Archiving Indira - and remembering the 3,000 deadOctober 31st, 2008 - 6:41 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Oct 31 (IANS) It wasn’t just an assassination, it was a cataclysmic event that claimed 3,000 lives. At the Indira Gandhi Memorial Friday, where India’s only woman prime minister lived and died 24 years ago, it may be business as usual but memories of the dark days following her killing still cast shadows in the afternoon sun.The crowds come chattering in through the metal detector that takes them to the sprawling white bungalow in the heart of the Indian capital that Indira Gandhi had made her home — 1 Safdarjung Road where she lived while she was information and broadcasting minister in the 1960s and during her two stints as prime minister.
It was during her second term as prime minister of the country that Indira Gandhi fell to a hail of bullets from her Sikh bodyguards as she was walking from home to office in the next bungalow on Oct 31, 1984, unleashing a frenzy of mob violence that saw an estimated 3,000 Sikhs being killed in three days in the Indian capital.
Some called them anti-Sikh riots, many others a pogrom that is still blamed on the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv who was sworn in as prime minister just hours after his mother’s assassination.
Twenty-four years later, the charisma of the Gandhis pulls in the crowds by the thousands everyday to the museum dedicated to Indira Gandhi and her son (who lived there for a while with his family).
Friday was no different.
From near and far, from all corners of the world and distant reaches of India they enter the museum, quite unmindful of the import of the day. They make their way through the sepia tinted photographs chronicling the heady days of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and Indira Gandhi’s father, through her book-lined study and elegant dining room, through the memorabilia that made up her life.
And a hush begins to descend.
The mustard, black bordered handloom sari she wore when she was killed is displayed, a little blotchy and with some holes, along with simple black sandals and an embroidered cloth bag.
That’s where people pause to take a look. Like the young schoolboy from Mizoram who stands in a corner, perhaps taking it all in and remembering lessons learnt in textbooks.
Another turn and the visitor is face to face with the tattered remains of Rajiv Gandhi’s kurta pyjama and the sneakers he was wearing when a suicide bomber killed him in Tamil Nadu in May 1991.
The chatter slowly dies down.
As visitors step out of the bungalow and walk towards the connecting bungalow - 1 Akbar Road - that was Indira Gandhi’s office the conversation gets more muted.
“I think we are going towards the place she was killed,” Mamta, a young girl from Pune, tells her sister and mother hesitantly.
The last walk down the pathway to her office that Gandhi took is laid with crystal, to freeze into the memory of the nation that one moment that felled her - and with her many thousands. Just short of a sentry gate, where Beant Singh and Satwant Singh stood waiting for her to gun her down, is a clear sheet of glass where she slumped to the ground.
Some walk past the spot - covered with flowers - maybe in a hurry to get home or to the next stop on their itinerary. But many stop, try to read the words of a speech inscribed in glass and suddenly realise — hey, this is her death anniversary.
Moved by the solemnity of the occasion, a couple from Nepal bend down and touch the flowers in reverence. Seeing them, a young boy follows suit and then his mother, father and grandmother too.
Dressed in a pink silk sari with her hair covered, Indira Gandhi smiles down from a portrait. The sun filters through the trees and a gentle breeze rustles the rose petals. Perhaps someone is also mourning the deaths of the 3,000 Sikhs who died as retaliation for her.