Geunine anger, but why do the jingo?

I was at the Gateway of India, as part of the protest rally. But what I saw was that although the poeple were genuinely angry, the protests were far confusing. The rally was for paying homage to the slained in the November 26, 2008 terror attacks. But it was a complete jingo, loud nationalist, slogan shouting exercise.

Ok, I am not really sure where to begin. I believe if we fail to find one strong leader or a person who has leadership qualities, then we get a sea of masses-means huge crowds of public which cuts across class and caste-with no specific direction or path.

Am I sounding harsh? Well then there were many people and instances on Wednesday December 3, evening that have made me doubt this very rally and its purpose. This controversy began on the Facebook, sms and all other virtual networking thingies from which the common public were disconnected. It has its own repercussions. There were hundreds of thousands of people who had simply ‘heard’ of this rally and had genuinely come from far off suburbs to pay their homage to the dead.
Among the various smses I got, one said that Manyata, a wife of a leading Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt – who in my eyes is still an alleged criminal (alleged is ONLY to be legally sound, else he still is) who has bought his freedom thanks to his family’s political clout and money. Yes, I stand by what I say because he has admitted to the police and in the TADA court that a gangster deposited to his residence a Russian Army weapon (AK47) and a truck full of explosives, including RDX for ‘protecting’ his family from the Bombay riots of 1992. Interstingly when these arms were deposited the pogroms had already stopped in the city! I feel his father was a politician who could have called upon the police or national security but he sought the help of the underworld. Today he is a free citizen under the ARMS control act, while other Muslim accused are stuck in the jail under TADA for the rest of their lives.

Now his wife was to lead this rally, which she did by holding a torch. I am sorry, I took immense objection to this episode and aired my misgivings to the organisers. What qualifies her to represent the city & its people? Why did she dorn make up & come as if she was running a marathon? The other problems was the truck load of celebrities who were to make an appearance.

By afternoon, all television channels had set up their stalls across the Gateway of India since they had been given a list that celebrities like Manyata, Rahul Bose –who is at least doing good work with the deprived- Preity Zinta, Javed Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar, Adhuna, Farhan Azmi politician Milind Deora and scores of others who graced this occasion.

This whole episode reminds of a recent conversation I had with a Facebook friend, who is a writer and lyricist. I happened to ask him to write some poetry after the terror seige, since he has a way with words. Thought these tough days was the real time to write good poetry or some prose , which would inspire ordinary people. I was given quite a talk..because I am sure the person did not understand my purpose or predicament. He wrote… “this is not a time to write poems …..this is the time to make our actions into poems this is the time to feel not to express…” Point is as a journalist I have stopped feeling over two decades ago. Like a doctor I see, dissect analyse and report with a neutral bent of mind. I do not have the skill or inclination to write poetry, prose or a piece of writing apart from news report. This person has a huge fan following and his words are read carefully by them all. Yet, i realised he had ‘avoided’ really expressing his angst against the system, a fact that the rest of the public was atleast talking about.

I have been since then observing and trying to understand this whole thing about ‘feeling’ that every second Mumbaikar seems to be talking about. What is a good time to feel? What is it that people are feeling now that was missing earlier? May I request the readers to re-think. Most among the 2.5 lakh persons who attended this rally were under 20 -35 years of age. So if we make them rewind their memories or remember the incidents of 1992 , then it simply means most of these were teenagers & many still toddlers in the year 1992.

The reason I speka of 1992, is because there seems to be a ‘common amnesia’ regarding the first act of Hindu terror on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid (mosque) was pulled down. Thereafter the second, pogroms Mumbai city in which scores of rich and poor Muslims were killed heinously gravely wounded and although officially 900 had died, many still are missing. Then we faced the 1993 blasts which again affected the spirit of this dear city of mine, Bombay. Since then I thought the restlessness and feelings would’ve have increased. Except for a handful who have consistently protested and are labelled ‘activists,’ I did not see this anger or feeling ever expressed so openly. These acts of crime were no less henious than Nov 26.

We again suffered a series of blasts on the trains and BEST buses, wherein middle class and elite members died. More importantly the bomb blast at the Gateway of India on August 25, 2003. That time the people who died were balloon sellers, photographers who shot pictures of tourists and some beggars. Sadly, at that time there was no mass movement or any celebrity who came forward to march on. Worse still this amnesia was reflected even last Wednesday evening, when no one paid a tribute these poor souls who lost their precious lives in that dastardly act.

The list goes on till the local train blasts 2005 and Malegaon. Yet, no one thought of coming out to protest or express their anger. I am happy a very delayed action of ‘anger’ and ‘feeling’ have taken over a complacent middle and elite class who now want to act.

However pardon me saying this, did I expect anything apart from lighting candles, speeches and shouting slogans? No, but I definitely expected some trouble. It was a sheer news instinct, considering the agitations and threats that were echoed by many, I expected some spats and may be stone throwing or altercation with the police.

Huge masses of people walked or were thankfully compelled to walk, as they had to abandon their vehicles in various corners. The police who should have been doing their duty of protecting the Gateway of India area, failed misreably in keeping crowds away from this spot. Meanwhile we reporters continued with our follow up work, which also meant going to CST station where 8 kg more of RDX was found! No one seemed to mind that security had been breeched and the police and authorities had succumbed to public pressure.

I wish this pressure was passed onto some more concrete action. I first went to the Radio Club side, where some celebs had paid their visit and argued among themselves how they needed to go to the Gateway of India side to share the platform with the other folks. Suddenly I heard people shouting “Vande Mataram”, “Bharat mata ki jai,” “Pakistan chor hai” and so on. There was immense pro-India and anti-Pakistan jingoistic. There were many who spoke of war – again most who were not even born when the 1971 war took place. Even as a tot I distinctly remember the dark nights wherein we had to eat and manoeuvre around our houses in pitch dark during the 1971 war. Yet, like forbidden sex, the war and loss of freedom seems to fascinate those born in this largest democracy.

Suddenly there was an announcement for more agenda. Meanwhile the crowds got restless and began hooting. So one uncle called upon his wife, an organiser atop a truck asking her to take another point on the agenda. “Enough of speeches, this is not happening. Th
e crowds are angry and are turning awa, do something more,” said the loyal hubby. Auntyji heard and gave the mike to a young gal who screeched into the mike about why we need to boycott elections and no -voting. All around me were youngsters in hip tight low waist jeans looking sad and suddenly woke up to “Don’t tell us what to do,” “We know what to do. Shut up and give us action!”

Some metres away atop a wall of some compound people began lighting scores of candles. The melting wax fell all over; same scene took place on the pavement opposite the hotel Taj. India’s national flags made from all sorts of material were being pushed into the air. Then like in Karan Johar films the organisers felt they need to bank upon people’s sentiments and everyone broke out into the National Anthem. A young man who was an organiser was egging on people to sing loudly by shoving his fist into the air at the time of the anthem. A former armed forces uncle next to me to screamed, “Hey you rascal in the cap put that hand down, you are singing the national anthem. No discipline I tell you.” The jingoism in the air was too heavy by then.

Meanwhile, I met up with a Sikh army person. He has joined Trig Security and had volunteered to help the forces clear debris and bodies at the Taj hotel. As I walked away to see the mess the melted wax had made, two gals with a cloth flag shouting slogans walked towards the DNA photographer Kamlesh and correspondent, me. We were aghast and infuriated to see these chicklets holding the flag upside down. I was not in my spirits to give them some chaste abuse, which I normally would have, as I was upset with the whole drama. I told them at least hold the flag correctly, it is a shame…the gals sheepishly said oh, oops, sorry…and smiled into the camera!
By then the Sardarji friend was over the top and would have picked these two girls and thrown them into the sea. (I was hoping he would have). He told me this was a stupid fracas with aimless youth. As we stood talking across the road we noticed an old aunty walk with a plastic flag that was totally crushed. “Yeh to ab logon ka tamasha aur mazak ban gaya hai. Kyu ye sab shaheedon ka mazak udane,” said the Sardarji friend. (These people have made a mockery and drama of this whole situation. Why are they making fun of the martyrs & the flag?) He genuinely was disturbed. We decided to walk towards to the candles to take a break from this mockery, when in front of us a richie rich family came and stood near the candle-lit wall. The young man tore open the box, rushed his wife to open the candles and asked the son to hurry as they had to catch up with celeb uncles, aunties. The box which was torn open, its litter was thrown down on the road. The richie man and wife lit the candles in a super quick speed and rushed out from the spot.

The Sardarji led me to see the people walking in the rally. He said “You must report all this rubbish and turned to look at my expression. Sardarji friend asked me, “You will write this I pray.” He need not have asked me, because this is my commitment and job, to write exactly what I have seen. Thereafter for 15 minutes we both stood rooted with clenched fists. Every person in this famous rally was on their cell phone, either smsing or talking non-­stop.

May be seeing and experiencing harsh realities too frequently has made me a sceptic, however all these anecdotes and happenings left a deep mark on my mind. I saw the anger was genuine and I grant that. But I cannot fathom how indifferent in attitude and body the public was when participating. Sorry, this was no Olympic marathon or torch rally wherein celebrity women carried a fire torch with make up. This simply does NO good to anyone. Young children had lied at home some rebelled, as my colleague saw parents pulling down a college girl, “Stop it, enough is enough we have to leave now,” may be embarrassed by her guts, which I definitely appreciate more than the mass tamasha. I felt bad for all those ladies who had come a long distance braving the local train rush hour and the fear, considering the police had forgotten to detect the RDX (left behind by the terrorists eight days ago). I do not think such foolhardy events serve any purpose.
We media thought we had played a role in removal of the chief minister and like us the public too was delusional. Delusional I say, because the Congress Party and the leaders showed they cared a damn for us and for all those who died, but were more concerned with their ‘power,’ chairs and posts. These events without a concrete cause and mission are futile waste of public time, energy and cause immense security concerns. Not once anyone thought of letting the police do their jobs. Kamlesh and I had to run half way back to CST, because we had to get the story and picture of RDX being found. It was a nightmare to see so many countles stranded on the road and another sea of humans walking towards their homes.

Experiences, travelling alone as a woman, observations & current issues