My experience about Newtown, Connecticut ……….
By RASHMI TALWAR
In my first look at this quaint town of Newtown, Connecticut, USA, I was swept away by its charm. It was the month of May in 2007 and Maple trees were beginning to sprout their greens after their snowy caps had melted, much like the Chinars (same family) that I love of Kashmir. On the first landing, we had a learning session with my aunt, wherein she gave us vital clues of the town to ward off any ‘gregarious Indian-Ishytle traits’ of lunging-to-help-out or ‘chalta hai’ attitude in India, once things go wrong.
This is the same town that has seen the most dastardly killing of 20 children and six adults in a School by a 20- year old, on December 15, 2012.
During our visit, the instructions were –‘Don’t look too long into the neighbor’s house; don’t stand or stare at a school building; don’t click photos without permission; don’t sit anywhere near a building, only near ponds or parks; don’t use a vehicle, not even a bicycle since it is right hand driving here and the Police will nab you the moment it notices your confusion at road crossings and there would be a hefty fine and explanations, besides an admonition to the host family. These all were precautionary, helpful and kept us in check. They were also not misplaced or deliberately fear-inducing because barely a month before our visit, in mid April of 2007, 32 people at Virginia Tech USA, had been killed by a gunman.
The unobtrusive view of this cute township of Newtown, without front or side dividing walls, tree-lined with the best kept gardens, was a feast for the eyes. The dogs or pets were electronically leashed; sensor spot lights at night, timed lighting in houses were some of its security measures. I noticed the way people strictly obeyed instructions, when a hurricane befell during our stay. The town spread out in about 160 sq. kms. had a robust infrastructure, far more than its meagre population of about 27,000.
When news of killing of 26, including 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown broke on December 15, I was completely shocked and deeply saddened, having spent two months in that quiet peaceful place, considered one of the safest in America. To visualize the splattered ‘color of blood’ in Newtown, where people came from world-over in autumns, to watch the trees turn auburn, gold and reddish radiant, was particularly ironic.
Everyone in Newtown had a car and public transport was nonexistent, it being a non-tourist place. Thumbing a lift was strange and if someone stopped, they would consider you a local who had a problem and then move over all the buying paraphernalia from their loaded car, which they perhaps didn’t have time to download, to make space for you to sit in the passenger seat. Indeed things were beautiful, but not so simple, yet there was an air of being organized, being cautious, being thoughtful and being obedient. It was different and I loved it all.
However, despite the well organized township, there were things that didn’t quite feel normal, for instance there were huge spread out properties with signs of ‘No trespass allowed’ where a ‘single’ person was known to occupy the house. Police kept a vigil on them, but it was wholly abnormal to stay cut-off from the rest of humanity. “If one has no fear of being seen, one can act in unimaginable ways” say psychologists.
In another instance during a flight to Florida, a fellow co-passenger’s statement had got me thinking. “Why doesn’t America do more for people who are going insane, instead of having a liberal gun license policy? Could you imagine the havoc an insane person can unleash with an easy access to guns?” he contended. Perhaps the Virginia Tech 2007 killing was still fresh in his mind.
Another jolting experience was when I happened to ask an American of Indian origin about education in USA, she answered – “Education is very good but it is scary that children bring guns to school.” I was shocked.
Learning of the recent killing in Sandy Hook and its details, it shook me more that Nancy Lanza mother of 20-year old gunman Adam Lanza, possessed ‘three’ licensed weapons, including an automatic gun. I cannot quite understand this ‘gun freedom’ or liberalization.
I only laud the spirit of the people of this place who, after the massive tragedy, came together in support of the grieving families, taking to prayer.
There was no screaming, no irresponsible reporting in media, no chest beating, no arson, no strikes, no blaming the government, no wild-run destroying public property, stone-pelting or any violent means. They just stood locked in a human chain lighting candles in grief, giving solace and support to those who lost their little ‘tulips’ (5 to10 year olds) and steady trees (six adults).
It felt like a healing touch that television channels there aired programmes on how to detect trauma or deal with a traumatized child who had seen or heard the shootout. I hope US introspects its liberalized policy on guns, before it is too late.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN ‘RISING KASHMIR’ ON DECEMBER 20, 2012