By Sanjay Jha
I was working in the NRI Division of ANZ Grindlays Bank at 10 E Connaught Place in New Delhi in 1991. It was a regular day at the office, business as usual, men at work. Outside, the mercury rose with a determined resolve. But by afternoon, the weather outside had suddenly begun to change. Quite dramatically. The scorching summer sun had given way to one of Delhi’s typical dust-storms which enveloped the city in a thick smog-like cloud. By late evening , we were suddenly experiencing heavy thundershowers accompanied by fiery lightning in sporadic bursts. It seemed like the heavens above were experiencing some serious warfare.
The election campaign was drawing to a close, and there were newspaper reports that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was occasionally flying his plane himself, his private passion. Although I had read that he was campaigning down in southern India , I sincerely prayed that he was not up in the sky above Delhi that evening in his small plane as it would be highly unsafe given the rough weather conditions. I reached home about 7 pm that evening and tuned into Doordarshan to find that he was indeed wrapping up the national campaign in Madras (Tamil Nadu) that night. I was hugely relieved.
I was a big Rajiv Gandhi fan; for many in our generation, Rajiv Gandhi was India’s new hope , who inspired you into believing that India would be in able hands under his stewardship. In short, he was India’s lodestar , in our opinion. The two years under VP Singh-Chandrasekhar had been disturbing, and during their reign the country looked liked it was drifting into complete chaos , lacking in direction and going nowhere under their shibboleths of social emancipation . Initial opinion polls indicated that the Congress would reemerge as a leading political force and that Rajiv Gandhi would be Prime Minister once again. We were indeed very excited.
Then late in the night as I prepared to sleep the telephone rang. And everything changed.
This poem was written over a decade back and is an extract from my book When I Wondered About You , published in 1999.
Night of the Storm
Delhi, one summer evening
Elections in the air
I am home returning
There is excitement everywhere.
The sky is dark and ominous
Thunder and lightning
I almost crash against a bus
At the byzantine turning
Am gripped by a strange sense of fear
It’s only the 21st of May
Wished I could talk to someone near
Seems an unusual day.
I wonder about a pilot
Up in the clouds in a cockpit
Experienced he may be, but
This storm is quite a bit.
Reach home and switch on the news
Heave a sigh of relief
The pilot is in Madras airing his political views
Am delighted beyond belief.
Reassured, I go to sleep
Set my clock on alarm
Next day there are appointments to keep;
Under the blanket, it is quite warm.
The telephone suddenly rings
I get up with a start
I wonder what news it brings
My heart is beating fast.
Haven’t you heard the news as yet?
It’s a terrible disaster
This is certainly one of the saddest
A woman has just lost her husband, the children their father
In a state of complete shock
I struggle out of bed
Its midnight, reminds the old clock.
It’s true, Rajiv Gandhi is dead.
In an obscure place
A genial man has met with fate.
Only memories remain of his handsome face
Alas, an appointment for which he was not late.
I look up to find the clouds have cleared
It seems like a calm, still night
The moon and stars have reappeared
But there is darkness in the light