I became a “Volunteer”



Sometimes a verse or two can stir the mind and call back the days gone by - even make one to relive them. This morning, groping in the dark, I stumbled on Tunisian poet Abou Kassem Chebi’s verse:    
“Once the people wills life,
Destiny must succumb,
No more shall reign the dark of the night,
No more shall we by the chains be bound.”
The verse written some eighty years back has been part of “literature of resistance to the French protectorate imposed on Tunisia in 1883”.  It very subtly conveys that nations need genuine ‘will to life’ for changing their world rather than “lament.” Moreover, this will to life starts from below rather than from   top. Our history is punctuated with instances of the movements having been started by common folks rather than by the elite.  I am reminded of December 1963.
  Sometime back, I did write how in wee morning hours of December 27, 1963 when everything around had frozen I overheard people outside the barbers shop talking about “stealing”   of the Holy Relic from the Hazratbal shrine.  I have very vivid impression about the day, the frosty majestic Chinar trees   stripped to the core had their own shimmer, and the humble shingled roofed houses with chandeliers of icicles had their own royal touch. The frozen icy streets looked liked big sheets of glass and the tiled lane that led to our house resembled a big patterned mirror. I remember,    unmindful of the gravity of the news I overhead, taking every step cautiously, like a toddler I walked on the glassy road to my house. Shared the news with my mother  - either she did not believe the news or under a shock  could not realize its impact and  asked me to go for the tuition at Bulbul Lankar. 
I walked through maze of lanes, passing through historic part of the city, to my teacher’s house. Enroute there was an eerie feeling in the atmosphere - as good an eeriness that often blanketed our part of city on the arrest of a leader with groups of men on roadsides closeted to each other.
The room, where my teach Labroo Sahib tutored students had only one window and it opened towards the canal. To allow more light into the room, while teaching us he often kept latticed window open. From the window, one could see only vast tracts of vegetable farms, during summers these were verdant and during winters as desolate as deserts. Sitting inside the clay daubed room one could hardly know about happenings on the streets.
It was by eleven, with the sack of books slinging from my shoulder I strolled back to home through labyrinth of lanes and by lanes. Silence had descended on all lanes that otherwise despite freezing cold came to life before noon with boys playing games. The minor vendors inside the lanes had pulled down shutters of their shop. As I approached the main road, the uproar started becoming louder - thousand had converged on the lawns of the Jamia Masjid and maddening crowds from far and distant villages shouting full throat slogans were moving through the streets towards Hazratbal shrine. Half a million people were on streets by mid-noon. 
Reaching home, I dropped the sack of books in the foyer and joined my friends at our favourite crossing - Khoja Bazar chowk.  The elders of the locality were discussing making arrangements for food and shelter for the night for protestors from village. The boys eagerly waited for direction from elders. Each one of us wanted to become a volunteer. The word volunteer in our childhood had become as good part of our lingua franca as curfew and bunker during nineties.  Perhaps, it had become part of our lexicon in mid thirties or early forties when people’s fight against autocracy was at its peak. Names of many political workers – both men and women were suffixed with word volunteer; some of the names live in my memory to this day. Tales of chivalry of some political volunteers who had courted arrests or challenged powers that be had become part of our folklore. Moreover, being a volunteer or a “razakar” was place of pride.
The boys were assigned the job of collecting food grains, other eatables - something we had mastered at during “hupa-hupa’ collections. All of us tied black pieces of cloth on our arm – collected rice and eatables from all houses in a tumbrel..I remember by late night food was ready for thousands…  Thinking about organizing capacity of people of my birthplace makes me feel proud.

Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 23 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST

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