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When A Liberal Dream Was Endangered


T.C.A. Srinivasa Raghavan

THE EMERGENCY: A PERSONAL HISTORY
By Coomi Kapoor
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 389, Rs. 599.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 8 August 2015

Let me, at the very outset, make a set of declarations. The author is a good friend of mine from my days at the Indian Express in the 1980s and I know various members of her family very well. Also, it was her husband, Virendra, who brought me into journalism from publishing where I was ruminating on a boring future in a dying industry. But it’s not because of these personal connections I say here that she has written an outstanding book. It’s because the book has all the elements such a book should have— most notably that in spite of the personal suffering the Emergency caused her and her family, there is a total absence of rancour in her stories and anecdotes. That makes it a very good read. Kapoor also tells her stories with dry humour without making light of the matter at hand. Perhaps time has healed the wounds but knowing Coomi, I’d say that it’s because, as we say in India, she is like that only, a friendly open person without any venom or guile in her. Virendra is ditto, a bluff, large-hearted Punjabi married to a genial, diminutive Parsi with a permanent smile on her face. Both are terrific journalists. Narrative style apart, what Kapoor has done is to remind us of a most trying period in our history when as the saying goes, fear stalked the land. You lived in fear because you could be arrested for no reason at all, as indeed some of my friends were. And you would not know where you would be taken or when you would be released. Nor would your family know what had happened to you. One acquaintance of mine was kept in jail for 13 months because he was sitting on a trunk that had what the police called subversive literature without providing any proof that it was indeed so. There were thousands of such arrests all over North India, and torture became common. In Haryana the police made political prisoners eat shit and shoved chillies up their bums. In UP they conducted illegal vasectomies on them. Most of the latter victims were Muslims. The Congress, because it has been in power for 30 of the 40 years since 1975, has sought to gloss over it all. But the fact remains: Indira Gandhi saw no harm in all this or in destroying democracy so that ...


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