Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sanjay Ghosh has been kidnapped

It was the final year of my graduation. We were due to leave college in another three months. Naïve and enthusiastic, we had entered the mouth of the machine three years ago. Well-oiled, it moved on soundlessly all this while, and in the end spewed us out. We had been fed with all kinds of scrap from and puked it out with unfailing regularity. The whole place was one giant cesspool. And yet, now that we had to leave, we were unhappy.

Well, not unhappy, exactly. Just apprehensive at the thought that a still more gigantic machine was lying in wait for us, jaws open. Ofcourse, machines by themselves are fairly benevolent in nature. You pop in, go through the all the motions of whatever there is to go through. And out you go, a well-turned out product of the ultimate finishing school. One machine to another, the assembly line moves effortlessly. School, college, work, marriage, children, obligation, custom, service…At that time, I did not consciously think of all this. Perhaps I was still young enough to think that I could escape. Or maybe I did not even know what I wanted to escape. All I felt was a vague kind of dissatisfaction, and occasionally a twinge that this is not what I wanted to do.

And yet, what did I really want to do? I wanted to be brave and penniless. I wanted to spend my life writing. No interruptions, no full stops. I wanted to help people. It was the ultimate fantasy - self sacrifice, heroism. Ah, she never married, you know. Too devoted to her work. We need more people like her for this country.

Then one day, in December, we saw a poster on our bulletin board. Recently, ULFA militants had kidnaped Sanjay Ghosh, a leading activist of an NGO working in Assam. Though his work had been apolitical in nature, and essentially involved organising people for better soil and water management, for some strange reason, he had been abducted. It was now three months since the kidnapping, and there had been no demands, no news. People feared that the militants had taken him, merely to 'set an example.' Now his colleagues were mobilising public opinion to force the Central Government to take some decisive action. And there was a meeting to be held in our auditorium that afternoon.

I arrived a little late, to find that hardly any seats had been occupied. A shorthaired spectacled woman was speaking earnestly. I learnt that she was Jennifer Liang, one of Sanjay Ghosh's closest friends. Along with her, was her brother Lawrence. I knew Lawrence very slightly. He was the star speaker of the National Law school, and trounced opponents routinely at all debates. His presence here impressed me. So did Jennifer's sincere speech about their work in Assam and Sanjay's kidnapping. Student activism of any kind being virtually unknown on our campus, this was our first exposure to any kind of heroism. And were we impressed! Stories read long ago, Nam and anti-war activists, hippies and protest marches, floated through my mind.

After a peaceful talk, we dispersed to meet at a silent protest meeting that evening. There were students from all over the city, artists and writers, folk dance troupes…It was as far removed from our daily college routine as possible. We vowed to fight to the finish, to get the government to make some move. Pamphlets screamed, Where is Sanjay Ghosh? We lighted lamps and pledged that we would not rest until the truth was known.
Looking back, I cringe in embarrassment. How could we ever have thought that we would make any difference? Not in the sense of making a slumbering government take any notice of our feeble protests. But even within ourselves. What kind of strength did we think we had?

Every day brought with it all its accompanying rituals – eat, sleep, go to college, go to bed. Exams, birthdays, parties. Scraped knees, colds and aches, snot, blood, germs. French classes, music tuitions, newspapers, television. All these are the powerful weapons that life employs. Somewhere on life’s surface, a fissure begins, and the lucky few who slip, evade the blunt edge of these. The rest of us are in equilibrium, and we walk on a smooth plain, running on the same spot forever.

Meetings, protests, the travails of other people…they are powerful too. That day, they made a small dent in our lives. Yet, soon enough, we covered those dents and continued walking. The letters that we were all supposed to post on behalf of Sanjay, to various authorities, remained on my table for a long time. Finally, in April, I picked up the guts to throw them away. After that, I was able to evade all letters from the Sanjay Ghosh foundation without any difficulty. It was my life, after all.

For a few months, Sanjay remained a juicy morsel for the media, getting downgraded from front page to page three to page seven single column. What happened to him, we never came to know. But his kidnapping put me face to face with myself. And it was too late to wish that I had never looked.

1 comment:

Anjali said...

Very moving piece, apu.