When the news of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination began to spread, the whole country was in turmoil. Nothing of the kind had ever been witnessed before. The reactions of ordinary people to it was unpredictable. A Prime Minister, a lady, one of the most powerful women in India, killed by her own body guards while she was taking a morning walk at her residence? The fury was turned on toward the Sikhs, the Punjabis, across the country because the commandos who opened fire on her were Sikhs. Smt. Indira Gandhi was apparently being targeted for storming the Golden Temple, Amritsar, earlier that year, to curb ‘Sikh terrorism’ (the action was codenamed Operation BlueStar). The country was in flames.

I was nine years old, and at school when the news broke out. I retain only patches of memory from that day. I believe I understood why school was suddenly closed in the mid-morning, there was a flurry of panicked students and teachers rushing about. No one was advised about how to act in such an emergency. My sister, five years my senior, who was my ‘local guardian’ at school, was absent from school that day. (She said years later that she was pretending to be sick, but actually wanted to listen to the cricket commentary in All India Radio, and was caught when my Father rushed home to listen to the news!).

Somehow I found my friend Roshan, a year older than I, and we planned to set out for home. Home was a good 7-8 kms away. School buses would not ply that day, there was a curfew on, as people were taking to the streets to express their shock, grief and protest, and damaging everything in their path. We had probably started walking home, too, when we were offered a lift in a car by a girl I think we knew by sight, whose Father had arrived to take her home. They dropped us at the Junction, from where we could walk home. We walked straight to “Vaidyuti Bhavan”, the KSEB office, where Roshan’s Father worked (we must have discussed this in the car). To this day I do not know why we did not go to my home, where I knew my sister would be. I guess our thought was, it is imperative to inform Roshan’s parents that she is safe, and that she will be at our place. We probably intended to meet him, let him know where we were, go home and play for the rest of the day. We reached right in front of KSEB, and didn’t know what to do. Neither of us knew how to find her Dad – we did not know where he could be found, in the eight-storey KSEB building. We were debating in front of the office, I imagine I was telling her, “I thought you knew how to find him? What are we to do now?” or something to that effect, when lo and behold! he was right there, walking towards us. Our first question was, how did you know we were here? He said one of his colleagues had noticed us standing in front of the office in school uniform and informed him.

I do not remember the rest. Maybe we all went to my house. Maybe I went home and they went to theirs. What is important is that, ‘the rest’ is not important. That is why I do not remember it. He had seen us, and we were safe. Nothing else mattered.

Over the years, I have often wondered…
How did Roshan and I find each other in that chaos at school when no one was bothered about anyone else, everyone was trying to somehow reach their own homes?
We could easily have been missed by the girl in the car, and would have had to trudge all those kilometres home. We may even have lost our way. But she saw us, and offered to take us to our street.
After we made the clever decision of going to her Dad’s office, and neither of us knew how to locate him, what a coincidence that someone who knew Roshan by sight, saw us both and informed her Dad?

Anything could have happened that day. But nothing did. And yet, everything did – just perfectly.