On the 22nd of November 1963, at around half past
twelve, an open-top limousine slowly passed through Main Street in downtown
Dallas. At the end of Main Street it turned right into Houston Street and then
made a 120-degree turn into Elm Street, crossing, at the bend, the Texas School Book
Depository. A few metres after the turn, as the car slowly made its way down
Elm street, there occurred an incident that would shock people all over the
world and begin a mystery that hasn’t – as many believe – been resolved until
Seated in that car were J.F.Kennedy and his wife, along with
Texas Governor John Connally. The drive was part of a long motorcade that
was supposed to take them from Dallas Love Field airport to the Dallas
Business and Trade Mart, but at this section of Elm Street Kennedy was shot on his
head with two bullets, supposedly fired by Lee Harvey Oswald from the sixth
floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
I visited the area when I was in Dallas last week. I
had read that it had been retained more or less as it was in 1963. The spot on
Elm Street where Kennedy’s car stood when he was shot was marked with an X
sign, painted in white on the tar road. Traffic crossed in both directions,
irreverently. From that spot to the sixth floor of Texas School Book Depository
the view was clear, unobstructed by the surrounding trees. The “grassy
knoll” on the right – the spot from where, according to many theories,
another person had supposedly fired a shot – seemed like a place that would
offer good cover to someone who intended to fire a shot and make a quick getaway. I
felt an aura of mystery surrounding the whole place, but it could very well
have been my imagination.
I had arrived in Dallas a couple a days before, on an
evening flight from J.F.Kennedy airport in New York (why wasn’t the airport in
Dallas named after him?). My hotel on Main Street was a fifteen-minute walk
from the Texas School Book Depository. The skyscrapers in this part of town –
downtown – reminded me of Manhattan, but the energy was clearly missing: the
streets were mostly empty and dull. Further, the area was not considered safe.
The morning after I landed was a Sunday, and since my
meeting was scheduled for the evening I decided to spend the morning going
around the city. The plan was short-lived. As I unpacked I realized I had
left my electric shaver back home, which meant I had to buy a new one.
(Strangely enough, I have never used the conventional shaving brush and razor
so far. When the first stubbles made their appearance – after an agonizingly
long wait for signs that indicated my initiation into adulthood – I inherited
my dad’s old unused electric shaver that lasted me through my college days, and
then I bought myself a new one. There are times when I watch ads on TV that
show a woman caressing a man’s smoothly shaven chin, and I wonder if I am
missing the experience of a real shave – plus the fringe benefits it brings along
– but it hasn’t yet pushed me to go out and buy myself a brush and cream. Not
even when an opportunity like this one presents itself).
I asked the lady at the reception for directions to a
shopping district. She suggested I take
the train, offered directions to a nearby station and added some instructions
on how to buy a ticket from the vending machine. The walk to the station, five
minutes away, was like a walk through a modern city that was hollow both
literally and metaphorically – empty streets surrounded by tall empty buildings
that stood as if they had been robbed of their meaning for existence. “It’s Sunday,” I felt like telling
them, “Go home!”
The train station was deserted. The train arrived a
few minutes later, carrying what seemed like a few survivors on a lost planet.
A middle-aged Mexican seated a few feet away looked at me with curiosity, while
the others stared ahead blankly. At the end of the compartment a young girl
with dishevelled hair was sitting on her boyfriend’s lap. He was playing around
with her and she seemed to enjoy it. After a while she let out a yelp.
“Don’t bite me!” she said, as a few heads
turned around in that direction.
“Why not?” came the reply.
“Because it hurts!”
The scene made me wonder if these days such things
happen in India too. When I was there around eighteen months back, there seemed
to be a very different generation growing up in Bangalore. I would be visiting
that city in a few weeks, and I hoped to get my answer soon.
I reached the shopping mall around 11:15 am and
noticed a few dozen cars parked already. Early Sunday shoppers, I thought, but
I was wrong. The mall opened only at noon on Sundays, and these were the cars
of people working there.
As I walked through the mall, scanning the elegant and
expensively decorated windows, I saw people getting ready for their day-at-work, setting up their front desks and switching on their computers.
Along the corridors there were a few like me, sauntering around, waiting for
shops to open. Many were having their breakfast at a restaurant. An elderly
couple dressed in jogging-suits were walking briskly through the mall, from one
end to the other. A few young boys and girls – a study-group, probably – were
discussing softly in a corner.
When the shops opened at noon, I quickly bought a
shaver and left.
To be continued ? Maybe, Maybe not…..