Friday, July 17, 2009

A marriage that took 4 years

Let me tell you a little bit about Siraj. Born in a very large impoverished muslim family, he came to an aunt’s house as a little kid. His mother was a house help and little Siraj was a good companion for all the boys of the house. I remember going there in the evenings and playing football every evening. Sometimes in the summers he used to take my aunt’s son and me to a mango orchard nearby. We never really ate too many mangoes but it was an enjoyable experience anyway. We always believed he knew the place’s owner. Obviously not. One summer we were caught sitting there and my aunt was duly informed. All I remember of the episode is a lot of shouting and screaming, most directed at Siraj and some towards her son.
Then I came back from boarding school one summer and Siraj was gone. I never paid too much attention to it. Theirs was a huge joint family and the servants were often attached to a small part of it. He probably moved when they left for Patna. My aunt's son and I busied ourselves playing football videogames now and gradually forgot about him. I have to admit, I never asked for him, although a month later I overheard my mother talking about how he was about to be married. That put rest to any doubts I’d had about him running away.
The next time I met Siraj, he’d sprouted a beard. He insisted it was deliberate, but I was of the opinion that it was there due to nature’s insistence. We nodded at each other and shook hands. After the regular greetings asking of each other’s health, I ventured to ask him where he’d been. He grinned widely.
“I’d gone to get married, Vaibhav!”
“4 years you were getting married?”
“A lot of things happened in between…. I was…..”
I never got to hear about what happened “beech”mein. He was called inside the house for some errand and turbulent teenager that I was, I quickly forgot about it and never mentioned it again.
That was 8 years ago. Jharkhand was one year old. I was 14, and Siraj in his early 20s. We’ve had a lot of polite encounters since, nothing more than a few words. The ducks changed all that. Now that I’d provided him with a reason to laugh at me, I could freely converse with him again.
We were sitting in the verandah again. Darkness has descended and he’s got some free time which he spends noisily sipping tea.
(The following conversation has been translated into English)
“Siraj!You’ve left for a long time to get married.”
“Haha! To get married. I was gone for 4 years Vaibhav. I did a lot of things.”
“What things?”
“I went to jail for one….”
“Jail! Hahaha… caught for thievery?”
Sera looks at me quizzically.
“Vaibhav! You really don’t know too much do you? You should sit and watch these ducks man. Maybe they’ll do it again.”
Sera got up and started to leave. At the door he stopped.
“I had joined the AJSU. Got caught in Gumla for provoking a riot. Two years I was in jail. Babu got me released when Jharkhand was formed.
AJSU. The All Jharkhand Students Union. Founded in 1986, the organization was responsible for changing the way agitations were held for the demand of a separate state. Disillusioned by the infighting and turmoil in previous Jharkhand political parties the AJSU were responsible for more militant agitations in Jharkhand in lieu of the demand for a separate state. By the 90s though aligned with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha the AJSU were contesting elections under JMM banner.
A few days later Siraj was the one who got my cup of tea. Better armed, more knowledgable and in the mood for a conversation, I picked up from where we’d left off. Although cagey about talking to me after our previous debacle, Siraj told me that he’d joined the Jharkhand Qaumi Tahrik as a party worker on the insistence of some of his friends. The JQT was a one of the first organizations to voice the demand for a separate state. Riding on the popularity of the AJSU, they blended into the same during the time of the protests. It was during one of these protests at Gumla during a lathi charge that Siraj had been arrested and put in jail labelled a ‘terrorist’.

I asked him how he hadn’t been released sooner. Most captured during the riot were released on bail or on dropped charges.
Slowly Siraj got up. He picked up my empty cup and looked at me.
“A thousand people must have been put in jail that day. The people who got released were all, big shots in the party. We were just workers. Truthfully, we had been told to react to violence with violence. So, we suffered. You could say I got what I deserved. Anyway, all that is done now. Jharkhand will soon be 9 years old. A lot has happened since, but not much has changed. Our lives are pretty much the same.”
He walked off. I looked out into the evening, trying to think about all the things that had happened. I tried to piece together our conversation, wondering what I had missed. It was only when the azaan started that I realized what Siraj had meant.