THIS IS THE 18TH MARCH OF 1974. It was the day after my eleventh birthday, and I stood on the roof of my parents’ home in Patna, along with my family and some visitors from Arrah and faraway Saharsa, who had been unable to leave because of the curfew imposed all over Patna. There were reports that police had fired into the crowds of rioting students who had marched on the state assembly. We were playing antakshri, in our small group, because one young woman with us, a distant relative, was a wonderful singer. She had light brown eyes, and her hair curled over her forehead in the manner of a Hindi film-star of that decade. The horizon was grey with smoke rising from burning buildings.
The student protests, which would soon find their leader in the septuagenarian activist from Patna, Jayaprakash Narayan—JP, as everyone called him—went on unabated for the rest of that week, resulting in the deaths of 27 people. The movement gathered strength, and soon spread to other states; the following summer, feeling besieged as her power eroded, Indira Gandhi would suspend civil liberties and declare a state of emergency. None of this meant much to me then; 26 June 1975, the date the Emergency began, was memorable to me for years afterward because my tonsils were removed that day. When I regained consciousness, after having been put under anaesthesia, I remember hearing my father and uncles discussing the arrests that were taking place outside the ward at the Patna Medical College and Hospital.
Amitava Kumar is Professor of English at Vassar College in upstate New York. He is the author of Evidence of Suspicion, a writer’s report on the global war on terrorism, and Husband of a Fanatic, an ‘Editors’ Choice’ book at The New York Times. He is also the author of Bombay-London-New York, and Passport Photos. His novel Home Products was a finalist for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award. His latest book is A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna.