I wasn't very surprised to hear about the shooting in a Gurgaon school on the news recently. Upset, yes. Sad for the families, yes. But surprised, no. Growing up in a city like Delhi with new money nestling not-so-comfortably with old, and with business families on every street corner, everyone knew someone with a gun.
When you're about sixteen and at a big party where most people are getting drunk for the first time, it's not uncommon that things might get a little out of hand. I didn't stay at those parties for very long--not after my 10 pm curfew--but the next morning reports went out over the teenage phone lines talking about the "huge fight" that had happened the night before, where someone had insulted someone else and two gangs decided to beat each other up, ending only when someone pulled out his father or grandfather's gun and waved it around.
It wasn't uncommon. Death was a concept we hadn't fully grasped, and which I'm willing to bet the schoolboys in question from Euro International School
hadn't fully grasped either. A boy's bullying you? Oh, let's take him out, mafia style and pump a few bullets into him. He
won't be so quick to beat you up the next time.
The school I went to had this street corner shop right outside it where you could buy Coke or chips or (in whispers) cigarettes and alcohol. That's also where everyone congregated to figure out what was happening in everyone else's lives. Newly formed couples trysted there, best friends fought and made up, the most popular kids in school sat in their charmed circles, knowing that everyone was watching them.
And sometimes, right before the last bell, a whispered murmur of "Fight!" would pass Chinese-whisper style through the classes and practically the entire student body would pour out en masse and form a little circle around the fighters. The challengers would swagger in, the challenged would look a little scared or defiant. Mostly, the fights
wouldn't be planned and you'd be lucky if you were hanging out there and you saw the fight burst into progress in front of you, like ancient Romans with their
gladiators. We watched, our mouths open, as noses were bloodied and lips cut.
The "serious" fighters--the kids you didn't want to mess with--had weapons, of course. Not all had guns, not that the guns were uncommon knowledge, but these were children, you mustn't forget, and the glory of having a new toy was too much for them not to show it off. The guns belonged to their parents, but they weren't locked away, or when they were, since their parents spoke of their weapons around the dining tables, the sons knew how to access them. What you could buy without a license was a knuckle-duster, a lethal looking piece of iron, moulded in the shape of your knuckles that you slipped over your hand to add a little extra to your punches. I remember boys showing off to each other about their knuckle-dusters; everyone wanted one.
It's hard to work off aggression when you're a teenager. Most people turn to sports, but when fighting was "cool" and beating someone else up a way to assert yourself, it's not surprising that so many people chose to do it. The Gurgaon school has admitted to having defunct CCTVs, the owner of the gun, the father of one of the boys was arrested and it is as if the entire country has just about woken up to violence in schools in India.
But teenagers remain teenagers, across the years, and across countries. Just because in the past it was possible to buy off cops and the media so that your kid didn't get a bad reputation doesn't mean it didn't happen. I remember a possibly urban legend that floated around when I was in school about a boy who was playing basketball on his school court and who got shot in the head and didn't feel anything. Not even urban legends--think over the last couple of years, what with sex-filled MMSs, lovesick teenage girls jumping out of windows, kids getting very drunk and overturning their cars--it's all very real and it has been for a while.
But as a culture, we're known for protecting our kids, for paying their bills and bailing them out of jail, for passing on family businesses and even for choosing life partners for them. And each subsequent generation is more spoon-fed than the last. There will be more shootouts--there have been more shootouts--unless the grown-ups decide to act like grown-ups and tell their offspring that some things are not okay. I wish someone had told those boys I grew up with too--because when I think of the sort of adults they have no doubt become, I'm a little frightened.