My head still felt heavy after I woke up from a nap I took last Sunday evening. I looked at my cell phone and it was 9 PM. I took a weird pleasure in the thought that I had slept for over three hours, a breakthrough of sorts, for I don’t remember falling asleep during the day in many years.
And this round of sleep came at a time when the locality adjacent to where I live was on high-alert, given the recent deadly violence in northeast Delhi and the fear of it spreading to other areas. The mere thought of it almost engulfed my little, newly-found joy like a huge fire, which devours an entire wooden house in a few minutes. It wrested the peace out of me.
I went downstairs and on the road found myself looking on my left and right. The lane in which I live usually witnesses fewer commuters and all there is for traffic are a few privately-owned cars and motorcycles that keep moving every and now and then.
I walked towards the market, which stays abuzz late into the night. From food stalls to vegetable and fruit vendors to bakery shops and kiranas (grocery store), all of these witness a huge rush of people always at this point in time. But, things at this hour showed a different picture.
Vendors had almost vanished, e-rickshaws rarely showed up, and people instead of buying or eating were standing. Some of them looked lost and some were talking about what had just happened. They all had one thing in common though. They were all afraid. Of what? I wouldn’t know until I asked someone present at the scene.
I walked some paces deep into this small market nestled in Jamia Nagar’s closely-spaced buildings and spoke to a fast-food seller outside his shop. On the pretext of eating chicken dumplings (sorry if you are a vegan and reading this) which he had already run out of, I asked him if he could tell me what had happened here.
“There were rumours that this place has been surrounded by the arms-wielding mob on all sides. What followed then was total chaos. We all closed our shops and people were fleeing as if the mob was here and hitting them,” the fast-food seller with a cap told me. A fruit vendor adjacent to his shop gave me the same version, adding that e-rickshaws collided with each other in the panic that ensued.
I left the market more disappointed than afraid.
I know the power or consequences, so to speak, of rumours and how they can scare you witless at times, since I come from a place (Kashmir) where the rumour mill keeps buzzing one way or the other. Panic is the least damage they cause.
However, given what had happened over the past week in Delhi, people can’t help but be vigilant all the time, and that in itself is quite tormenting.