By Vinay Kumar:
“Class! Before I start, there is a breakout of violence and outrage over the Cauvery issue, again. So don’t loiter after class, get home quickly” said the teacher right after she walked in after a two hour long break. Her phone starts vibrating, a bunch of phones in class starting spasming and the teacher says that there is no point walking out if everyone has to take calls. She instructs everyone to do it inside and then she’ll start in ten minutes.
My phone vibrates. “Vini, where are you? Get home. They stripped some Kannadiga in Tamil Nadu and beat him up. They are burning buses and tyres on the street. On the news, they just declared holidays for schools and colleges, so they should let you all go from college any minute now.” And then my cousin hangs up on me.
The classroom is as noisy as a fish market and there were way too many parallel conversations that the teacher didn’t want to stop because everybody’s parents, including her own kept calling even though she kept cutting their calls. She gave in and texted. “Guys, take a sheet of paper and in 350 words, write about Gender stereotypes in the Indian context. All of you are too distracted to pay attention to any new teaching.”
Well a teacher had to engage the class somehow but even before sheets of paper were torn and pens uncapped, conversation on buses, cars and tyres being set on fire circulated. And worries of getting home without public transport induced anxiety among a class of 40 students and something that resonated in the college of 4,200 students.
Just then, Meshak, the vice-principal’s assistant, peeps through the new glass peep window on the door to ask the teacher to step out. “You can all go home” and the class erupted into screams, for another day, this semester was gone with the wind.
An ocean of students got out of the college gates onto the narrow main road to the already traffic-clogged road and makes one wonder how well we’re prepared for a zombie apocalypse. We’re not. So, maybe that might be motivation to exercise but not for building better, planned and commutable roads. I drove to drop a friend at the metro that we’d discover was closed, while two other boys in class practised their Malayalam because their heavy accent in Kannada gave away that they were Tamilians. We waited for a good ten minutes near the auto stand at the metro before finding an auto to K R Puram, which is a miracle on a regular day in Bengaluru, let alone a day of chaos and violence.
Four missed calls on my phone; my cousin called to check on me and told me the rise in number of incidents. The other three were from a friend who told me about a Bengali teacher who lived in my neighbourhood and was unable to find cabs or autos to get home. I called her and we went homeward once I got back to college from the Metro. The teacher was carrying a Karnataka flag similar to a lot of Tamil-owned stores that used the flag as a shield to dodge attacks, stone pelting, fire and wreckage in general. I dropped her and got home to respond to a bunch of texts and calls asking if I was home and in one piece.
On WhatsApp, the messages of the Bengaluru traffic police denying implementation of Section 144 in the city and going back on that an hour later, were circulated. Images of burning cars, tyres and lorries filled my WhatsApp messages and Facebook news feed. A fellow who I had known shared selfies with tyres ablaze in the background and a caption ‘Save Cavery’. WhatsApp conversations filled me in on the property destruction of Adayar Ananda Bhavan (a Tamil restaurant chain) outlets, Kalanikethan among others and all stores with Ramraj on their walls stuck a Karnataka flag to avoid a mess. My liberal, socially conscious friends were very upset that Adigas food chain had offered free coffee to all members of associations fighting for Cauvery.
Jokes by Malayalis on Twitter took everyone into a small sense of safety. Humour and continuous efforts are present on the internet that hopefully challenges all the voices that put hatred out to get one another.
More updates on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp helped find out if everyone we knew got home and a lot of help was made available via Twitter. Various Bengalureans on Twitter offered shelter, food and water to anyone who needed it. You could see people in their own words fighting for Cauvery and many others trying to see if everybody got home in one piece and offering help if anyone got stuck somewhere. This was the same city that went berserk over “Kabali” weeks ago and now setting fire to posters of the same.
The noise on Kannada news channels had become louder after 6 pm when compared to the streets but the city had gone to a standstill. More hatred is being spewed on social media, but more messages asking everyone to hold their horses and not spread hatred but love, help Bengaluru restore. The news available on mainstream sources, without surprise, were sensationalised but alternative sources of news and online platforms along with Bengaluru Traffic police’s social presence help contain and manage the situation. But there was still a fatality and young men on the streets trying to keep Cauvery home.