It was towards the end of June, the high winds and rains had started and I was in my second year in college. My mother came back from Kerala full of righteous indignation. She carried a copy of the Indian Express which had a blank space on Page 1, where the editorial was to appear. Emergency had been declared. My father was shocked as he had no inkling of it. The paper we read every day did not mention it at all. This news made no sense to me, at all.
The next day in college we were asked to assemble around the flag post. We sang the national anthem, the flag was hoisted and the Principal, Sister Margaret Mary, spoke to us. She said that we must pray for our country and that difficult days were ahead. What she said didn't make much sense, either.
After a few months, the nuns announced a retreat for which some girls were selected. I was one of them and so were my cronies, Charlotte, Hema and Raj. We were very happy because we were going miss some classes. The retreat was held at Lansdowne, once the summer residence of the Raja of Bobbili.
The retreat was nothing extraordinary, the usual life coaching stuff. After the first day’s sessions, we watched the sunset over the mountains, at peace with the world. Once night fell, a taxi drew up and two women got out. Soon we were all summoned to the living room. I don’t know if the lights went off or if they were switched off. Anyway, we waited in the dark; suddenly the door opened and the two women entered the room.
The curtains were drawn, a candle lit and they told us about what was happening in the world outside. They spoke of the arrests of the opposition, the press censorship and the total curbing of civil liberties. One of them pulled out a much folded newspaper from her bag and showed us a small personal advertisement. We read it by torch light. It said “D.E.M.O’Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice expired on 26 June.” This was a small ad which appeared in the Bombay edition of the Times of India. It was all very exciting. I was a little perturbed and wondered how long we could continue to live the way we did. The women left immediately after that. I don’t know who those women were and who brought them to Coonoor.
Anyway, whatever they said seemed very far away, as if it was happening in another country. Nothing disturbed the tranquility of the hills. There was dew on the lawns, the Nilgiri thrush called and we read our books curled on comfortable sofas. The wind whistled through the trees and the boys played cricket near the club. The seasons changed and life went on.
A few months later, we had two visitors from Madras Christian College, members of the Students Federation of India. They had permission from the Principal to talk to us. And speak they did. They were very rude and nasty. Little short of calling us idiots, they said everything else. They said that we have to leave the ivory tower and see what is happening around us. They spoke of how the world has changed and so on and so forth. Maybe what they said was true but we were all furious. They had given us a real shaking up.
We got angrier when we found out they were Ooty boys. We also discovered it was not all altruism on their part. Their ulterior motive was that they wanted to hang out in Provy but that wish of theirs was soon crushed.
After elections were announced and the news reports of the excesses of the Emergency started flowing in, I was horrified. The climb down from the ivory tower was complete.