My best friend and I made plans to visit the Pratishirdi Sai Baba Mandir situated in Shirgaon today. It wasn’t really out of character for me. I tend to believe that I’m more of a spiritual person than a religious one. But an occasional visit to a temple never really hurts. I had nothing better to do. And she was pretty convincing: It’s the new year, some praying would definitely help. I bought it.
The drive to the temple was smooth, given that it was the late afternoon and a weekday. Google Maps was my trusty companion as always. Temple visits for me are always a calming experience. There’s something about the ambience there that has an effect on our demeanour. I definitely think we’re better people when we’re inside a temple. Somehow the fear of the superior keeps us on our best behaviours.
I had a lot to pray for this year. I thanked God for a beautiful 2017, asked for an amazing 2018 for my family, friends and myself, and in the end, out of character I did ask him to make the world a better place this year. That’s not normally something I ask for in my prayers to God. I don’t really think beyond my bubble. But then I brushed off the thought assuming I had grown as a person with the passing year.
We drove back without much incident, chatting with our usual selves and listening to a track I’d rediscovered lately: Selena Gomez’s The Heart wants what it wants. We decided to cheat minutely on our respective diets by having coffee. That’s our thing: Having coffee and discussing the days of our lives.
My dad called me out of the blue. He wanted to know where I was. That was surprising to me on many levels, because it’s very easy for him to get that information. We’ve got our phones connected 24/7 with the Life360 app where we can both see our respective locations anytime we want. But then he updated me on latest happenings in our small little suburb of Pimpri-Chinchwad. Apparently, there were violent clashes between two different groups of people in Pimpri over some random issue. I calmed him down saying I’m in Akurdi. That’s like 5 km away.
Even though we had received the cautionary call, we went ahead with our coffee plans, given that everything around us was calm and quiet. But the restaurant owner wanted us to sit inside and not in the open-air seating area. That made us take a double look at our surroundings. Everything was calm and quiet because everyone had shut down their shops. Taking into consideration, the apparent seriousness of the matter at hand, we decided to head to my friend’s house, drop her and then I would proceed to my own house.
The streets were filled with college and school kids, all rushing home. Parents ferrying their young ones on their vehicles, and people generally just packing up and heading home. There was a fast pace in everyone’s gait suggesting the sense of urgency they had.
On arriving at her home, I get to know that the Akurdi and Nigdi Chowks, are all closed by the police to contain the miscreants. My house is located on the other sides of these Chowks. So now I decided to stay for a while at her house, drink that coffee and then head home when things would have calmed down. We parked our cars inside the compound to avoid any misfortune for our vehicles. Better safe than sorry. I called up my brother, asked him to skip tuitions and stay put at home with mother.
As I sunk into the couch in the living room, my first instinct was to google Pimpri-Chinchwad and go to the news tab. So, someone was murdered in clashes between supporters of 2 different political individuals in the village of Koregaon-Bhima on the 1st of January owing to their disagreements on the celebrations of the “Battle of Koregaon”. I sat there dumbfounded.
“Battle of Koregaon” Never heard of it. Next instinct- Google “Battle of Koregaon”. It has its own Wikipedia entry. Wow! Must be something important.
As I read on, I was enlightened about this battle between the British and the Marathas which happened on January 1, 1818, exactly 200 years ago. The Marathas retreated.
That’s confusing: Why would Indians be celebrating the defeat of an Indian army against the British.
It got more interesting as I read further. The British troops consisted majorly of Dalits. So since then, this battle is looked upon by Dalit activists as a watershed moment in their history: the triumph of the low castes on the upper castes (here the Marathas). So, these celebrations have been happening annually for a very long time in independent India. That I was hearing about these for the very first time today through this Wikipedia article was just evidence of my shortcomings as a history student.
Coming back to the present times, someone raised objections on this practice of these celebrations given the history behind it and then things got out of hand, as they always do.
We received WhatsApp forwards of videos of all the violence happening in parts of Pimpri. There was one with a vehicle being torched and the skies filling with dark smoke, and another with crowds with saffron flags chanting “Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji”. There was one particular which drew my interest: A young man, with a plain build, perhaps high on drugs or alcohol, climbing atop a white Alto, his friend handing him a big cement brick and then the young man proceeding to smash the windshield of this car with all the might that his body had to offer. He jumps down from the car, lands on the road and strolls further down the road with a walk that would put a lion to shame. He acts as though he’d accomplished the biggest feat of his life.
At that very moment, I remembered something my father said to me when such similar incidents of rioting had taken place years ago, “Riots are just a medium for the have-nots to vent their pent-up frustration that’s growing inside them because of the miserable lives they are compelled to live.”
My friend’s mom cooked us some delicious Uttapas. I devoured them instantly but only after making a mental note of deleting the carb intake in my dinner tonight. We sat and discussed a plethora of topics: Non-Vegetarian food, how I could actually eat meat, the slaughter of those poor hens, Aunty’s trip to Bhutan, new year celebrations and how yellow the Jejuri castle is.
I drove back home late in the evening. Things had visibly calmed down. We joked the miscreants must be tired after a long day of work. But something stuck in the back of my mind: I prayed for a better world this year this afternoon and how ironic for the year to start on a note like this.