Loot levels, death divides
Riot spins out of Ahmedabad
Sangh names Ayodhya price
Musharraf rubs salt into Delhi wound
BBC finds suitable drama in Seth novel
Calcutta Weather

Ahmedabad, March 2: 

Mukesh lives to tell story, Hussain does not

Mukesh Bhai has shared Hussain’s losses, but escaped his fate.

The religions of the neighbours made no difference when a marauding mob of 3,000, crying out “Jai Shri Ram”, looted and burned down their homes in the shantytown of Narora two days ago.

But being Hindu gave Mukesh Bhai the right to live and tell the story. Being Muslim took away the same right from Hussain Bhai. He is among the 66 people burned to death in Narora on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on Thursday, nearly half of them women and children.

In sheer numbers, if not in brutality, the Narora killings have overshadowed Gulbarg’s, where rampaging mobs butchered 32 people, including a former Congress member of Parliament, in a housing complex on Wednesday.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s swanky commercial capital and its pride, is not throbbing with life, but with fear. Armed mobs are still roaming the streets, with few policemen in sight. Trucks carrying soldiers in fatigues are few and far between.

In the last three days of rioting, the teeming city, with its myriad milk and ice cream parlours, a symbol of the Gujarati enterprise, has turned into a ghost town, its streets strewn with burnt-out hulks of cars, trucks and autorickshaws. Its face has been disfigured, too, with even hotels and restaurants bearing the burnt scars of mob fury.

Hussain Bhai paid with his life after a mob attacked a train in far-away Godhra carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya on Wednesday and touched off the worst sectarian violence in the country in almost a decade.

“They took away everything — cash, clothes, the television set, even the bowls and pans. Then they took kerosene from our stoves and burned down our home,” Mukesh Bhai said, pointing to the charred remains.

His other Hindu neighbours in the shantytown had their homes looted and torched, too. “They did not spare us. These rioters vandalised my shoe shop before setting it on fire,” Amrut Bhai, a neighbour said.

The carcasses of a Maruti van and an autorickshaw lay in front of Pooja Auto, a garage, now closed.

Mukesh Bhai said the attackers numbered nearly 5,000 and were shouting “Jai Shri Ram” as they rampaged through the colony. He said he and his Hindu neighbours fled when the mob descended on the shantytown.

“When we came back several hours later, they were gone. Our belongings and homes were gone with them, too,” the man said.

But the mob did not let the Muslims escape so easily. While some managed to slip away, the others were trapped with the marauders blocking both ends of a narrow lane slicing through the shantytown.

In cold blood, they doused men, women and children with kerosene and set them afire, killing 66 people. State Reserve Police jawans guarding the deserted shantytown — but for a few Hindu families — pulled out a decomposed body from a burnt-down shack.

“We would not be surprised if we find more bodies here,” said a sub-inspector of police, covering the body in a blanket he found in the ruins. Holding handkerchiefs to their noses, policemen were still poking through the remains with their batons for bodies today.

Gusts of wind blew ashes around and the air was heavy with the stench of death. On the verandah of a house painted yellow hung shirts and shorts of children, swaying in the air. A pair of burnt shoes of a boy sat on a rack inside. No one knows where the children are or whether they are alive.

Joint commissioner of police M.K. Tandon said they had “anticipated” revenge strikes after the Godhra killings, but “not to this extent”. “What can you do when violence breaks out in 200 places instead of 20 that we had anticipated and prepared ourselves for?” he asked.

Vinubhai Lalsingh, who works at the state transport workshop along the shantytown, said the rampage went on for more than six hours but the police made little effort to drive away the mob.


Ahmedabad, March 2: 
Flames continued to leap up from the ashes of Ahmedabad and spread to areas outside Gujarat’s commercial capital, scorching Mehesana, Vadodara and Surat.

At least 28 people in a Mehesana town and 11 in Vadodara were charred in attacks since Friday night, but chief minister Narendra Modi claimed that “Saturday was an incident-free day. No major incident has taken place in 15 districts since last night’’.

Stating that “the situation by and large is under control’’, Modi said this evening curfew has been either lifted or relaxed in eight cities and a fragile peace held in Ahmedabad after the deployment of the army. But the day-long calm in the city was shattered when three people were burnt at Maninagar station and two persons were stabbed.

Officials said the toll has crossed 300 with 125 killed in Ahmedabad alone. As many as 37 people have been killed in police firing, including 13 here since last night. Home minister L.K. Advani will visit Gujarat tomorrow.

Trouble erupted in Sardarpur town in Mehesana district last night after some members of the minority community gathered in a house apparently out of insecurity. But word spread that they were planning an attack. Soon a mob surrounded the house.

