|Sunset - nature at its wildest in Darjeeling|
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
BY TAPAS MUKHERJEE
BY TAPAS MUKHERJEE