Today marks the 10th anniversary of the burning of Godhra express & the horrifying riots in Gujarat. This is a real-life incident that now needs to be told, that which can instill faith & hope…that a young Muslim boy’s determination to live made others want to help him live.
In 2002, I was comfortably placed in the Times of India, in fact was making all plans to go on US Ambassador’s exchange programme. Seems too long back to remember, yet I think this is one story that now needs to be told. Because I owe it to the one friend who is no more in the midst of us -Ajay Chaudhary.
One late evening my colleague Gita Rajan asked me if she could talk to me. We were rivals yet there were certain core points that each independently had. She needed some help & that was to do with law authorities she said. She had a cousin inGujaratstudying engineering & his friend had called him in panic the previous night. The male cousin had NO clue how to deal with this issue & since G was in the media-though she handled features only, he had given her a SOS…it was urgent.
The colleague in G’s cousin class was a young Muslim boy, he lived in a village which obviously was Muslim dominated & they had been told that a mob of Hindus was on its way to attack their village. The boy was courageous, more so young, wanted to live his life not cut it short because some loony, violent people thought so. He had run a long distance to a STD booth & called his friend. “I want to live, I don’t want to die, please help.” G’s cousin had repeated the words verbatim. G asked if I could help. “You’re the only one I know who has the contacts, please see if you can do something.” G had said.
The boy’s honesty & his absolute will to live had moved me, but I lived in Mumbai. The first call I placed was to my BJP politician, friend. I called him few times & dropped an SMS. NO response. I was really agitated, “but this is something you should have expected,” was what I told myself.
I told another friend, who told me “it would tough Neeta to do anything.” Then I remembered one person who was my senior & a dear friend. Ajayda as he was popularly know, Ajay Chaudhary, was the senior journalist I called. He continued to work with Aaj Tak although some of us had quite long since then. We would keep in touch & many said he was right-wing ideology person. So what? For me it did not matter, what was important was that person was my friend. I called & told him & gave all details.
It so happened, G’s cousin was given my number & I got his, however he said his Muslim friend would call me, but I couldn’t call him. The boy call me few times… I was ok with it, but I needed to give some number to Ajay & we had G’s cousin who ensured he communicated with Ajay. Ajay asked me to give him the details & any contact number. I didn’t know what happened thereafter. Though I asked G a couple of times. She said she hadn’t heard & would ask her cousin.
Later the BJP friend called & asked what it was, I was slightly miffed & said its ok wanted some police help, he was like, “My cell was in the car & I saw it late….” An old excuse. It however stayed in my mind always, that when needed this ‘connected’ politician wouldn’t help. And could I hold it against him, because the riots inGujaratwere result of his party’s devious plans.
It kept eating my mind was the boy saved? It was a fervent plea to want to live…I only hoped it had happened. One evening G came smiling & said aloud, “Neeta, you’re a real life hero in the village..” I was shocked, and asked her what was she saying? G’s cousin had called to tell her that she should thank me because not only the boy but the village was saved. Her cousin was happy & relieved his friend was saved, the friend because his wish was fulfilled. I told G it wasn’t me, I must find out from Ajay what he did, because he needs to be thanked.
I called Ajay & asked him to tell all, he was initially evasive. He was happy to know the boy was safe & his village was saved. I persisted & asked him what had he done. Congratulated him & he was like, “Neeta you’re a friend, you called asking for help & I will never refuse. That is enough i did what was required.” For me that was important, but I asked him not to downplay his role. Ajay was always the low-profile sorts, who would not flaunt his credentials. So when I finally said he deserves the accolades I was ONLY the messenger & as a friend he needs to tell me, then Ajay said he had called the BSF & asked them to send one unit to the village. He had taken all details from the cousin of G. He also was immensely moved by the Muslim boy’s plea to want to live.
I told him he will always be the real hero. He said the next time we’d meet I owed him a treat to some good food-something we enjoyed, eating . That never was to be, because Ajay died in a terrible accident driving back toDelhi. I don’t know why for 10 years I didn’t write about this. I don’t keep diaries, but in the media planner of 2002, I had jotted the name of G’s cousin. When i’d discussed with Ajay later he said such things will always test us commitment to our profession & that we fulfill was more important. However, I owe this to Ajay but moreover I owe to his amazing & strong wife Rupa, and to his grown-up son who should know his father was a real-life hero. He saved lives of villagers with his good deed.
This is the 10th anniversary, I do hope the Muslim boy who now must be a fine man will remember that there was someone who heard his plea to live & that he hopefully will carry forward this good deed in his life. Hope this spirit will instill in all, the faith & belief that otherwise has been eroded in those riots. Today, Ajay is no more, G is inDubai, working with Khaleej Times…..The horrifying stories of riots should not be erased, but this story too should never be erased-what I do know is that the Muslim boy’s sheer will to live & courage to call to tell he doesn’t want to die, will always be remembered, as much as Ajay’s faith in my call for help, more importantly, Ajay’s timely help that saved an entire village. Just as a fine thread of society is broken with heinous acts perpetuated, this incident has left deep impression on my mind. There is hope..there is faith..there are good people always…thanks ajay.