For a long time, I had put off watching Black Friday, the 2007/2004 Anurag Kashyap movie, despite the fact that it was critically acclaimed and suited my taste in genre and type. Somewhere in my seventh semester in college, I got struck by the bug to watch the movie, inexplicably and suddenly. I finally watched it yesterday, and as I did, it felt like my cinematic experience had increased in richness manifold.
When it had released, my family had decided to book tickets, and I was quite excited too. Crime thrillers were totally what I lived off, until of course, I came across a trailer which showed the blasts happening. I remember being alone in front of the TV, little kid drinking morning milk and cereal, when the trailer came on. We had already booked the tickets, and I was counting down to when we’d watch it, so I got ultra-excited on seeing its ad. The blue tone, Indian Ocean playing in the background, the trailer showed the Bombay Stock Exchange blasts happening. This shouldn’t have bothered me, I watched gruesome movies all the time, but blasts were a sensitive issue – two years previously, I had been in one.
I had lived in Delhi, the National Capital, all my life. Blasts and violence were commonly heard of and I had become immune to those news. It was a weird reaction to have, but a barely ten year old doesn’t understand the gravity of national security much. The Ostrich Syndrome was ripe in us – if we weren’t affected, we weren’t bothered much either.
On October 29, 2005, my family, minus my one year old brother and office-going father, decided to revel in the Diwali feels that were emanating from the city and headed to one of the most popular markets in Delhi, the Sarojini Nagar market. It’s a cramped, space-scarce place, almost always full of people. Being a Saturday, it was challenging to find a parking spot near the main market, and we didn’t. The car was parked around a half-a-kilometre from the place, and we walked through the throngs of banta-sellers, beggars, roadside vendors and garbage dumps, to enter. My uncle, grandparents (maternal), my mother and I, waded through the sea of people, hopped from shack to shack (you can call them shops, but well), and bargained our hearts out. I was mostly a spectator because I had never been to such a high-concentration flea market before and clung on to my mother, wary of the large crowd. This was around five in the evening. We were supposed to hang around for a couple of hours then head to Dilli Haat, where my father would join us, coming from his office in GK I. All these places were close by (for reference purpose of how much party-mode we were in).
Around an hour later my grandmother sat down on a rickety three-legged stool, too tired from the walking. This was in front of a shop where my mother was haggling for a sweatshirt for me. I was, without doubt, still clinging on to her, not interested in the crowd or my sweatshirt. My uncle went to buy kullad chai for my grandparents, and as soon as he left the shop, we heard a deafening explosion. Deafening because that’s what it did. For almost a minute we could hear nothing, ears blocked by the intensity of the noise. My ears, prone to ringing, did so, but soon everything flowed back into motion, almost like nothing had happened. People went back to haggling, my grandmother made snide remarks about Delhiites being overenthusiastic crack-friendly morons, and uncle returned with the chai. A few questions were passed around between customers, shopkeepers.
‘What was the noise?’
‘Some gas cylinder burst in a fruit shop.’
‘A generator went berserk, I heard.’
‘Oh cool. Bhaiya 200 me de do jacket warna hum chale.’
And then, after a few minutes had passed, it seemed like the world had just been plunged into apocalypse. The sky turned opaque black with smoke rising from a couple of lanes away. The road became a flood of people running towards the exit, sweaty, scared, terrified and confused. The shops began closing down like a line of dominoes, and people overflowed from the streets into the shops. Everyone was everywhere. Our shopkeeper too started packing up. ‘Madam, you should leave, something’s not right.’
My mother held me close for fear of losing me in the stampede, as we were bundled out of the shop. We decided to move towards the exit, my uncle taking my grandparents, my mother holding me, walking right behind them. There were people all around me and I couldn’t even see my mother’s face as she dragged me through the mob, only her hand. Even today I only remember her iron grip, crushing my fingers, willing us to get out as soon as we could.
The exit was barricaded, a streak of policemen guarding it. My uncle went up to one, to enquire about the commotion. The officer looked angry and frustrated.
‘What happened, why is everyone leaving?’
‘There was a bomb blast, are you with family?’
‘Yes,’ my uncle pointed to the rest of us.
‘Please leave,’ he said opening a small barricade for us, ‘it’s not safe. There can be another one any moment.’
My mother, who was still clutching my hand, went cold. I still couldn’t see her face, but only felt the chill. We exited, went past the empty lane, no beggar, no banta seller, past the parking, barren of cars, ours being the only one at the flag end of the street. My uncle lived in Gautam Nagar, a fifteen minute drive from Sarojini, and we headed out there. Even a minute inside the car and policemen would wave us off. No place was safe.
My pregnant aunt sitting in Gautam Nagar, and my father in GK I, in the meanwhile had only received one update – that there were blasts in the market place where their family definitely was. Network was busy, no calls were going through. For all they knew, we were all already dead.
We entered my uncle’s flat in ten minutes, the roads were empty. Landline was working, and we called up my father, then my home where my brother was with the domestic help, blissfully unaware of the possibility of having half his family blown up. TV was switched on, news channels were over-timing.
These were a series of blasts, three to be precise. The one we had just slipped out from had the maximum casualty – around 43 of the total 62 dead were from Sarojini Nagar. We went back home around 1 in the night, when no sane terrorist outfit would plan blasts because places were empty. My brother was asleep.
Thus, in 2007, I adamantly refused to watch Black Friday, and I was thus kept at home with a distant aunt who had popped from somewhere. My decision seemed justified after yesterday, when I sat through the movie as an adult, engrossed and captivated by every scene, amused by every dialogue.
Moral: Watch Black Friday.
(The 2005 Delhi Blasts had a casualty of 62 people, two of them in AIIMS, where my then-pregnant aunt was a resident doctor. She had finished her shift an hour before those people were brought in. Sarojini Nagar is divided into lanes and blocks, and the blast had happened two lanes away from us, resulting in the explosion of a gas cylinder, which triggered a fire in the entire row of shops in that lane. All this while I was being made to try sweatshirts a few metres away.)