridor they started shouting slogans against the government for inadequate medical arrangements. Doctors and attendants led by the senior nurse rushed out to take care of the patient.

One boy caught the doctor by the collar, pinned him against the wall, and raised a fist only to find himself bodily lifted and thrashed down. Even before others could take stock of the situation, another boy found the floor as his resting place. The strong senior nurse with her pointed high boots had gone to work on the boys with such a feline ferocity that the table was turned even before it was really set.

Kanchendzonga - a sight only lucky tourists get to see
In the melee the first person to escape the hospital was the 'unconscious' patient. He abandoned his stretcher and ran out of the hospital; three blobs of white bandage, the head and two elbows, receded into the darkness with such speed that it could hardly be matched by even a healthy runner. He was followed by the rest of the gang.

Two days later intermediaries worked out a deal for the return of the stretcher that the boys had borrowed from a social service club; they had to explain their conduct to the senior nurse. They confessed to having selected the hospital which was supposed to be a 'soft target' for slogan shouting and rampage after they had had an overdose of 'chhang' (millet beer). The mock patient even shed a few drops of tear.

“Take your stinky stretcher and get out,” the senior nurse ordered. The boys collected the stretcher and saved themselves the hefty fine they had to pay to the service club. They looked back from the main door; the formidable senior nurse was tapping the floor under her high boots; the mock patient wiped his fake tears, and whispered, “Now.”

“Stinky nurse, stinky socks, stinky boots,” they shouted several times, slogan style, before running away. The slogan did justice to the points of contact they had suffered at the hands (or rather at the feet) of the senior nurse.



  1. People of all cultures turn to black humor in times of great stress. I love your blog because I get a peek at the people of India and I see that I am right. We really are all the same just put in different circumstances

  2. So true Jim - This is India at its best and worst... Love Darjeeling but the political turmoil on the Queens of Hills has shaken us so ... Thank God for humor that people can still hold on to...

  3. Kriti, Nice accounting with the story, the world is a very interesting place.

  4. a good laugh strengthen the soul and gives light where there is darkness. humor on brave warrior!

  5. Hi Kriti,

    I am new to your blog and am definitely a follower now! Thoroughly enjoyed the story. yes, humor heals and allows the Light to come in!


  6. @ Scott - thanks for stopping by... Yes the world never ceases to amaze @ Roy - so glad you liked this one - brave warrior : ) @ Diana - thanks a ton for stopping by. Much appreciate your comments.

  7. Great one as usual Kriti,wish this could be published in the local papers here...have seen it all.

  8. Thank you u uncle and Kriti...all we saw at that time was tha dark side of the agitation....thanks for sharing the other side too....loved it!!!!

  9. I have explored nainital...last yr but was not abl to check is on my list :)
    gr8 post thanks for sharing

  10. Enjoyed reading this so much...brought back those days. It's amazing how in the midst of all that terror, Darjeeling never forgot to laugh...Loved it!!

  11. Great stuff uncle...brought back memories of those days when we used to sit by "bhayia's" dokan...Regards to u and aunty...Anis

  12. Enjoyed reading yet another one of Uncleji's spectacular article, humor mixed with serious issues makes for an interesting read, thanks Mitr.

  13. LOL!!! It took me back to those days in Darjeeling, in the 80's. Thank you for sharing Kriti

  14. Thank you guys - @ Alpana - I know those were the days right... Innumerable stories of Dad were published in those days ... But I do really wish this could be published now @ Simsim - thanks a ton! @ Sneha - must visit - its lovely @ Swati - so true - just took me right back... @ Anis Daju - thanks for stopping by - always great to hear from you @Mitr Thanks a ton! @ Rimly - can so identify with those days right - fun and terror all at once : )

  15. promised i would comment when i could ;) son loved the post and the writing is wonderful Thank you for sharing, the world is a vast place but somehow feels smaller when we can share experiances with each other.

  16. Thanks a ton Charlie!! So glad both you and son liked it... Makes my day

  17. I love your blog, Kriti. It gives me an insight to another country and its rich culture. Educational, entertaining, and heartfelt. <3

  18. Thank you Sweepy - your loving it means a whole lot to me : )

  19. I really did love this post. The pictures said a LOT too. Love your writing style.

  20. This post brought back some vivid memories of the Gorkha agitation. Of course we were kids and some things didn't make much sense as it does now. In fact uncle's post just cleared up a lot of things for me on a personal level.
    I am now wondering who the nurse is hahahahaha.