A Theft that Averted a Riot

‘What have you done with the bomb?’

‘Hid it under this garbage.’

‘Good. I will come back and put it in fire just before Holi puja begins. Let’s leave now.’

And the two sinister looking men departed. Bhaiya lost no time in digging the bomb out of garbage and we ran home with it.

We had moved from Nagpur to Khandwa a few months ago in 1948 soon after the communal tension there because of trouble with Nizam of Hyderabad had subsided. Gandhi ji had been assassinated on 30th January and Khandwa, along with the rest of the country, was still recovering from the shock. Tension prevailed in the town. The colours of Holi would be dilute this year.

Community Holi fires are lit in every Mohalla with residents contributing to it. Traditionally a small ceremonial ‘Holika Dahan’ used to be held privately in our family. My sisters would make small cow-dung-cakes with a hole. These cakes would then be dried in the sun. I, the youngest child of the family, all of six years old then, made concentric garlands of the cakes. A pyramid of these garlands would be made and lit after performing Puja.

Bhaiya quietly inserted the bomb inside the Holika pyramid, sternly cautioning me not to tell anyone. Every child in India is taught to obey his elders unquestioningly. I had no choice but to obey my elder brother.

Puja performed, Holika fire lit, the ritual of roasting wheat stalks over it completed and partaking of holy prasad done, we all retired to our beds on the first floor. The bomb did not go off. I guess the two sinister men were flummoxed at not finding their bomb. At least they were spared the disappointment of their bomb being a dud. But wait a minute! Was the bomb really dud? We found the answer when the midnight peace was shattered with a loud explosion. The bomb had gone off. All of us ran downstairs, Father leading and I bringing up the rear.

The courtyard looked like a battlefield. There was a small crater where Holika fire was lit. The stone floor was completely shattered. Smouldering dung-cakes were spread across the courtyard. Mangled Puja utensils were scattered all over with other minor debris. Father swung in action at once to put out the small fires. In time, we returned to our sanctuary on the first floor. Mother offered prayer to her Gods for not letting the explosion occur while the family was still sitting around the fire.

Every one wondered what had caused the explosion. I could have told them. But my lips were sealed. Suddenly Bhaiya, without even being asked, confessed. He told Father how he had picked up what the two men referred to as bomb, and thinking it was only a big cracker, put it in our own Holi.

Always scared of Father’s rage, I was cowering behind Mother. Father called me to him and admonished me, telling me not to blindly obey such orders. I believe I, an accessory, was let off lightly because of tender age. Thirteen year old Bhaiya of course received harsher punishment. He spent the next few days nursing his blue and black body.

The two of us, Bhaiya and I, probably averted a riot with our innocent theft. Imagine what could happen in those troubled times if the bomb had gone off in a public place.




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