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The spirit of survival

Black day Rajiv Gandhi moments before he was killed by a suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai.

Black day Rajiv Gandhi moments before he was killed by a suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai.   | Photo Credit: STR

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May 21, 1991 remains seared in the memory of police officials and their kin who were affected by the blast that took the life of Rajiv Gandhi

The Lok Sabha election this year made me travel 28 years down memory lane. May 21, 1991, the day after the first round of polling that year, dawned bright and cheerful. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was visiting Chennai to campaign for Congress candidate Maragatham Chandrasekar at Sriperumbudur.

My marriage was hardly a year old. With my husband, then the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Tambaram, posted for bandobast on the dais with Rajiv Gandhi, I geared up to spend a sleepless night.

At 8.30 p.m., my husband bid me goodbye, saying he would return home by midnight. At 10 p.m., I sat down in front of the black-and-white TV to listen to Rajiv Gandhi’s speech and catch a glimpse of my husband.

But within 10-15 minutes, the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination flashed on the screen. Panic gripped me, and I ran to the adjoining camp office to listen to the transmission on the VHF set about the location of my husband’s vehicle.

The few staff there joined me, but the moment they learnt there was confusion and chaos all over the city, they left the office one by one. Within half-an-hour, I was standing alone by the VHF set and could hardly decipher the messages being passed around. Worse, the device suddenly stopped transmission.

I was 24, pregnant with my first child. I was sure my husband had died in the blast that killed Rajiv Gandhi. I locked every door of the house and lay down wailing on the front porch.

Home alone

The DSP’s quarters was at Selaiyur, which in those days was a desolate place abundant with casuarina trees. But for the faint light of a lamp on the compound wall, it was pitch dark outside and there was no sign of any life for miles. I felt tense, insecure and did not know how to get back to the city. With no telephone, I couldn’t talk to my friends or parents either.

I wondered how the government would communicate my husband’s death. Would I be asked to identify the body? Would they hand it over to me? What would be the formalities, and who would help me?

Then I worried about how I would take care of my child? Though I had been a teacher till the previous month, I had resigned as I wanted to take care of the baby. At that moment, I felt I was left with nothing — no job, no money, no friends.

I wondered if I had married the right person for me. Was I prepared for the nature of his job? Was my decision to have a baby a hasty one?

A familiar jeep

There were no answers, and I cried myself to sleep leaning against the wall. I think I must have slept for more than two hours when the familiar sound of a police jeep startled me. Before I could shake off my sleep, the sound of the vehicle drew near. Rubbing my eyes, I mustered up courage to receive my husband’s body. I could not bring myself to do so and instead hid behind a pillar.

As the familiar blue jeep of my husband drew near, I could no longer contain my curiosity and peeped out, holding on to the pillar. I faintly saw the outline of a tall burly man in uniform getting down from the vehicle. Gripping the pillar even more tightly, I braced myself to hear the bad news.

Surprisingly, the man took confident strides towards the porch and my jaw dropped when I saw a familiar figure come towards me with a smile. I was speechless and I could hardly move for it was none other than my husband.

Sobbing all the while, I ran to hug him and dragged him near the light to take a closer look. Pulling me into a tight embrace, he consoled me and led me into the house. “...I was instructed to take charge of another political meeting in Tambaram. I was disappointed that I could not be near Rajiv Gandhi. Though I cursed destiny then, I am happy that god had different plans and I am happy to be with you again,” he said.

Two lessons

The incident taught me about the role played by a husband and a job in a woman’s life. I was worried about my husband’s profession and the fear of losing him at any moment. I took up a good job a year after the birth of my son and started shuttling between Chennai and Kancheepuram, where my husband was now posted.

Two years later, as I boarded the bus to Kancheepuram, a policewoman sat next to me. When she tried to grip the seat’s armrest, I saw that two fingers on her left hand were missing. Looking at my reaction and recognising me as the DSP’s wife, she introduced herself as sub-inspector Anusuya Daisy, who had handled the crowd at Sriperumbudur. She went on to describe how she had survived the blast, but had been severely injured.

Narrow escape

She had been standing near Rajiv Gandhi, who had even spoken a few words to her, before the suicide bomber triggered the blast. A loud sound tore into her ear drums, and she fell down with excruciating pain and a burning sensation. Finding herself among a pile of bodies, she thought she would join them in the morgue. But help reached her, and she was taken to the General Hospital in Sriperumbudur. Later, she had to have a plastic surgery done.

My respect for her grew as she related her experience about the CBI inquiry, the removal of pellets from her body, and her constant battle with pain. She is an empowered woman, and her narration strengthened my vow to continue working. Two years later, I had a daughter, but nothing kept me from holding on to my dear job for the next 25 years.

Even now, whenever my husband speaks about VIP bandobast, it brings back horrific memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and I murmur a silent prayer.

lalithasai951@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 8:56:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-spirit-of-survival/article30124008.ece

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