Monday, February 25, 2008


There she was, standing among the thousands gathered. She was one out of thousands, but I could clearly see her, the crimson rays of the morning sun casting a glow on her face, dark straight hair half-concealed by a scarf.

It has been almost a year since I last saw her. She must be back for a holiday. She does not recognize me now; my physical appearance has changed considerably over the years. Apart from that I have grown so thin and my friends always notice this and some of them are bold enough to ask if I am into drugs. Day by day I am shrinking; the years of frustration and suppression have shrunk my mind.

I had this urge to go and speak to Hana. But I refrained, restrained myself, and mingled with the crowd. I felt hungry but despite the hunger pangs I stayed. It was like an intoxication, staying there within the crowd, listening to the speakers, discussing with friends and sometimes shouting.

The previous night the crowd looked like a sea, each person in the gathering like a ripple moving across the water. We joined the shouts of others calling to free Sandhaanu writers. It was the first time that I felt the overwhelming power of the gathering. We felt we were in charge, demanding justice, calling for the freedom of fellow citizens. We were standing in front of the NSS Headquarters, the sinister and gory building, the epitome of torture, and we were shouting without fear, without any hesitation, for the release of political prisoners such as Naushad. I felt energy flow right through me, adrenaline increasing.

What was the crime of the Sandhaanu writers? They were just expressing their thoughts, writing what they felt, just like I am doing right now. What they did was for the benefit of us all, for a better and just society, and did they deserve to be locked up and jailed?

Dawn at Republican Square that day had a surreal feel. Many of us had not slept and were deeply thinking about how things would unfold. Many people were coming and joining us, alerted by the news. When the first rays of the morning fell on the square there were more than 5,000 people gathered there. Most of them expecting something good to happen that day.

It was just like a dream; things were moving as if in slow motion, as if it was a movie. The past few weeks could have been scenes from a movie. The debates, the gatherings at Lonuziyaaraikolhu and the protests. The night the Defence Ministry banned the gatherings at Lonuziyaaraikolhu there were more people there. People were in a defiant mood and freedom was in the air.

We listened to Sandhaanu writer Ahmed Didi speaking. He was very weak from his days of captivity but he had an inner strength, a defiance, which was carried in his voice. He was an inspiration to us all, a symbol of human patience and sacrifice enduring torture and suppression.

Across the Republican Square another group, armed with microphones and loudspeakers, were chanting their support for the regime. This was quite understandable; a tyranny built over years will not collapse without a fight. That mob had tried to fuel violence previously, once trying to bring down the large flag in the square. They came and harassed us now and then, but we were committed to our non-violent protest.

I thought about Hana and the 1990s. In 1994 Aminiyya School organised a carnival to mark its Golden Jubilee anniversary. Each night there was music. We mingled with the crowd there, quite carefree, watching the girls and listening to the music. During those days there were things to expect, and most of the time I was looking for Hana.

I thought about the early 1990s and how life was so different back then. Drugs were not as widespread as now. It had not enslaved the young generation back then. Zero Degree Atoll had released their Dhoni album. More tourists were coming to Maldives. More dollars were flowing in. The economy was in a boom. Thinking of those days I believe that Gayoom could have avoided the mess he is in now.

Intellectually we were suppressed even then. The freedom movement of 1990 was crushed. Sangu, Hukuru and Manthiri, popular magazines of dissent, were prematurely aborted. If Gayoom had opened up the society more, distributed the wealth more equally, curbed corruption and allowed more freedom, he would not have faced the dissent that is squeezing him today.

Almost before noon I saw a group of girls arrive. Among them was Ana. It had been a long time since I last saw her. She is from the new generation. The lost generation. Like many girls of her generation she smokes. For some of them it stands for the empowerment of girls. For some it is merely an escape. I am not sure if she is into drugs or not. I rarely see her on the streets these days. I think her parents are locking her up.

All parents with adolescent boys and girls are full of stress. They are at a loss as to how to keep their children away from all the vice that is slowly leading to a social breakdown. Sex is so free. Drugs are abundant. The jails are full of drug addicts. There is no room in the rehabilitation centre to accommodate more addicts. Heroin. It's the new religion.

It is not love that I feel for Ana. There is a physical attraction. Ana was very beautiful standing there in the Republican Square, in an olive green t-shirt, black jeans, hair tinted. There is something delicate about her and I don't want her to turn into a heroin addict.

Do I love Hana? Yes. After all those years, even now. I wonder if Hana is married now, whether she has settled down after all those turbulent years. On second thought marriage does not become a salvation here. The country is already in world record book for having the highest divorce rate.

I wonder what went wrong between me and Hana in the 1990s. And I wonder what went wrong with the whole country in the 1990s. I remember the Zero Degree Atoll's Dhoni show, so many of us inside the social center, listening to Nashid sing and Mohoj on guitar.

"Othakas maa kandu hithakah libifaa,

Atha, viha, nora, dhosha nakathun nubalaa

thariyaa burujaa ragalhah nufilaa

Aruvaa jahamun dhathurah nufuraa"

After the show some of my friends were rolling some joints. They have outgrown their addiction now and I am very happy for them. Back then it was relatively easy; they did it very openly. But now the society is more aware of drugs, and this awareness is leading us nowhere.

By noon the warnings from NSS became harsher. An NSS man was stabbed in the morning. I suspected something foul in the air. The mob was coming again and again to try to disrupt the gathering. I felt hungry, sleepy and my legs felt weak. But my mind was alert as if it had woken up from a century's sleep. After the Friday prayers more people gathered. Then the crowd became thin. Maybe they were leaving, hours of fatigue and hunger overcoming their resolve. Or maybe they would join again after a short break.

A young mob hurling stones at NSS buildings. Young people who became prey to drugs, mentally programmed, ready to dance to the tunes of the regime. Green uniforms. Tear gas. Sticks and batons. Maniacs. Men and women screaming. Running. Scared. Running for their lives.

I have not seen Hana or Ana since the Black Friday. Many women were taken, beaten, tortured and sexually abused. Several children were brutally beaten.

Hana is studying nursing. In one or two years she will return. Maybe by then things will be different. Maybe by then we will need people like Hana to dress our wounds, to put the bandages and to care for the injured. The whole nation is wounded; the scars will remain forever.

Note: This is an attempt at short story writing. This fictional story was based on real life experience at Republican Square on 12-13 August 2004. The story was published in more than a year ago. Photos by unknown photographers.

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