- Posted April 3, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
To Putin With Love
It was during one such terrible monsoon that Saddam Hussain entered my life. He promised death as death ought to be: bodies lying in its own blood with limbs blown apart rather than thin, emaciated, hungry bodies covered in their own poop and pee and puke.
The Gulf war obsessed me and it couldn’t have come at a better time: my whole family, servants included, desperately needed distraction. Heavy rains had left my home flooded again. Furniture, propped on bricks, was barely above water. Servants laid out some more bricks to make a makeshift path inside our house; we hopped from brick to brick. But servants cooked standing in that water just as we brushed our teeth and bathed standing in that same water mixed with our spittle and soap lather. And then we walked to school in knee-high water.
Then the blame game begun: our government blamed us for recklessly clogging public drainage with plastic and garbage; western governments blamed Saddam for violating international laws. And that’s what brought me closer to Saddam.
I loved his thick moustache, that lazy skewed smile that hinted of his imminent victory, his olive-green uniform and the way he waved to the crowd from a high balcony while the crowd below chanted “Saddam”, “Saddam”. That image always gave me a high. He was a military head, who almost made democracy look imperfect and my already imperfect democracy an absolute joke. In schools we talked, and then at dinner table we talked some more about his adventures. That also kept our minds occupied.
My mother asked the servants to put boric acid and kerosene oil into the water. Not that it made sense. But it was her way of doing something, anything to make us all feel that she had not surrendered to our misery.
The servants didn’t mind and sometime there was the added excitement of catching a worm, a water insect, leeches, water snakes, and what not. It was only when they saw what looked like feces, human’s, animal’s, that they squirmed. My mother promised a bonus to those who braved the filthy sight. One or two took her up on her offer.
However, Saddam was steadfast, belligerent. Embargo or not there was no moving back his army even as the Americans kept ratcheting up the war rhetoric. It almost seemed like a game of bluff between Saddam and his enemies and the cost of blinking first would be death.
But for me it was all about excitement, dare and escape. Saddam took me into the world of chest-thumping, exciting, instantaneous death. One bomb, one bullet is all it took to die, not days of unbearable stench.
Diarrhea and dengue fevers were making the rounds in town. Government hospitals ran at capacity. Many patients lay on the floor in hospitals’ hallways. We joked that for quick relief from sufferings, get admitted to a government hospital. One or the other disease would set you free for sure from your miseries, forever. And our federal government, a bit out of pity on us, a bit out of shame, but mostly to undercut the state government, promised relief: an ex-gratia of Rs 100,000 to be paid to the kin of the deceased.
That meant families would have to wait for their kin to die. Ours didn’t make the cut for the government’s grant nor did many middle class families like ours. But we all waited anyway – not for government grants but just to be spared this living hell.
It turned out the luckiest amongst us belonged to the lowest class. Diseases started to knock them off. And at long last, our misery became a national news too, besides Saddam’s exploits.
With frequent power outages, BBC radio service was our primary news source. Not that we trusted them but then who cared for the veracity. We were in for the thrill, all of us except my father – he worried about the falling share market as much as about the rising oil price and inflation as Americans talked about oil embargo to pressurize Saddam.
Under pressure, our government finally conceded that the pumps to drain water into the Ganges were broken and no telling how long it would take to fix. So what happened to all the funds allocated for repair and maintenance? Did the taxpayers’ money simply evaporate? In all likelihood it did.
BBC reported that Saddam had gone rogue. Children were being taken as hostages, particularly western children. To me it was almost a wartime masterstroke. Kashmiri insurgents had already shown how men in governance responded when one of their own was on the firing line. All we had to do was take the state’s “first children” as hostages and the water pumps would crank-up in a jiffy. As a seventeen year old, I was indoctrinated to almost all of Saddamisms.
But my people channeled their anger in ways they knew best: torching public and government properties. And as a sop our government promised to set-up an inquiry commission – one more promise. Instead mother-nature delivered on our earnest prayer. After about fifteen days the water receded from our home and roads leaving behind broken, muddied, potholed roads, some more cases of diarrhea and deaths, and for me an acute case of constipation from little food intake and even lesser fluid intake.
Within a few days my misery eased, and as the body relieved itself of gunk, the anger subsided leaving behind only just tiny pockets of humiliation and shame inside me. Overtime I don’t know what happened to those tiny pockets – did they just melt away in the August heat or dissipate in the mild October and November months?
Or maybe it was the excitement of the impending war. The Americans almost made it certain that Saddam’s occupation had to end one way or the other.
Saddam chose war, and as always gave his people the death as death should be and to us a hope that death can better than dying of diarrhea and dengue.
How can anyone blame Putin for promising his people a similar death?