Halloween, 1984

It’s hard to realize or even be aware of congruent events in one’s life until hindsight makes them clear. One of the things that I can recall about being a child in 3HO was this feeling of foggy confusion around what grown-ups were doing and discussing, and around big international events that seemed to be relevant to our “way of life”.

The biggest and scariest event while in India was the assassination of the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi by her Sikh bodyguards. This took place on October 31, 1984, and from our perspective (the 3HO kids at GNFC) it seemed like the beginning of World War Three. Much confusion and fear revolved around this incident for us as kids, and most, if not all, of the facts were concealed from us. When we wanted to know why “our people” would do that, I remember being told that they weren’t really Sikhs, they were just dressed up like Sikhs.

One of the facts that strikes me as particularly scary is that in 1982 and 83 (the same time those photos below were taken) we were housed literally in the very same hostel, Nanak Niwas, as some seriously controversial and leading figures in the Khalistan Separatist Movement – the very same folks who plotted her assassination. One such character was Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, who resided there from 1982 until December 1983 when he and his army took residence in the Akal Takht, ultimately leading to Operation Blue Star, a move by Indira Ghandi that quickened the spiral of violence and upheaval in Punjab. After her assassination, we were not permitted to travel to Punjab until 1990.

If it hadn’t been my very first visit to India, and if I hadn’t been so young, it’s possible I’d be aware that being in Amritsar full of armed guards wasn’t the normal way of life. But because the adults had been told they were in good company, I think I and the others disassociated from the possibilities of real violence and came to accept that India was simply a volatile place, and that’s the way it was going to be, “It’s better than America”. (as a footnote, the armed militia and policemen were little threat compared to the onslaughts and harangues of Nanak Dev and his goons).

Our coping mechanisms during that time shaped many behaviors and coping mechanisms in the coming years. We knew how to survive, but we disassociated from trying to know what was going on on the political front. I’ve had to search my own memories and juxtapose them with the events of the time – but all I remember is confusion. I try not to become totally angry all over again at how our parents could have not only placed their children in the care of such a diabolical, manipulative, troll, but then willingly and knowingly plunked us down into a war zone and kept us there for a decade longer!

7 Replies to “Halloween, 1984”

  1. I’d like to add to that, if you also recall in the years following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, there was alot of talk of “Escape plans” at the schools (GNFC and GRD).
    Plans on how to get us all out of the country as quickly and as quietly as possible if things became more volitile on the political front.
    I remember joking about that and laughing saying how fun that would be. Of course not realizing the real danger that we were in.
    It’s far more scary to think about it now, because the truth is is that we did not have the real survival skills, nor did the adults in charge of us have the skills or the wherewhithal to have successfully gotten us to safety if something had actually happened to us.
    We were little kids, not members of a trained militia for pete’s sake. Thank god nothing ever did happen during that time of unrest in India, because it would have been disastorous.

  2. That’s right – I remember actually hoping that we’d be evacuated so we could go home early. I imagined it would be just like “The Sound of Music”.

  3. Hey, it’s M. I’m cracking up!! I totally remember thinking about it like the Sound of Music too. So funny! I had no idea anybody else thought of it that way too. You might recall that we saw that movie every weekend for at least 2 or 3 years, being one of about 5 other we could rent at that time (Mary Poppins, One Crazy Summer, Flash Dance and Footloose come to mind.

    Do you guys remember the Indian Army being posted outside the school after the riots in town when the bank was torched?

    Does anybody remember the parents of Indian Sikh students–who we were in school with–being murdered on buses and in riots during that time?

    By the way, thanks for posting the pictures. I don’t have a single photo of my life before the age of 18. I’d love to see more of us.

    Also, I’m still haunted by the mass poisoning of our dogs that happened that year that the photo with YB was taken. And also the monkey that was haning by noose from a tree at some house we went to have a picnic at. It was all at that time.

  4. I was at the girls school in Missouri that night. The adults came into the dorms and got us all out of bed. We were instructed to sit on the benches in the cold hall and pray. I don’t recall being told what to pray *for* exactly, but it was apparent that the adults were scared which was not reassuring to a 7 year old. We could see fires in the hills below the school – more populated areas, I guess. We saw the tops of guns over the walls surrounding the school, but nobody told us whether they were there to kill us or protect us. (Turns out they were there to protect us, which would have been nice to know at the time, eh?) I learned later in a letter that my sister was born in the US that night. I would meet her when I returned home a year later.

  5. Thanks for that! So we have a few accounts of police outside the school… I don’t remember that at all. I do remember keeping our shoes and sweaters by our beds. I don’t remember fires, or any of that. geez, that is a vivid memory you have! email me!

  6. Indra Ghandi’s assasination was in my first year in India. It was all so much to take in. On top of the intensity of being away from anything and anyone I knew having riots going on and having some of the heaviest shit go down outside the school walls. Plus we aeren’t allowed to dress up on holloween for the rest of my India years, and I love me some halloween.

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