A moment comes,which comes but rarely in history,when we step out from the old to the new,when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation ,long suppressed,finds utterance.
(Jawaharlal Nehru speaking on the eve of India’s independence on 14th August 1947.)
Libya’s moment came last month.In the evening of 23rd October 2011,in front of thronging crowds at Birkha square,Mustafa Abdel Jalil ,the N.T.C chairman declared Libya liberated from decades of Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule.A bloody civil war had just ended three days earlier with the killing of the dictator whose rotting body was now kept for public viewing in a vegetable cooler in the city of Misruta.
So that evening I and my friends joined all Benghazi residents in making a beeline for Birkha square.A carnival atmosphere prevailed as men ,women and children with painted faces and fluttering flags moved towards the grounds in their ‘sierras’.
At Birkha there was a sea of humanity .The colors of free Libya – red,black,green were everywhere.The event was being beamed live around the world by major news networks.By the time I reached the short opening ceremony and speech making (thankfully)was already over.
The attention had shifted to the rebel fighters who were the cynosure of all eyes.They had just returned the previous day from the final battle of Sirte .In combat fatigues with menacing guns and other weaponry sitting atop their battle modified civilian vehicles they were a formidable sight.The Toyota Hilux pickup with a machine gun mounted behind was the workhorse of the rebel forces during the war.As they held an impromptu parade the crowds of grateful citizens cheered ,shook hands ,clicked pictures chanted slogans and sang songs with them.Just a few months before these were docile young men who had perhaps not even held a gun.Occasionally the some of the brash youth let loose a volley of machine gun fire into the sky,perhaps to impress some wide eyed pretty damsel in the crowd.
On a more poignant note the crowds of joyful faces also contained many sombre ones.People were holding up pictures of their loved ones who were martyred in the conflict.A reminder of the heavy price of this freedom.Just the previous week I had seen our landlady grieve over deaths of five young men in our locality in the battle for Sirte.To these fearless men Libya is forever indebted.
As dusk turned into night the fireworks came on.But for once these paled in comparison to the volley after volley of machine gun and anti – aircraft fire.The night sky turned red with streaking bullets.Volley after deafening volley were fired in celebration despite the organiser’s pleas earlier to the contrary.It was a ferocious fireworks display like none I have seen.I later learnt that this braggadocio resulted in the death of a infant baby who was struck by falling sharpnel.
As the evening wore on we made our way back.Thus ended the revolution ;with hopes of a new beginning.A revolution like perhaps no other in history.From the initial revolt in Benghazi to the bloody siege of Misurata;from the dogged resistance in the western mountains to the sudden fall of Tripoli;from the vengeful destruction of Sirte to the brutal killing of the despot ;it had been a roller coaster ride for Libyans.For eight months I, like so many Indian colleagues had followed the Libya story,almost everyday, praying for our Libyan friends.Now was time to cheer and wish them well as they rebuild a Free Libya – Libya hurra!