I was cursing my decision to come to Bhopal that day, a city so dear to my heart. But a brief encounter with a rioting mob that day taught me something that I'll never forget in my life: there can be nothing worse than a riot. You can be butchered by rioters for no rhyme or reason - they may have nothing against you, but will spill your blood just to send across a message or just add to the 'scoreboard' of hatred.
I was in Hoshangabad on December 6, bunking my journalism classes at Bhopal and relaxing. I had no plans to come to Bhopal in the near future, till the mother of a close friend called up. "He is seriously ill, in hospital and wants to see you", she told me in a choked voice.
Soon I came to know that my friend was not ill but had been detained by TT Nagar police in connection with a murder case. In the midst of all this I had completely forgotten about Ayodhya, the huge buildup of kar sevaks at Babri Mosque and the likely fallout of any untoward incident there.
When I got off the bus near Habibganj railway station, I heard some sound of crackers. I wondered what could be the reason for celebration on an innocuous December day. Little did I know that Babri Masjid had been demolished and some people were celebrating. "Jis Hindu Ka Khoon Na Khaule, Khoon Nahin Woh Paani Hai" (If a Hindu's blood doesn't boil on this issue, it's not blood but water) was a slogan written on the walls all over the city by organisers of the Ram temple movement. Frankly, I couldn't see the proverbial 'writing on the wall' then.
On the morning on Dec 7, I went to T T Nagar police station in a mini bus to help my friend get out. Life was absolutely normal, children going to schools, their parents preparing to leave for work. And at TT Nagar police station, the officers relaxing in the open under the December sun - in blissful ignorance of what's happening or going to happen to the nation as a whole.
The scenario, however, started changing drastically as I came back to the residence of my host at 6 No. bus stop. No sooner did I get into his house, there was buzz around and people ran out of their houses. I could see a thick column of smoke and heard people telling each other that a petrol pump in Jehangirabad had been set afire. The riots had begun and so did the rumours.
Children had come back home, shops had put down their shutters and people had locked themselves indoors. At this stage, I committed the mistake that I will remember through my life. I ventured out wondering that till some moments ago everything was so normal -- how could there be riots all of a sudden? The road was deserted. I was standing on the edge of the street, which led to my host's house. Suddenly I saw five to six young men wearing white pyjama kurtas emerging from the slums behind Ankur Complex with swords gleaming in their hands. They seemed to be coming at my direction. I froze, didn't know whether to run (and thereby provoke them), or to stay put quietly and face whatever destiny has planned for me. They came almost up to me and suddenly veered right, where an autorickshaw was parked. They got into the vehicle and sped away, and so did I holding my chappals in my hand.
Later I heard that there was rumour that a bomb had been hurled at the mosque at 5 No. stop and that was where the group of youngsters headed for. Over the next few days, Bhopal witnessed terrible riots that left 140 people dead.