A police patrol opened fire, killing one person. But as soon as police left the spot, the people re-assembled and set the house on fire. At least 27 people were burnt alive and several injured.

This morning, 11 persons were killed in Vadodara when a bakery was torched. The owner and his family, who stayed on the floor above, were burnt to death.

Rioters ran amok in Surat, forcing the police to fire 17 rounds in the air. The toll in the textile town rose to six with the recovery of another charred body in a dump. Two persons were stabbed to death today, leading to indefinite curfew in four areas in the city. In Udhna industrial area, more than 11 powerlooms were burnt, a place of worship was pulled down and an electric shop was looted. As many as 37 miscreants were arrested.

As more reports of violence poured in, the chief minister’s claim of calm sounded hollow. Ten persons were killed, including two in police firing, in Godhra, the town where the flare-up started. Defence minister George Fernandes, who visited the town today, said the attack on the train was pre-planned and the involvement of Pakistan’s ISI cannot be ruled out.

Three persons were killed and 36 injured in Bhavnagar town. One person was shot dead at Palanpur in north Gujarat this afternoon after police fired at an unruly mob. There were reports of arson and looting from Bardoli town of Surat and Navsari, too.

Gujarat police have started looking for three UK-based NRIs, who reportedly went missing during the violence while on a visit to Himmatnagar.


New Delhi, March 2: 
The RSS has asked the Centre to remove immediately all “curbs” on kar sevaks who want to travel to Ayodhya for a darshan of Ram Lalla and to participate in the ongoing Purna Ahuti Yagna.

The RSS, which is mediating between the Union government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on the Ayodhya impasse, took a tough stand with the Centre today and stressed that pilgrims must be allowed to enter the town freely.

The administration has locked the gates of the mandir workshop in Ayodhya and claimed that 1,600 kar sevaks have been moved out of the town. If the gates stay locked, the VHP will find it difficult to carry out the vow to take pillars to the disputed site on March 15.

The RSS demand to lift the controls was made at a meeting senior Sangh functionaries H.V. Seshadri and Madan Das Devi had with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani this evening.

After the meeting, Devi released a statement by sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan in which he warned that unless the Centre and all state governments provided the necessary security to the Ayodhya pilgrims and “removed all the hurdles that are coming in the way of peaceful performance of the programmes in Ayodhya”, it would lead to “unnecessary tensions”.

Ever since the RSS offered to intervene on the VHP’s behalf with the Centre, Sangh sources said, there was a feeling that it could end up “compromising” more than what was expected just to keep the Vajpayee coalition afloat. VHP leaders reportedly expressed the fear that they may be short-changed.

A large section of the BJP, too, was of the same view. The hardliners were already upset with Vajpayee and Advani for issuing peace appeals which, from their standpoint, had equated Ayodhya with Godhra and projected the attack on the train as retaliation to the kar seva. Sudarshan described the Godhra incident as one which “very naturally shocked and deeply hurt the nation at large and the Hindu society in particular”.

But he called for an end to the Gujarat violence. “We must frustrate the designs of Pakistan-inspired elements who are trying to destroy our national unity through these acts.” He also asked Muslims not to “tolerate people who indulge in such heinous activities in the name of Islam”.

As the RSS seemed determined to extract its pound of flesh from the Centre, the process to resolve the crisis inched forward with the VHP calling a meeting tomorrow in Delhi. It will be attended by the convener of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, Mahant Ram Chandra Paramhans, and the other prominent sants as well as dharmacharyas. The religious leaders are expected to meet Vajpayee in a day or two after which they will announce a final decision on whether to start construction of the Ram temple from March 15. “I am sure whatever the VHP and sants decide will be sensible because they also have the country’s interests at heart,” Devi said.

Although for the record, Paramhans said that “we don’t expect anything from Vajpayee” and refused to meet the Prime Minister again, Sangh sources said the VHP was veering round to accepting an assurance — preferably in writing — that the law ministry would give its opinion on whether the undisputed portions of the land acquired by the Centre could be handed over to the Nyas within a deadline.

The sources said the other “face-savers” the VHP expected were an “honourable” end to its ongoing programme in Ayodhya by allowing it to perform a symbolic puja of the temple pillars somewhere close to the site.


New Delhi, March 2: 
The shadow of Gujarat today fell on India-Pakistan relations with a “distressed” Pervez Musharraf calling upon Delhi to strengthen security for minorities and said the flare-up highlighted the dangers posed by the politics of communalism.

