The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Long, still night to normality
- War zone comes awake at crack of dawn

Wednesday night, Park Circus: Rabin Naskar was hurrying back home, arms raised high above his head. When stopped by a police patrol at Park Circus, the 19-year-old, who works in a small restaurant in the area, said: “My mother in Baruipur (South 24-Parganas) is ailing and there is no one to look after her. I must catch the last train. There is no bus, so I have to run to the station. Please let me go.”

Rabin was among the few Calcuttans who dared pass through the curfew zone late on Wednesday, as the army patrolled the city streets for the first time in 16 years. The entire Park Street-Park Circus-AJC Bose Road-Ripon Street-Entally-Beniapukur belt was deserted — most of it dark, in the rest the streetlights shining off army guns and police no-entry signs.

As cops from Topsia, Karaya and Park Street police stations went around in jeeps and minibuses announcing the curfew code of conduct over the public address system, this part of Calcutta chose to stay indoors — from 10pm to 6am.

Wednesday night, Park Circus: The Lahiri family was walking back home to Topsia Road, arms raised in the air, after attending a wedding at Beckbagan. When stopped by the army at the seven-point crossing, Tarun Lahiri, accompanied by his wife, son and daughter, pleaded: “We had gone to attend the marriage of my niece. Please let us walk home.” The police let them pass, and said they could walk without raising their arms.

Till around 11pm, some curious faces could be seen peering out from balconies and terraces in curfew corners.

But as the army rolled through the streets, automatic weapons held aloft, no one even dared a peep.

The men in uniform played down the fear factor. “We want to restore peace and normality, so we are not enforcing the curfew code strictly. We are here to reassure the people that things are under control and they have nothing to fear,” said a senior officer accompanying one of the army columns.

But the enduring image of Calcutta under curfew was of armymen atop their vehicles, guns trained at an unseen enemy, at the seven-point Park Circus crossing bathed in soft neon light.

Thursday, 6am: Calcutta’s curfew zone came alive at the crack of dawn, after a long, still night. As the sun rose at 5.59am, it gleamed off shattered pieces of glass strewn on the streets.

The remains of the rioting, from Park Circus to Ripon Street, and an uneasy calm could not slow people down on Thursday.

Anindya Roy, a milkman, took the first step towards normality by raising the shutters of his shop at the AJC Bose Road-Beniapukur Lane crossing, sharp at 6am. Soon, a steady stream of residents arrived to pick up packets of milk. “It’s heartening to see that it’s business like any other day,” said Roy.

Ripon Street came alive at 7am, with mothers leading their children to school. “We are treating it like a normal day.” said Anisa Khatoon, four-year-old son in tow.

Slowly, the tea stalls filled up, the newspapers arrived and the discussions began.

The curfew was over, it was life as usual.

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