Abhishek Patni is currently working as a Senior News Editor with CNN-IBN in Delhi-NCR and is handling news operations in the channel. In his 17-year long career as a professional journalist, he has worked with newspapers such as The Pioneer, Hindustan Times and television channels such as Zee News and Sahara Samay before joining CNN-IBN as Bureau Chief in Lucknow during launch of CNN-IBN in 2005.
A keen observer of politics, Patni has covered the 1997, 1998 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections and the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 1997, 2002 and 2007. Apart from several special reports and impact stories which include Amitabh Bachchan’s Barabanki Land scam, Manjunath murder case, Mayawati Taj Corridor case, fall of 13-day Vajpayee govt in 1997; Abhishek has also reported live from Badrinath on the kapat opening ceremony at height of 10,800 feet in 2002- the first tv journalist to do so. He has made several documentary films prominent among them being ‘Highland Trade’ shot at a height of about 14000 feet on the Kailash Mansarovar yatra route and ‘Sugarcane Tigers’ shot in the jungles of Dudhwa National Park in UP.
A product of St Joseph's College Nainital, Abhishek has a Masters in Modern Indian History from DAV College, Dehradun. He also has a post-graduate diploma in journalism and mass communication from Bhartiya Vidhaya Bhawan, Lucknow. He has done an appreciation course in professional cinematography from Pune in 2001. Loves photography, traveling, trekking, reading and writing.
The year was 1992, place Lucknow. We were four friends - all studying in ISC final year in St Francis College. Like any normal student we used to take private tuition from a well renowned physics teacher who lived near Butler Palace in the heart of the city. Everyday around 5 pm, four of us used to meet near a small restaurant near Hazaratganj where we all used to come on our bicycles.
We were all normal and average students from simple middle class families and aspired to do something in life. Everything was common among us - we liked books; often visited British Library in Hazaratganj, (unfortunately it has been shutdown now); movies were our passion, we sometimes secretly enjoyed an occasional smoke, and liked munching an odd meetha paan (one of the best paan was available in a small shop near civil hospital in Hazaratganj).
But notwithstanding all our similar tastes and common passion, we four friends had something fundamentally uncommon - it was our religion. One of us was a Hindu, another a Muslim, another a Christian, and a Sikh.
For 18 to nineteen year olds like us, religion was only a faith; we had our own methods for paying obedience to our gods. Religion could never come in the way of our common tastes and interests. But soon something was about to change. December 1992 had arrived.
As we sipped tea (sometimes an occasional bun-makkhan) after the tuition classes at a dhaba we regularly frequented, we often had kar sewaks for our company; many of them entered the dhaba with loud chants of Ram Naam. Sadhus with tridents, youths with saffaron stolls and rouges with tamanchas (country-made pistols) or knifes were often found sitting at the table next to us.
"Baccha, Baccha Ram ka,"Mandir Vahin Banayange", Ek Dhakka aur do Babri Masjid tood do", these and many other slogans could be commonly heard on the streets of Lucknow. As we four friends cycled through the streets of Lucknow every day, we could see hordes of men, youth and women sanyasis in saffron making their way through the city's traffic; marching towards Ayodhya.
As the first week of December 1992 was coming to an end, something was changing in the city, and changing very fast. One could sense something ominous in the air. Apprehending trouble, administration shutdown all schools, though four of us continued going for tuition classes.
We were not oblivious to what was happening all around us, but for four of us our studies were more important and board exams were fast approaching.
No matter how turbulent and disturbing the times were, our passion for Hindi films did not die down and we never missed an opportunity to flock to theatres to watch latest movies. One such movie was Nana Pataker's 'Angaar' which was being screened at Capital Cinema at Hazaratganj. It was December 4. We purchased four tickets, each costing Rs 8. As money was scarce those days we had decided to sit in the front row; commonly known as the third class those days.
It was a 6 to 9 pm show (prime time) but the movie hall was virtually empty. After watching the show we moved out of the movie hall only to find the otherwise buzzing streets of Hazaratganj absolutely deserted. Not a single soul. As we walked further towards the main road a police jeep passing by came to a screeching halt and the inspector started shouting at us using all the abuses in his dictionary. "What the hell are you guys doing here? Don't you know there is curfew in the city? Go home immediately."
We all were stunned. We had no idea what to do. There were no mobile phones then. We knew our family would be worried. We tried to look for PCO booths so that we could call our parents. But not a single one was found open, not even the head post office of Hazaratganj where public telephone facility remained open throughout the night. It was a strange situation. We all lived in different directions of the city. It was not wise to let anyone travel alone. So we decided to go to a friend's house which was nearby. Somehow we managed to reach his house.
As soon as my friend rang the door bell his mother came out running. After scolding at us she gently asked us to come inside. She had received calls from our families who were obviously worried. We spent the entire night at our friend's house, watching the news we came to know why curfew had been clamped. There was tension in the old city as there was a huge build up of kar sewaks in Ayodhya. Politicians had been busy giving inflammatory speeches and newspapers only fuelling the fire.
Next day we managed to go back to our respective homes. Tension was clearly visible in everybody's faces. Concentrating on studies was a tough task. Then came December 6. We all knew something would happen. But no one was sure what would happen. At around 3:30 in afternoon, I turned on my old Philips radio. A Russian radio broadcast caught my attention: 'Hindu Fundamentalists have demolished the Babri Masjid, many kar sewaks die during demolition.'
A strange fear ran down my spine. I expected worse to come. Curfew was imposed in several districts of Uttar Pradesh. By evening BJP government in four states, including in UP was dismissed by the Congress government at the Centre.
In the following months there were riots in Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Delhi and Mumbai being the worst. More than 2000 people were killed. India's political map had changed. Muslims drifted away from the Congress and moved towards Mulayam while in the years to come BJP could finally dream of a government at the centre under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But India's secular fabric had changed forever.
As the Vishwa Hindu Parishad starts its 84 Parikrama Yatra from Ayodhya, once again trying to stoke communal feelings among the Hindus and the Samajwadi Party playing a dangerous game of minority appeasement, one is forced to go back on time.
Almost 21 years ago when we four friends - all belonging to different religions - roamed around the streets of Lucknow, danced, indulged in friendly fights, enjoyed long bicycle rides, studied together, (seldom seriously), never once felt that the god we prayed to was different.