Saving music in the fires of 1984 | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Saving music in the fires of 1984

Eclectic music had so much influence on me in childhood that on reaching adulthood, I would often say that Serge Gainsbourg's immortal love theme, 'Je t'aime… moi non plus' (French for I love you… me neither), which I had first heard in the mother's womb, smoothed my ruffled moods through existence and would play like piped music in my tomb. Writes Vikram Jit Singh.

chandigarh Updated: Nov 05, 2014 10:33 IST
Vikram Jit Singh

Eclectic music had so much influence on me in childhood that on reaching adulthood, I would often say that Serge Gainsbourg's immortal love theme, 'Je t'aime… moi non plus' (French for I love you… me neither), which I had first heard in the mother's womb, smoothed my ruffled moods through existence and would play like piped music in my tomb.

My passion for music was tested by the ironical situation that unfolded on the night of November 2 and 3, 1984, as we packed to flee our house on 24, Mahadev Road, behind Parliament Street in New Delhi.

Golfer Amandeep Singh Johl was staying with us, as he had come over from Chandigarh to play a tournament. My mother, he, and I were to evacuate to 1, Mahadev Road, bungalow of the-then joint commissioner of police, KK Paul. My turbaned brother and late father, then a senior officer with the Government of India, were fleeing to the Rakabganj Road house of a Sikh police officer with a set of armed guards. We feared that the crowds pouring into Delhi for the funeral of late prime minister Indira Gandhi on November 3 would sweep unchallenged through Lutyen's Delhi, murdering and plundering Sikh homes on their way back to villages.

My father's advice was to take along only one suitcase of belongings, into which I first put a change of clothes. The poet in him was stirred beyond metaphor when I chose to pack the rest of it with the best of music records and audio cassettes from our collection. We could not bear the thought of losing these to a vandalising mob. My mother packed her jewellery.

We spent November 3 in the genial company of Omita Paul, now secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee. Her husband had saved our lives on the evening of November 1 when nearly 700 arsonists carrying the addresses of Sikhs living on Mahadev Road (bungalows 3, 8 and 24) had burnt down the first two houses and were coming to our place. Paul, on a patrol in the area, spotted smoke arising from near his residence and he rushed back.

The mob stood outside our house, baying for our blood. Paul had it blocked, and within minutes, sent a posse of armed cops led by a burly Sikh sub-inspector from the Parliament Street police station to our door. That danger passed and the police departed. As night stole in, we put off the lights and deployed domestic helps at the gate.

At about 8pm, 60 to 70 arsonists came down Mahadev Road and caught a Sikh trying to reach Gurdwara Raqabganj Sahib. As he hopped from one bungalow garden to another, the mob spotted him stealing through our neighbour's hedge. It set him ablaze with fuel from a motorcycle and then brought down a huge stone on his head. This mob did not know specifically that Sikhs lived at 24 Mahadev Road but one of them had some inkling; and he asked our servant, who turned him away intelligently by saying: "A Hindu MP lives here and he has gone to his constituency."

Had that mob broken into our house, we had only one firearm to defend us. The rest of the family's guns and rifles were in the armoury, as these had not been retrieved for the hunting season ahead. My right hand was in plaster and only my father could have fired at the murderous mob. Luck favoured us, and a Mozart-ean Requiem Mass for our family was not the musical note that fate had ordained for us that evening.