The other day the car cleaner was late, the milkman didn’t show up and neither did the newspaper. The maid walked in late too, looking scared, fear in her eyes that told many stories.
Out on the road, which otherwise bustles in the morning, there was little activity. For a Monday, it was rather silent. Even the stray dogs weren’t scampering around for food. There was nobody to offer them any.
Life seemed to have reached a standstill.
The car cleaner said he hadn’t slept all night and had left home early to find safety in an environment that he presumed was not filled with rumours and hate as much as where he had escaped from.
People were running around with knives and iron bars in their hands, looking for the presumed enemy who was on its way to kill, maim, rape, burn, pillage, he said.
Rumours on social media had spread fast — sending everybody out to the streets or under lock and key in their homes, he added.
The car cleaner, who usually drinks at night, had found refuge behind a garbage dump where he had finished his daily bottle of local liquor and had hoped he would be able to sleep it out. The ghosts of the latest riots in the Indian capital, however, kept coming back and he couldn’t.
The maid, who walked in with fear in her eyes, spoke of empty streets and downed shutters. The cheap electric rickshaws that transport thousands of low-end workers every morning were off the roads. Shops that sell stuff people buy in the mornings – milk, bread, sweets — were all shut. Vegetable vendors, who set up their stalls before the morning crush begins, were missing.
“I walked. It was very scary. The streets were like a cremation ground,” she said, wondering whether her husband and child back home would be safe.
The milkman said he couldn’t pick up the supplies for delivery. He didn’t want to take a chance; best to do no business than get killed!
The newspaper vendor said nobody went to the collection centre to pick up the morning editions. The petrol station across the road had few customers.
The previous night, there was commotion at a musical event in a large park in one of New Delhi’s toniest areas when the rumours of violence in different parts of the city started spreading.
The first ones to make a run were a dozen women guards, who fled leaving behind a large audience still distracted by some good Indian classical music. Soon, they too began dispersing.
One colleague messaged, saying the gates of his colony had been shut and residents were keeping vigil through the night. So scared was he that he shared his wife’s telephone number — just in case something happened to him.
Mercifully, nothing happened that night. But some of the worst rioting in the Indian capital in more than three decades that killed more than 40 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes and properties, has instilled a deep fear in people.
Nobody feels safe. Neither the poor, nor the rich. There is a good reason to fear the mobs; they kill without fear because they want you to be afraid.
That night the police chipped in, neighbours stood for each other and the night passed despite rumours.
But the fear will live on because of the violence that the city has seen. And the violence has been because of hate, which is now out in the open. The curtain has dropped — it doesn’t hide anything anymore. It’s too heavy with history to be put back up.