Corona lockdown silence reminds Joy Bimal Roy of the time he helped a colleague to safety during Mumbai riots
Design maven and son of legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy, Joy Bimal Roy recently shared his experience triggered by the silence in these times of COVID 19. His old memory is linked to the aftermath of the 1992 riots in Mumbai.
He recalls the Saturday he and colleague Sunil Lulla were in their BKC office when he received a call. “There was a hysterical voice at the other end. It was Najma Merchant, our Recording Officer. She was quite incoherent, but when she finally calmed down a little, l understood the cause for her hysteria. She was Muslim, but lived in a predominantly Hindu area in Andheri. She was single, and lived alone. Her home had been surrounded by men who were threatening to break open her door, and drag her out. She had called out of desperation, and her terror was palpable. She begged me to come and save her.”
“I am not a particularly courageous person and nor am l a macho stud,” he narrates. “Somehow l couldn't picture myself to be a gallant knight in shining armour charging in to the rescue Najma, who though in distress hardly qualified as a damsel. But I couldn't let her down. Sunil promptly volunteered to accompany me. I was most relieved to have his company, because l was not looking forward to this Mission Impossible.”
The two drove off in his ramshackle Ambassador barely exchanging a word, wrapped up in their own thoughts.
“It was not difficult to find Najma's place even though it was in a narrow cul de sac, because there was a group of menacing looking men armed with lathis, blocking the front door of her ground floor flat shouting slogans at the top of their voices.
Our arrival caused a bit of a stir, because it was completely unexpected, and as we walked towards her door, the men automatically moved aside for us to pass through. I think they were so taken aback to see us, that they were at a loss to know how to react. We took advantage of their momentary confusion and reached her door without having to utter a sound. Najma was so scared to come out, that Sunil and l had to almost pull her out of the door. By now the men had stopped shouting and stood around in sullen silence. The three of us walked through the phalanx without making eye contact with any of the men. They let us pass without even a murmur of protest (when l look back now, l wonder why) and we continued to walk to the car at a steady pace without a backward glance.
It was the longest couple of minutes in my life. I kept thinking the men were going to stop us, but l didn't dare to look back, in case it was considered to be a hostile move. We finally reached the car, but l breathed normally only after we reached the main road. Najma was weeping quietly, more out of relief than fear. We didn't want to trigger off another panic attack by questioning her about it.”
It was only after they got back to the office that realisation dawned that Najma's was not a stray incident; there were riots all over Bombay. “Just as well we hadn't heard about the riots before leaving, or we may never have gone,” he quips.
The silence in these times of Corona lockdown and the silence of those men that day are worlds apart, he muses. “One cannot compare the two with each other.”