The military ruler’s statement came a few hours after Islamabad claimed that two high commission officials were beaten up by a mob and confined for several hours before being turned over to police.

India dismissed the charges as baseless. It accused the two of spying and said they were caught “red-handed” while receiving sensitive defence documents from an Indian contact, who, too, has been arrested.

In his statement, Musharraf termed the Godhra train carnage “deplorable” but said it could not be a licence for reprehensible brutalities and violence. He said the world could not afford to be biased in responding to extremism and combating the evil in whatever form it manifested and wherever it existed.

According to the Pakistani version, the two officials — Sultan Mahmood and Gulzari Abassi — left the high commission this afternoon for the New Delhi railway station to buy a ticket for an official who was to return home via Amritsar. Commission officials now travel by train to Amritsar before driving down to the Wagah border following travel curbs.

The two were allegedly surrounded by a group of 15 to 20 people near the station and thrashed. Abassi, who contacted the high commission on his cellphone before it was snatched away, reportedly said they had been surrounded by a mob.

In the evening, the high commission was informed that Mahmood and Abassi were arrested for espionage. They were later handed over to Pakistani officials after interrogation. Delhi has asked Islamabad to make arrangements to immediately take back the two officials.

Indian officials said the two were arrested while receiving sensitive documents on troop movement.


London, March 2: 
One of BBC Radio’s most ambitious projects, a dramatisation of Vikram Seth’s best-selling, A Suitable Boy, done in five weekly parts each an hour long, gets under way tomorrow in Britain.

What is generally reckoned to be the longest novel in the English language — the first edition ran to 1,366 pages — was adapted for radio by John Dryden who has also produced and directed the project.

Another of Dryden’s feats was to get the entire cast of 48 actors, all Asian, into “huge house owned by HH Maharaj Siriraj of Dhrangadhara” in Pune, where the drama was mainly recorded, with the sounds of India lending colour and atmosphere to the dialogue.

By recording in Pune, Dryden felt he would get his cast to behave in a more authentic Indian manner. Having a captive cast served a more practical purpose. “If I had recorded in a studio in London or Mumbai, they would have been looking at their watches, wanting to get away for lunch or dinner.”

Dryden explained: “The recording was made as the actors physically acted out the story in its rooms and courtyards.” The central character of Lata, the girl for whom her mother, Mrs Rupa Mehra, is seeking a suitable marriage partner, is played by Ayesha Dharker.

The role of one of her suitors, Haresh Khanna, a shoemaker, has gone to the filmmaker and actor, Rahul Bose.

Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal has been cast as Mrs Rupa Mehra (she begins the novel by telling Lata: “You too will marry a boy I choose.”); Ayeesha Menon as Savita, Lata’s elder married sister, whose husband, Pran Kapoor, is played by Joy Sengupta; Rajat Kapoor as Amit Chatterjee, the Calcutta poet; and Lovleen Mishra as Malati, Lata’s best friend.

Roshan Seth doubles up as Dr Nuruddin, a homeopathic doctor, as well as Mr Sahgal, one of Lata’s sleazy uncles. Among the other Chatterjis of Calcutta, Radhika da Cunha has been cast as Meenakshi, Amit’s married sister; and Devika Shahane as Kuku, their younger sister.

Vikram Seth himself, who has had a busy time lately soothing the irascible V.S. Naipaul at the writers’ meet in Neemrana, stayed out of the whole project. Dryden made a remarkable confession to The Telegraph: “I have spoken to him a number of times, he seemed quite happy but I have never met him.”

Dryden spent all of last year in India, his first visit to the country, putting together the dramatisation. He admitted the difficulty of compressing such a huge novel, which is set in 1950s’ India and uses the lives and loves of its characters to tell the story of a continent emerging from the departure of the British and the trauma of Partition.

“For those who have encountered A Suitable Boy and are wondering how such a vast work could be condensed into five hours, the truth is, of course, that it can’t,” he said. “I found myself amazed that such a compelling and complete universe, so vast and so amiably peopled, could have emerged from a single mind. I quickly realised that the adaptation would be a small part of the novel’s sum, the epic themes of politics, race and religion becoming a backdrop to Lata’s (and several other characters’) intense experiences of relationships and love.”

This is not the first time that A Suitable Boy has been adapted for Radio. Actor Saeed Jaffrey acted out all the parts in a version broadcast on BBC World Service Radio, and Seth himself has read extracts, though not very convincingly, in an audiotape version.

At one point, Channel 4 planned to make a dramatisation for television, but it was killed as it was apparently not happy with the script. Others speculated that a British TV audience was not yet ready for a soap with an entirely Asian cast.




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