Terror revisited…

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Terrorism
Tags: , , ,

Reading about the German bakery blasts and the terror attack in New Delhi on Monday, brought back a few memories. Some time in early 1986 when I was just a year into journalism, we were sitting around after putting the paper to bed when three clean-shaved young men walked into the then Maharashtra Herald office on Thimayya Road better known as East Street.

They said they wanted to check out some affordable, rented accommodation and asked if they could go through the classified pages of the newspaper, which then was the only local newspaper in Pune, worth its name.

So as they flipped through the pages we asked them what kind of place they were looking for. They said they were looking for something quiet and nondescript, where the rents would be low as they were all college students and couldn’t really afford steep rents.

Salunke Vihar, the AWHO society was still relatively unknown but since I had a friend who stayed there I got to know that rents were affordable and being an Army colony, and still a little secluded there was some semblance of security. We too had decided to move there once my aunt retired from her job at Hindustan Antibiotics in 1987, because it was just a few kilometres from the MH office and would be more convenient for me.

I, being the ‘ever-helpful’ type (!), piped in, “Why don’t you try Salunke Vihar, the rents are affordable and three of you could easily afford to stay there?”

These polite young men chatted with us a little more, thanked us and left. By the next day we had forgotten about them and our life went back to its mundane existence of deadlines, leads and headlines!
Then in August 1986, Gen Arunkumar Vaidya was shot in Pune and like I had mentioned in an earlier blog, our editor S.D. Wagh had also got a threatening letter, so our office was chock-a-block with securitymen.

A few days later, we were standing outside the office in the evening, doing a little ‘bird-watching’ when two youths on a motorcycle slowed down as they passed our office and looked inside. A colleague rudely gestured at them questioningly, asking what they were looking at. The motorcyclists sped away.

Quite a few months later, we were in office when we heard that there had been a shootout in Pimpri, on the national highway and two men had been arrested. The cops announced that they had cracked the assassination of Gen Vaidya and Congress leader Lalit Maken.

A few days had passed when, (I think it was) Taher Shaikh who was covering the case, brought pictures of the three suspects to office, before and after they had been arrested. One set had them heavily bearded and in the other set of pictures they were shaved. I had no recollection of ever seeing these ‘terrorists’, but it was one of my colleagues who exclaimed, “You remember these guys? They had come to our office one night, wanting to go through our classifieds!”

Then another said that these were the same guys on the motorcycle who were looking into our office, that day when we were standing outside. Again, I had no recollection since I had more interesting stuff to watch on East Street than two weirdos on a bike!

Later, of course, I was horrified and a little flattered, because I mistakenly (and pompously) believed that if these were the same three guys, they had actually taken my advice and moved into Salunke Vihar – bang opposite the home of Gen Vaidya. He, of course, soon moved out of there into a bungalow in Koregaon Park, but they obviously kept tabs on his whereabouts even after that, till they finally shot him. Someone suggested in jest that I should go to the cops. When I didn’t even remember their faces I would hardly make a credible eyewitness!

I was then a fresher and too cocky trying to be a ‘journalist’. Now, I might think twice if someone asked me something, even if it’s not remotely suspicious, like the time! That’s what journalism does to people! But bizarre as it may seem, the faces of terror are just like yours and mine, aren’t they? How do you know that the person who asks you for information in the middle of a busy street is not a helpless citizen but a trigger-happy nut-case?

Gautam Sathe a friend who died some months ago had once described to me how he had escaped certain death thrice on the same night when Pakistani terrorists hit Mumbai in 2008. He added rather philosophically, “I really don’t know when I leave home in the morning, whether I’ll be back home alive in the evening.“

That’s the price the ordinary citizen has to pay, for the follies of the political class.

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