Some memories never fade away. It's been 30 years, yet it seems as if it happened only yesterday. As a seven-year-old in Amritsar in June 1984, I was looking forward to my birthday cake for which the order had been placed in advance. But it never arrived. Who stole my cake, I wondered.
Back then, I did not know exactly what curfew meant; yet, I knew that it was the curfew that had consumed my cake. And since then, on every birthday, I miss my lost cake.
Over the years, I have learnt the meaning of a curfew and the circumstances that lead to imposing it. I learnt why there were no celebrations on my birthday that year. I still remember certain questions I would pester my mother with during those days of curfew that have since come to be known as Operation Bluestar.
I would wonder where the sound of crackers came from during those days? Why were there so many army vehicles, tanks and soldiers armed with guns headed to? My mother would mumble an incoherent answer and look at my father. Seeing the anxiety on my face, my father would say, "No, they are not crackers. That's the sound of gunfire at the Golden Temple, where the army has moved in."
I would go back to my room, puzzled, thinking what dad meant. I had often been to the Golden Temple so what was going on there now? Though we lived in Putlighar, quite a distance from the shrine, we could hear the noise of gunfire. It was hot and on top of it, there was no electricity. Even the phones, we had only landlines at that time, were dead; so there was no contact with anyone, no friends and nowhere to go to.
On several nights, my mother would sit waving a hand fan so that we could sleep; we slept out in the open. As the night advanced, we often saw flares light up the sky. Gradually, I and my brother would drift to sleep. And our maali bhaiya would sometimes offer to wave the hand fan, "Bibiji, aap araam karlo, mein inke pass baith jata hoon." He worked in a blanket-weaving factory nearby, which was closed indefinitely due to the curfew.
Since we were close to the Amritsar cantonment, we would often see army vehicles drive past. We would wave to the soldiers. On one occasion I distinctly remember my brother came rushing in breathless and shouted: "Mom, darwaza band karlo, tank apne ghar aa jayenge."
Because of the curfew, we did not have enough provisions. Then, one evening, an officer drove in and delivered vegetables, ice, flour besides other essentials. There was a sigh of relief.
After several days, the family went to the Golden Temple. What I saw is still etched in memory: blood stains, bullet marks, a shattered Akal Takht, broken pillars, foul smell and no pigeons. I asked no questions. And 30 years later, many questions still remain unasked, and unanswered.