For Arundhathi Rao (wife of BGR) the teaching experience at the South Indian Cultural Association School was highly satisfying and memorable. Most of the teachers at the school were the qualified wives of officials of different companies, banks and insurance companies who had come on transfer to Indore from different parts of the country. It was in fact a congregation of women from States like West Bengal, UP, Delhi, J&K, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The school earned a very high reputation in teaching and expanded fast. Both the sons of BGR picked up excellent Hindi and they continue to speak fluently in the language even today. The BGR family had an occasion to visit Indore after a gap of ten years. They found the school having shifted to a new building with lot of open space. It had grown up to become an excellent institution in the city. In fact it was difficult to secure a seat in the highly popular school!
The Nightmare of Anti-Sikh Riots
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had announced the killing of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the early morning of 31st October 1984. However, Doordarshan took its own time to make the official announcement. But the news had already spread fast and the entire nation was in a shocked state of affairs. In Indore all the schools were closed and the children were sent home. The bank staff also went home early and a holiday was announced for the next day.
A new clerk called Jayashree Chakravarthi from Delhi had joined BGR’s branch just in the previous week. Her husband was working in Bank of Baroda. She had attended the office for 2-3 days when her daughter was reported to have fallen sick and admitted to a nursing home. The BGR couple decided to visit the nursing home as the day was declared a holiday. The two left behind their sons Adarsh (12 years) and Anil (10 years) and went on a scooter to the nursing home at 10 am. It was located at about 3 kms from BGR’s office.
As BGR couple was entering the nursing home they found Chakravarthi coming out with her daughter and husband. The daughter had fully recovered and had been discharged. Chakravarthi insisted on their visit to her residence for having a cup of tea. The two visited her house and spent about half an hour and left the place thereafter. BGR passed his branch on the way and was driving his scooter further towards his home when his vehicle was stopped by one of his clients. He asked BGR where he was going and BGR told him that he was returning home.
The client pointed towards the western side about 100 meters away. BGR saw smoke and huge flames rising up to 30 feet height. The client told BGR that there were riots everywhere in the locality and several people from the Sikh community had been killed and their properties destroyed. BGR then realised that the streets were totally empty. He told the client that he had to somehow reach home as his two young sons were alone at home.
BGR drove fast for another km, when another person stopped him and advised him not to proceed further. He told it was extremely dangerous to go further. Nevertheless BGR drove the scooter fast in his anxiety to find his sons safe. On the way he found several vehicles burnt, shops looted and roads blocked. But BGR managed to sneak through with his two-wheeler, when some more persons stopped him and told him not proceed further. At this stage BGR’s wife was totally frightened and became nervous. But BGR convinced her that they had to reach home somehow and drove fast for another 4 kms to reach Yeshwant Nivas Road. It was a wide road and found to be peaceful.
It was a question of driving another 1 km for BGR now. However, he had to take a turn at the end of the road. As he took the turn, he found smoke everywhere and huge flames rising to the skies. But he managed to reach home safely. To the couple’s huge relief the two sons were found safe at home. They had also heard about the riots and were worried about the safety of their parents. The Landlord of the house Mr. Sancheti took them to the terrace from where they could see smoke and huge flames engulfing almost the entire city.
BGR came to know that the riots had started in the early morning and the rioters targeted the houses/offices/properties of the Sikh community. The moment the community came to know about the riots many of them left the city. Some of them even moved towards Punjab. But many of the people left behind were killed and their properties looted/burnt. As the telephones went totally dead, no one could contact their relatives/friends/colleagues/police. There was absolutely no police action and the rioters had a field day moving around freely. Only at the end of the day night-curfew was imposed in the city.
BGR was much worried about his Sub-Manager Dalbir Singh and his family. He was also worried about his branch premises as it was owned by a Sikh gentleman. However, he could not get any information till the third day when the curfew was lifted and the telephone lines were restored. The Section 144 was still in place. BGR immediately contacted a gentleman called Prof.Tripathi who was staying next to the branch building. He told BGR that many buildings owned by the Sikh community were burnt down in the locality including Syndicate Bank, Oriental Insurance Company, Mephil Hotel, etc. In fact Syndicate Bank had lost everything as all the records and ledgers had been burnt down. However, to the great relief of BGR, Canara Bank building remained untouched even though it also belonged to a Sikh gentleman.
BGR also collected the information that in certain areas the Sikh community grouped together in large buildings and took care of themselves by guarding the building 24 hours holding guns. Dalbir Singh, Sub-Manager of BGR’s branch, had stayed in one such building and his family remained safe. BGR was totally relieved on hearing this good news.
BGR received transfer orders in May 1985 posting him as Sub-Manager in Chamarajpet Bangalore branch. He had already submitted his appraisal for promotion to Scale-III. He was told by the DM at Bhopal that considering his excellent performance at the branch, a strong case had been made out for his promotion. The family flew back to Bangalore after completion of five-year assignment outside Karnataka. The Navlakha branch had witnessed tremendous progress under the stewardship of BGR. The branch crossed the targets in both 1984 and 1985 and it became eligible for a Sub-Manager on the performance for the second year. Finally it became eligible for a car on the basis of performance in the 3rd year. But by the time the new car arrived at the branch, BGR had already bid adieu to Indore and landed in Bangalore!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
2nd October 2012