Nearly two decades back I was traveling by train to North of the country. At that India was rocked by terrorist violence in Punjab and summary executions by the militants as well retaliation by security forces was common. My father was posted in an Air force base in Punjab and I was in my second job at Patna in Bihar. Every three months I took a weeks leave to visit my parents in Punjab.
Punjab is the state dominated by Sikhs and most important temple of Sikhs is Harminder Sahib in Amritsar. One of the most important Spiritual Heads of the religion was born in Patna and another Harminder Sahib is located in Patna. Now due to pressure from the security forces the militants were running away from Punjab and many were taking shelter in different parts of the country especially in the East.
I had taken a train from Patna to New Delhi and from there I took a local train Amritsar Express to get to my destination. I took a seat with almost all young Sikh fellow traveler traveling back to their own destination. They were all speaking in chaste Punjabi which was not very well understood by me. I kept looking from one face to another thinking that they are all of my age and none of them looks dangerous enough to be a militant. Lost in my thoughts listening and not understanding I took up a magazine one of my fellow travelers left behind on the seat and saw that all was written in Gurmukhi, a script in which Punjabi is written. Now it had pictures of few well known Indian film-stars and must have been one of those film magazines. As I was flipping through the pages the train had come to halt in one of the stations. I was busy looking at the pages when I felt something poking me. I looked up and saw a police man pointing his gun and asking me something in Punjabi. Perplexed at his behavior I told him that I did not understand what he was saying. At this the policeman got very agitated and shouted abuses and called his colleagues.
I was dragged down from the train slapped made to stand with my hands up. I saw the train leave, felt like crying not understanding why they were behaving like that with me. Soon an officer who asked me where was I coming and where was I going. They deduced from my place of starting the journey to my destination that I was hard core Terrorist who was acting as if he did not understand. They asked me how I learnt Bengali, which is my mother tongue. Slapped me again for telling truth. Now I was looking at the prospect of spending considerable time in jail. As luck would have it I saw an young army captain walking by. I just called him and told him my plight. He was also a part of the security net that was spread to catch some dreaded terrorist. His looks said that he was also not believing me. I asked him to call the Air force camp and ask for my father and gave him my father’s service designation and service number. At this he seemed to believe me and called on the Air Force camp.
Rescue came in the form of Air Force Police who helped me get out of the net where I got in just by listening and not understanding what those fellow travelers were talking and looking at the pictures of a magazine.