We talk about the mundane things. The sunset. The traffic jam. Status reports to be sent. Breakfast. Which biscuit tastes the best with tea. (Brittania Tiger wins)
And then half way through the day, things start to become undone. I get off the phone with my daughter who is asking to be picked up as she was not feeling so well. Just as I make arrangements for an early pick up from school, I sense an unusual tension in the air. Srini walks up to me and says, “There is disturbance across the city”. What happened now? Oh, the court rejected the state’s appeal on sharing Cauvery river water with the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu. My phone rings again. This time it is my son. “There are people protesting in front of the school. The school is sending us home early. We are leaving now”. I feel a little queasy. I am not comfortable with my two kids out there on the road where protests are going on.
News and media paint a gloomy picture. We start leaving work. The first person to leave is S. She lives the farthest from the office and has a 90-min commute on a good day. She looks frozen. I can feel her fear. I tell her not to worry so much. “At the maximum what you will go through is a bad traffic hold up. Nothing else would happen”, I say. That is what I want to believe. But deep down I am not so sure. I see the images of vehicles burning and private cars getting thrashed and wonder how quickly this place went from being quiet to being scary.
As we get everyone out of work quickly, one thing strikes me. We are not ready. Ready for this. Ready to deal with an emergency. See, when we lived in Japan, we always had to have an emergency bag ready – with food, water and copies of IDs to be easily carried with us when a bad earthquake hits. In spite the place being beautiful, the food awesome and trains running accurate to the microsecond, we were kind of always ready to duck; run to saftey.
But not here. This is Bangalore. You expect that it would get chilly at some point of the day in spite of how hot it is when you step out for the day. You expect traffic delays. Women with shocking pink highlights on silver gray hair. Highrises and malls giving way to alleys with cows and chickens. Organic food. Citizen governance. Serene flower vendors. My pharmacist and milkseller on Whatsapp and Facebook. People from all parts of India and all walks of living next to each other comfortably.
As we drop off a colleague he hesitates before he turns into his street as there are a bunch of people blocking the street. Thankfully they just turn out to be cab drivers trying to get customers. It seems unthinkable that the streets could feel unsafe. I read about my friend’s parents who lost both their cars. I worry about old parents living alone in the city; or those who have medical needs. This is different. We suddenly have no clue when things would get back to normal.
In spite of the queasiness, I realize we are lucky. I had a friend in school who had moved from Sri Lanka and had narrated how the Srilankan Army once held a gun to her mother’s head. They left home the very night and moved to India, leaving behind the lush green hills and coconut trees. We are not that. Or Syria. But it was frightening to see how a seemingly calm and laid back place can plunge into anarchy so quickly; like a switch has been just flipped. The panic that was spreading was many degrees higher than the reality with alarming Whatsapp and Twitter messages making the rounds and new channels playing and replaying isolated incidents that made it look like all streets were burning. And frighteningly those scenes had no police anywhere in the picture.
Everyone’s safe home. News reports now say that Bangalore is calm. We might find refuge in mundane things from tomorrow again. Engage in a friendly banter over which Masala dosa is better, Tamilnadu’s or Karnataka’s. Get back to deadlines. Deliverables. But I am aware the switch has not been unflipped. Yet. The problem that gave rise to this situation has not been resolved. It may have been put in the back burner. Just like so many burning issues out there. With all those switches that could be flipped any moment, the mundane things become important.