TWENTY-FIRST MAY 1991 – A TRIP DOWN THE MEMORY LANE


Twenty-first May 1991 will remain etched in my memory for ever. Yes, on this day the most monstrous murder of Ravjiv Gandhi and several others by a suicide bomber took place in a Chennai suburb, Sriperumbudur. Such political murders have taken place in our country much too often. Rajiv’s mother Indira Ghandhi was assassinated by her own security guards. A year after he got us the independence, the Father of the Nation Mahathma Gandhi too was brutally murdered. That way Rajiv’s murder is one among the long list of gruesome murders and it shouldn’t stir up my mind every year. But there is a reason why this murder kindles my thoughts every year. Between 1988 and 1991, I was working at the National Clearing Cell (NCC) and was part of a team that worked between 10 PM and 6 AM on night shifts to manually sort the cheques in the clearing house. I hope you know how the clearing of cheques was done at the NCC, a highly automated and computerized entity. The hullabaloo and the commotion that was part of the Clearing House at the Annexe Building was history by then. The high speed sorters and the high speed printers had replaced the dust and din of the traditional clearing functions. Excepting on days when we confronted glitches in the automated system, the shift would be over by midnight or the early hours of the next day and we would be dropped home by the Bank’s van. We followed the procedure of dropping our sister-colleagues first and follow a route that encompassed the Bank’s residential colonies – PH ROAD, KK NAGAR and BESANT NAGAR. As we get dropped daily we had the chance to glance through the night life of Chennai. Since it was a team work and a team work aimed at closing early, there was absolute camaraderie amongst us irrespective of the cadre. There was seriousness and there was fun. There was humor and there was hilarity and there was harmony and there was dissonance. Those were my most joyous days and to me it was memorable mix work and pleasure. While I am unable to recall all the names of people with whom I worked and shared a healthy relationship, I remember few of them by name. M.Hariharan, R.Bhakthvatchalu, Wajihuddin, Rajavelu Mudaliar, Mani. Mahendran are the workmen staff and Kaza Sudakar, Ganesh, R.Gandhi are the officer staff whom I am able to recall as of now. Hope others will pardon me. I think I am digressing. I must come to the point why Twenty-first May 1991 will remain etched in my memory for ever. Yes on that day we were saved from the rioting mob by the brave, thoughtful and skillful driving of the Driver of the Vanl, Mr. Balasubramanian, an ex-serviceman. But for his skillful drive we would have been attacked and harmed by the mob which was protesting the murder of Rajiv Gandhi that took place few hours ago. As we left NCC around midnight we were aware of the sad news. Yet we ventured to get dropped without knowing the gravity of the situation outside. The first dropping point was KK Nagar quarters and as we passed through the Kodambakkam Over Bridge, we could see cars and four wheelers burning on either side of Arcot Road. This was a warning for us for not to proceed further. Yet, we drove down further for fear that our van would be mobbed and burnt if we choose to stop or reverse. There was the stone- throwing and torch wielding-mob right in front of our van threatening to burn down our van. But our driver Balu called upon us to duck for cover from the stones and missiles thrown at us and drove fast on the road taking a zigzag path to escape from the mob. By driving fast, he was able to scare the mob and move ahead of the chasing crowd. At the ‘power house’ bus stop a large boulder hit the wind screen and was smashed. A large casurina pole was also thrown into the van. Braving all these attacks, Balu drove fast and reached the Ashok Nagar Police station. At the Police Station there was none to take our complaint and the few cops who were guarding the station told us to drive away to a safer place. Perhaps Police Station was not a safe place then. Continuing our perilous journey we reached the KK Nagar staff quarters and took refuge in the premises of our Quarters. Thank God, all of us escaped unscathed. I remember the Gentleman who gave us the refuge. It was P.R.Srinivasan, the Khadi-clad Gandhian popularly known by his initials, PRS. At the dead of the night he entertained us with tea and snacks and we shared with him our escapade from the marauding mobs that went about destroying public and private properties that night. By all accounts it was a harrowing experience for us and I can say that we did escape from the jaws of horror on that night thanks to Balu, who drove the van skillfully and with presence of mind and saved our lives. I will be happy if someone who shared that chilling experience could throw more light.

– Mushtaq Ahamed