Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Uncle Jose (Hosappan to us) was lying sprawled on his rattan armchair, near the window, his feet on the long armrests. The young researchers took the seats around the table in the middle. I was at my usual corner, Hosappan’s diaries on the floor within arm’s reach.
I helped out when I could. I placed the cups of black tea for all, and the two digestive biscuits on each saucer.
Hosappan looked at the boy and the girl.
They said, like chorus, ‘Post-Emergency.’
Hosappan took off his spectacles and stared outside. The deep-set eyes disappeared into the shadows beneath the shaggy eyebrows. His deep voice filled the room. The data was delivered in the precise ways of scholars, without flourish or speculation.  
‘The religious riots of the early eighties took the city by surprise… it took the authorities nearly a week… I liaised between the religious groups, in the ghettos near Chalai and the beach… burnt and hacked bodies… in the early nineties, I was in Delhi, called to handle the protests that revolved around caste-based reservation… during the grotesque Mumbai riots, I was based in Fort, trying to reason with the conflicting parties…’
The two researchers recorded his narrative on a tiny recorder and also, noted every word in their fat notebooks. They seemed more than pleased with the eye-witness accounts, which they would embellish later with, ‘from the thick of action’, ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’.
Every such session was similar. After going through the events of a year, Hosappan would pause briefly. He would shift his gaze to me. The researchers too would turn to me. I would raise my head from the diary pertaining to the discussed year and give a nod, confirming that Hosappan’s memory was perfect and the details were as recorded in those diaries.

‘I was in Quilon… got home by the night shuttle train… the road was deserted… my friends and I walked to my house and drank till morning, bloody hangover… some problem in Chalai… Ah! Delhi, thy name is Aarti… I couldn’t meet her… there was no problem in Dhaula Kuan but I couldn’t get to Delhi Cantt… bloody Bombay, stuck at home, with gastroenteritis…’

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