Curfew Days

Two days ago, India celebrated her 73rd Republic Day-a day when the constitution came into force in the seventh largest in the world, second largest if one were to consider the population (or is it the largest, one can never ascertain owing the many misses in the survey), and a country that boasts of being the largest democracy! Republic Day celebration is momentous and all over the country one can witness the tricolour being unfurled, men, women, children, attired in colours of saffron, white and green, singing and shouting slogans and glorifying the nation while the beautiful flotilla of tableaux from several Indian states and display of military strength by the President’s residence is a sight to behold. However, if you were to ask any person who grew up in the north-eastern part of the country during the 90s and early 2000s, Republic Day (as well as Independence Day) meant the glory of empty main streets, frenzy of the evening before when parents would hurriedly gather all that they possibly could from the market, enveloping eerie silence across the several small towns dotting the hills and valleys of North-East India and muffled fears.

While the country would celebrate the grandeur in vivid hues and earthshattering display of pomp, we, joyous children and worried elders from the remote North-East India, would sit at home barred from stepping out owing the curfew that used to be declared each Republic and Independence Day!

As mindboggling as curfew sounds, we were quite content with the arrangement, were I to share from the experiences of children from that era. Confined at home (partially), we would watch the Republic Day parade on Doordarshan and mainlanders (as we uncannily refer to the rest of the populace outside the North-East) cheering and smiling. The afternoons then, and surprisingly even now, would play the same movies on patriotism year after year. Often our parents would lament that we were missing out on the celebration which they would witness when they were younger, smiling at the cherished recollection of distribution of sweetmeats after the celebration.

In all honesty, and much to your dismay, we considered ourselves lucky to not go to school on Independence Day, unlike mainland Indian children, having celebrated it a day before (preposterous given the narrative that we hear these days), and Republic Day would be in the middle of a two-and-a-half-month-long winter vacation! Praise be to God! Perhaps our elders, I suspect, surreptitiously, enjoyed the curfew too-it allowed them to return home earlier the previous evening and, God-forbid, if some untoward militant activity, quite customary then, were to occur, the holidays would extend for days.

Something that fascinated me, and a fact a school friend and I were recently reminiscing about, was the fanatic obsession with buying bread and milk before the curfew. The elders would hasten to the grocers’ and frantically bought bread and milk which, they mysteriously presumed, would see the family through the unknown! I merrily remember how the older children would make any flat stretch of road their cricket or football ground. Manna from heaven for them! That our locality was the most peaceful in the town with an added advantage of just one entry and exit preventing the miscreants from playing havoc was a true blessing. Curfew days were also filled with happy visits from neighbours-an act of bravado, a defiance, boredom, I have never been able to fathom. Be that as it may, it got people together otherwise busy in their busyness and were there to occur some untoward incident, gunshots that I remember from August 2000, the family and neighbours would huddle together to watch the evening local news, ‘City Scan’. Sighing, exclaiming, dependent upon the local news, we’d animatedly discuss all possible outcomes and patiently (perhaps) wait for the curfew to end. August 2000 was also a time when schools remained shut for more than fifteen days around Independence Day, and when life was limping back to normalcy curfews, customary for the next weeks, began at noon the first week, 1 pm the next. Not lamenting the disruption I secretly celebrated missing some lessons at school taken by a teacher, strict as hell could be!

Those were the days.

Now, older and wiser, I do know that bandhs and curfews are not largely associated with camaraderie and amazement but being sheltered at home in a peaceful neighbourhood during the era of no-worries we had little to no qualms. It was only after leaving home for mainland India that I witnessed the Republic and Independence Day celebrations, amazed at the opulence, and simultaneously amazing my fellow mainlanders with tales of complete closure back home! The North-East is full of surprises, they exclaim, and I, not disagreeing, add an enrichingly pleasant in my head, fondly remembering the carefree curfew days.

Image Credit: Peter H from Pixabay

27 thoughts on “Curfew Days

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    1. Damn, your childhood was so different from mine. Being raised in the North-East really is something else, huh?

  1. did you grow up in Kashmir? That’s the only place I know of curfews for these celebrations … I recall a very memorable one in Bihar 🙂

      1. ah near Nagaland and Bhutan, got it … never been to that area but must be very beautiful!

        Seeing curfews or lockdowns as fun adventures is the ideal attitude 🙂

  2. I found it interesting that you bought bread and milk before the holiday. It’s sort of like stocking up on basic essentials for the pandemic. It makes me wonder: Were the shelves denuded and laid bare of goods? Was there a run on everything basic that was also edible?

    — Catxman

    1. Thankfully the shelves weren’t rendered empty, the little that I recall. Interestingly when I was writing this I was reminded of the great Toilet Paper crisis in US and essential items crisis all across the world. I have often fathomed the strange obsession with bread and milk, perhaps they were considered manna from heaven during my growing up days. But being a child then, it all sounded fun because we had parents to cushion us from everything else. Being a hill town, most grew vegetables at home, neighbours did share their produce and it was mostly milk and bread, utmost, that found buyers. Funny when I think about it.

  3. I can only imagine the glee of children in missing school…. And the despair of parents because of such.

    Strange isn’t it, when we find that other places don’t do the same to what were used to growing up with?

    1. Like they say India is an extremely extreme country. North-eastern India is never in the news and very little is actually known about the quotidian life there.

    1. I am so glad! True, those days used to be filled with fun and wonder. It would sounds quite strange to someone to imagine that curfews were actually fantastic. 😀

      1. They are in the other parts of the country and definitely other parts of the world.
        There it was routine and the earlier scare had trickled down to another holiday! 🙂

  4. Different countries celebrate, constrict and control the actions of its people.
    Thank you for your recall and explainations. It is difficult for outsiders to know what is really going on because I believe reporters really do tell bias stories.

    1. Oh reporters tend to sensationalize everything, marketing the strong sentiments are their selling points. What we need in the world is perhaps more happier news. 🙂

      1. Some papers and news channels have good news stories. But as you say a selling point – good news is not sensational for the majority.

        I do like reading about when someone helps another. Especially unexpectedly or the ‘gifter’ remains (or tries to remain) annoymous.

        One ad for a food place promoting ‘family’ – one of the staff won a car, and gave it to another staff member who didn’t have one and had been biking to work. There is more good than folks know… It would be nice to have more good news printed for examples for the younger folks to learn from. 🙂

      2. True! There is a lot of good news around. I read a newspaper (online) called The Better India, they have happy positive news around the country, something we need after mostly what we hear is the tragic, angry news.

        And my YouTube recommendations are always times when humanity will surprise you, animals being taken care of, Dodo Channel 😀

  5. How did I miss this post!
    Kudos to you for writing about this so positively. I really feel quite bitter about all these experiences.
    The curfews had become so common that we never even realized that something was amiss. You reminded me of buying bread and milk, which I had forgotten. Potatoes also formed an important item. Grocery stores would be crowded, I remember. I’m not able to recall the 15 days school closure in 2020. Was very much in Shillong then. During my school days we did not have school for one whole year! You weren’t born then I guess.
    I do have vague memories of Independence Day and Republic Day being celebrated at Garrison ground and that was when I was a little child. I remember attending with my uncle. Rest of my growing up years and beyond were marked by curfew.

    1. They were so common weren’t they! Oh yes, potatoes, all that we ate were rice and potatoes with mustard oil 😀
      There was this big HNLC issue in the 2000 and I remember hearing gunshots echoing through the silence of the city broken by the sirens of police cars.
      No school for one year!! Perhaps the pandemic and lockdown didn’t surprise us from the NE, we were so used to being indoors 😀
      I have only heard of celebrations at Garrison ground. I believe they have resumed again, at least at Polo.
      You are right, curfews, bandhs, chakka jams were so much a part of our growing up days.

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