It is 1984. The sky blue door leaning against white cement is the entrance to our noisy family, in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. Boy George is hanging on my bedroom wall with his infinite braids and half-gloved hands, and in the cupboard of my heart George Michael and his Careless Whispers. Thirteen and riding with feelings like the whir of a motorcycle, without a helmet on. I thought I was living dangerously, or at least I wanted to. I stood on the balcony so the boys could see me.
It is 1984. The thirteen-year old boy, clad in a white Kurta-Pajama, knocks on our door with a shiver in his eyes, warning the neighborhood, There’s been a shooting in sector five. We live near sector eight, in an enclave screaming military protection. So we pretend not to be afraid. She has been shot. The bird-like woman with the thunderbolt in her hair, who could bring the world in her palm with one stare. How those sixteen bullets must have rattled in her chest when she snatched a few last gulps of air. Maybe her body is star-studded, like the sky in Nehru planetarium (named after her father), where the white-clad one held my hand till it melted.
It is 1984. We are driving, over the city and through the smog to Dadi’s house. She lives in a Barsaati. Two rooms on a flat roof, sticking out like two teeth with a wide gap in the middle, the kitchen like a tongue touching the roof. As we near the park in front of her house, we hear radio static. Ears are glued to transistors. Listening for a cricket score? India against whom? As steel shop shutters clank and the roads stretch out empty, blood singes air, flying at the speed of light. It’s India against India. Against Indira. Shot in daylight by those who guarded her body.
It is 1984. Our driver wears a turban, mostly sea green. His beard is curly and his smile is friendly. Sometimes I wonder how long his hair is. We have Sikh friends back in Minnesota, like Amarjit uncle, whom I once saw with his hair open, left to dry. His hair is longer than his wife’s. Now he was speeding, our driver, driving for all our lives. As we climb out the car and step towards the sky-blue door, we wave goodbye. And never see him again.
It is 1984. As Chacha and I pace across the flat roof, we spot a mob all red and angry-eyed, chanting, Until the sun and moon remain, our lips will utter Indira’s name. Death to the Sikhs! Death to the Sikhs! And then we see a blur of man, hair on fire like the tail of a comet; bamboo sticks close behind, clacking in uneasy rhythm as they make dents in places.
It is 1984. We are playing cricket carefully because I’m a girl among ten boys plus there are windows nearby. School has been out for a month. Bunny’s house has a big padlock on it. We miss his big toothy smile and wonder if he’s alright. They say he and his family are inside. Without light or heat. Crouched in the dark with the cockroaches. At night I watch from the storeroom window and see a light from his house go on briefly. I want to wave to them but they won’t see me. All they see is hate and blood and fury. Sixteen bullets are rolled around like a dice, losing the lives of many.
It is 1984. Christmas morning and we are jogging in the neighborhood of diplomats, tongues watering at the site of their gourmet garbage. A cardboard carcass proclaims Hawaiian Pineapple, in front of a Jaipur pink cement house, strung with multi-colored lights and an angel pressed against the circular windowpane. We are happy to be alive, as we try to forget about those who aren’t with us. Laughing and running and teasing. That night we all gather around a campfire on the roof, singing Yesterday, life was such an easy game to play…or Father Jesus, where are your sheep, in Bethlehem or Jerusalem? Stars wink at us, in the know, of how we all pretend to be happy.
It is 1985. We race towards the dairy; steel milk cans in hand, swinging like silver lightening. India has a new leader now, the only son left of Indira’s spilled blood. One whom they call young. One who will have his body blasted to bits in 1991. But we don’t know that yet. And though we try to forget, the sky doesn’t let us. Lighting up a star-studded body, night after night.