News

MAY 21st 1991: NIGHT OF THE STORM

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

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1 Comment on MAY 21st 1991: NIGHT OF THE STORM

  1. Will never forget that night back in 1991. Was listening to VOA radio’s English music program… the program was interrupted to announce Rajiv Gandhi’s death. Cried for the first n last time for a politician. Yes that generation loved him n he will live in our hearts forever.

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