Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore Riots

Earlier, in the day as I zipped along the I -95 flyovers into downtown Baltimore, the radio cautioned me about the possibilty of riots. I was headed to Baltimore for a meeting in the Mount Vernon area, far from the craziness that had engulfed the City. And then the announcement came through, as it usually does these days, with the familiar ping of a new message on someone's Blackberry. Liberal leave had been declared for all State employees in the Baltimore area.

Rioters were clashing with police in Mondawmin Mall and were expected to eventually make their way to the Downtown area. Our meeting quickly dissolved and I made my way to the parking lot. Outside, there was heavy traffic on the road. But the usually stop and go lurch of misbehaved traffic was now replaced with an orderly flow of vehicles. We all needed to get out of the burning city and somehow all of us realised that rushing to the exits would just cause a stampede. And then there was the silence. No one honked.

I remember the silence. I had heard it before, when they destroyed a Masjid in India and riots broke out across the country between Hindus and Muslims. A curfew was announced in our small city, schools closed and parents scrambled to pick up children from school. On the way back from school with my mother and sister, huddled in an autorickshaw with some other  kids and their mother, I remember noticing how quiet everything was. We were suddenly respectful of the policemen and even thankful for their presence, for once.

Today I woke up to pictures of burning cars on the front page of the newspaper. Nothing prepares you for the sight of an armored vehicle or the images of people destroying storefronts on familiar streets. Wars happen in distant lands, not next door.

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