Stop this Lunacy, pleasetext_fields
I am a journalist based in Calcutta, and I missed the biggest news event of the last decade of the last century because I had to be in Kerala then. The whole of India was on edge in the first week of December 1992 with a sense of deep foreboding enveloping Ayodhya. Almost everyone, except the Prime Minister of India, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and a future Prime Minister and his deputy prone to tears when they do not matter, knew that the darkest chapter in Independent India was about to be opened, forever changing our country.
Yet, on December 3, 1992, I found myself on a train leaving Howrah, the railway gateway to Calcutta if you come in from the south, and heading to Thiruvananthapuram. One reason I could leave Calcutta in such a momentous week was because I was a rookie in the newsroom and my absence -- or presence -- would not have made much of a difference to the newspaper then.
The only surprise was that I was going on "assignment" - a privilege reserved for only seasoned journalists, especially in an explosive week like the first week of December 1992. My assignment had nothing to do with Ayodhya. It was an open-ended "assignment" - meaning I can return to Calcutta and write about any subject I chose.
By now, veteran journalists among those who are reading this would have figured out that it was a classic "sham" assignment. Someone was doing me a favour so that I could be in Kerala that week.
What could be such a reason that justifies a contrived assignment -- and that too when the entire country was holding its breath? As the cliche goes, all's fair in war - and love.
When the lunatics were preparing for war in Ayodhya, I was on my own reckless "assignment" known only to my senior editor who ran the newspaper then.
Those were the days before the mobile phone. The landline phone was the main communication device and STD lines were usually kept with the seniors.
A few days earlier, the senior editor had called out from his room that there was an outstation call. I immediately knew who it was: I had given that number (without asking the senior editor's permission) to only one person. Everyone else, including my parents, had the board number from where calls would be transferred.
I had left this nuclear-button number, so to speak, for an emergency -- the one thing I was not prepared for that November. I had left home nearly three years ago and reached Calcutta after unpleasant experiences in Bangalore and Lucknow. I was still recovering from the ill-effects of the typhoid I had picked up from Bangalore, I was almost always hungry because lunch would be over by the time I woke up and I was badly missing my friends in New Delhi and in another newspaper I worked a few months earlier.
In short, I was not "locked and loaded" for any emergency when the call came. The editor was working and I was standing there taking the call. As I feared, it was bad news and time was running out. I mumbled some response and the line went dead. That the news was bad was written in my face which, in spite of my dark complexion, managed to turn ashen.
"What happened?" the editor asked me.
"Nothing," I said.
"Girlfriend?" he asked.
I do not why he did not think it could have been something else. So many varieties of exigencies can sweep in over phone lines.
"Yes," I said.
"Now or never, isn't it," he asked again.
Then I told him the story, which was no different from countless college stories. Boy meets girl in college and the full circle. After we graduated, she waited for me for three years, not knowing when I would surface again in my hometown. But pressure is mounting at home to marry someone. I have already switched one job and still there is no sign of me.
"So, what is the problem? Marry her and bring her here," the editor said.
"There is a problem. I am a Hindu and she is a Christian," I said.
"So, what?" he asked. "If she is willing, bring her over. We will make sure you take good care of her."
That was how I landed the "assignment" of my life and set out for Kerala on December 2, 1992.
I reached on December 4 and the circumstances convinced me that there will not be an amicable wedding. I called my editor. I do not know whether it was divine intervention but I received the best advice of my life during that call. Crestfallen, I told my editor that I am returning because there was no way the families would agree and I did not know what to do.
"Elope," he said. "You cannot betray her like this. She waited for you all this while and you are giving up so fast?"
He told me where to go in an emergency (New Delhi) and arranged shelter at the home of a senior journalist where we could stay. And from there to Calcutta. "Once you are in Calcutta, you are our business," he told me with the confidence with which I had seen him take rapid-fire decisions in the newsroom.
On December 6, the rabid thugs demolished the Babri Masjid.
Two or three days later, I approached an organisation that was supposed to encourage and protect Mishra Vivaham. I think the office was near the General Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. The person there was blunt: "Hindus and Muslims are fighting in North India and you want to start a Hindu-Christian Lahala here? We cannot have anything to do with you."
It was then that I realised, like so many helpless youngsters before me and after me, the value of friendship. One thing led to another and rapidly, things fell into place within a few days. Friends of a friend activated a cohabitation agreement process (which has no nuptial value other than a certified agreement that the woman is leaving willingly with the man), my best friend's mother gave her mother's mangal sutra and the registration was done in an office on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. The office would not allow us to take photographs (crucial for evidence) there.
My friends then took me to a home nearby through some bylanes. Till this day, I do not know whose home that was and I have been unable to track it down. I am not sure if they remember. Perhaps, I did not try hard enough.
Another friend -- a CPI leader -- had asked a friend to bring two garlands. That friend assumed that some hunger strike was being broken and he bought two raktahaarams (used by leaders sitting on hunger strike). So we got married in raktahaarams and left for Thrissur. Next day, I went to the railway station to book tickets for New Delhi. While standing in the short queue (few people were travelling then because of curfew in several places outside Kerala) I heard the person in front of me say "Howrah". I asked the booking clerk and he said a special train is being run from Ernakulam to Howrah that evening (which we would not have been able to board had we stayed in Thiruvananthapuram). We left for Howrah the same evening.
Three months later, after giving due notice, we got married again under the Special Marriage Act, the most valid and foolproof legal provision when people from two religions get married. It is one of the finest pieces of legislation in India. My wife did not give up her faith and our children are brought up as Christians. The two families are one family now.
My story is by no means unique or exceptional. Thousands of people all over the world will have accounts that were far more traumatic and risk-laden --- and all need not have ended in peace.
Yet, I am compelled to narrate in public this deeply personal account, which will bring back harrowing memories to some of the most important people in my life now, because of the monstrous -- for want of any other word -- statement made by the Bishop about "love" and "narcotics". I refuse to malign Islam by using a holy word that has been twisted out of context and attached to "love" and "narcotics".
If we use such diabolic yardsticks in my case, what am I? Are our children victims of some conspiracy that is prefixed with "love" and appended with some term or the other from medieval times? I am glad that I did not make the extra effort to trace that wonderful family that allowed us to get garlanded at their home. What if some conspiracy theorist is their neighbour and he declares that family as persona non grata for helping a Christian and a Hindu to get married 29 years ago?
I find it reprehensible that we are discussing crime rates to profile the religion of criminals. Criminals are criminals. No religion asks their followers to become criminals and drug peddlers.
We should not split hairs. What is there to discuss? I am appalled by those who ask for evidence. Nonsense is nonsense.
I wish the chief minister will be more emphatic in condemning such statements. If we play with words now, we will end up playing with fire.
I am writing this from Calcutta, where Swami Vivekananda was born. In moments like these, we must not forget who we were. Stop this lunacy, please!
My story is not over.
In February 2015, I made another journey from Calcutta to Kerala. I managed to reach the Chrisitian Church in Kottayam on time to take part in the funeral service and pray by the grave of my editor who gave me the best advice of my life and helped me raise a family in Calcutta.
(R Rajagopal is Editor of The Telegraph)