Friday, April 08, 2011

A day in the life of gung-ho woo-hoos -- a.k.a social activists

I understand navratras are on. And everyone's on a seventy per cent fast for 9 days. But I've never been to a party where for that reason they serve shakarkandi/ sweet potato as appetisers. That too each morsel of the foul stuff poked with toothpicks and spread out to look like there's plenty so eat, eat.

I have also never been to a party where they serve french fries for snacks with the majority of fries struggling to stay afloat in the thick of ketchup.

This is what happens when for a change you go with the boyfriend to birthday dinners of his school friend from section D -- or no, wait -- 'D group', a short, stout member of the Jain clan who could've left his shirt's top button undone. But like the one well-dressed woman said, "For a Jain household in the middle of navratras, I'm impressed they're even serving alcohol."

Was I not well dressed? Not really. Let's just say I was in a frame of mind to remind Delhi that casual -- or 'cadge' (with a 'z' sound) as some say -- doesn't require you to throw on your latest boutique purchase and pair it with mall-bought chandelier earrings. And so Snoopy-T and jeans it was, with um, kohlapuris. (Since Wikipedia doesn't have an image attached, look which shaven-chest hair inheritor of a brewery and an airline is wearing them). Were anyone to (dare) question my unremarkable turnout, 'I was only dropping in on my way back from a swim'.

Outcome of Jain dinner despite the nonsense chatter and ubiquitous potatoes: support garnered for Anna Hazare, the 78-year-old Gandhian, writer of 5-point letter to the PM, fasting unto death till an anti corruption law, the Jan Lokpal Bill, materialises.

This was being talked about -- how is a fast going to help?, isn't it blackmail? Everyone tossed in their two bits, from not knowing who this Anna (/Un-na/, like elder brother, not /Aena/ like anglicised girlie) person was, to having rigid views on NGOs: they make as much money as any one and what guarantee can there be that an anti-corruption committee wont be corrupt? and so on.

One other member of this D-group, a sailor in the merchant navy, an amateur 'shayar'/poet is the one friend of whom the boy says however infrequently I meet I "guffaw with". It makes boy-f happy and he doesn't think I'm going to run off with him just because his light heartedness is in such refreshing contrast to the heavyweight dullards I sometimes find at these D-for downmarket group gatherings. So that's nice.

Now Shayar and guffawer, Vivek and I, two non-office bound people with a tepid social conscience in a fit of ya ya we must!, our-nation-needs-us, we-mustn't-sit-silent, India!-India! decided to go beyond Facebook likes and turn up the next day to support Anna H.

I thought it was just talk, some party josh/enthusiasm and we'll see in the morning. What I didn't know: this Vivek would turn out to be such a good follow-upper and take my number from his friend, my boyfriend. So my phone rings. Unknown number. It's Hello? Helloo..? Hellloo???! No hi/hello/good morning/ am I disturbing -- straight, he bursts into a comic sher/couplet! Nothing like humour to kickstart another possibly wasted day.

Stupid tequila laced conversation came back. We decide almost mournfully there's no backing out. The done thing is to see this through. We must partake of this cause. What example will we set for the next generation?! Yes, yes. Good speech. Plan is made. Place is decided. ETA: 15.10 -- We will reach the grounds of the hunger strike "in the after lunch session". Boyfriend says he'lll see if he can come but he has meetings and a bakery to run and in the real world, cakes trump corruption so maybe not, but you guys go ahead.

Others chicken out too. So Vivek and I were the only cartoons who met. He confessed to having assumed I'd show up in salwar kameez and whether I thought this was a fashion parade for turning up in capris and a well-ventilated sleeveless thing; he, on the other hand, nailed the the man-on-a-mission-kurta look. I said I didn't want to be dressed predictably -- also, hello, I'm spending a few days with my grandparents and didn't exactly come prepared with modesty in my overnight bag. I justified my somewhat improper attire (2nd time in 12 hours, keep count) by reasoning that if men are going to pinch my ass at a hugely hyped protest to weed out corruption, this country deserves to go to the dogs.

We reach Jantar Mantar. But were still looking around, feeling a bit foolish asking for exact directions to a site we're technically already at. We stop to assess the situation, reflect on our respective joblessness and comment on the favourable weather conditions. For the rest of the evening, we talk like newscasters. We concur that wandering must cease. Let's stop and plan how to go about this. To help this indecision, we veered towards nearest panwadi for a smoke. Just to help us think. Baby steps. After all, neither is a pro at protesting, not publicly, not like this, with slogans and you know, fervour!

It doesn't take time to figure out where the action is. We follow one sari wearing determined type who doesn't smile at us. There's an unfortunate voice belting out tragic bhajans -- ae mere watan ke logon. Vivek and I, good jingoistic youngsters, both know the song and that Pt. Nehru bawled when he heard Lata M croon this. Our parents taught us well.

Onward ho! In the direction of loudspeakers and bad crooners then. People were wearing white and sitting under tents. There were clever kiddies carrying slogans -- teacher, teacher, we can't do our HW(homework) for we need to work for the nation first. (Honest! it said something like that, I took a photo for you but along with reduced modesty in overnight bag, I didn't carry my camera cables. I 'pologise.)

Like the page 3 sections says, 'spotted:' lawyers in black, en masse, eating away -- chhole kulche, rajma chawal and kachoris. School kids in uniform, plenty of journalists -- but, of course -- and doctors in white, roaming around looking for weak people. I spoke to one from Apollo Hospital and was told they're there in case any of the fast-unto-death peeps faint/die. The orderliness of the affair was impressive, especially when my last comparable memory is of sugarcane farmers not too long back on a vandalising spree, protesting price rise.

Vivek was impressed with the number of people I knew. What he didn't know was that the five six people I said hi to were from my former office. Didn't want to tell him but I did. Now he thinks I'm less popular. I wish I had kept shut.

We spent over an hour at the site, listening to mediocre orators, gauging if Anna's looking weak or what, and saying Jai Hind! whenever the tempo got going. Comrade shayar was even accosted by a Hindi TV channel to air his views. They caught hold of me first. But I being unsure of my ability to convey my views (what views?) in unfaltering, shudh/pure Hindi, and a bit not-comfortable with mikes in my face white-lied my way out of it saying, I too am the media, oh but here, talk to him! The TV channel seemed so bloody B-grade, we didn't bother to ask what time they might air Vivek's screen debut.

After we'd had our fill of the tamasha (see video), and assuaged our collective social conscience, we went to have cold coffee at De'pauls and find him a copy of The Secret since he'd promised his pro-positive thinking aunt he'll read it. I had work too. I needed me a copy of The Vedas. My grandmother has been on my case to pick one up from not any publishing house, 'a' particular publishing house. We got neither. Must've been the vibes we sent out in the universe. I told him to put it back, The Secret. We'll buy a pirated copy from across the street.

Despite his skeptic view of the effectiveness of The Secret, I thought it was sporting of him to give the twaddle a shot. All he wanted to know: will it help me control my thoughts? I said it er might - for a week. But if you can laugh at them, not let them get to you, surely that's a move up from all consuming self pity, no? He looked indulgent but unconvinced. Why else would his reply begin with, 'All that is ok, but..' Fine. I lost that one. In the larger scheme of an activist day, my only victory was that no one pinched my ass.


Perakath said...

He has fasted unto death many times in the past.

Also, I've seen the pic of S Mallya in kolhapuris to which you refer. But isn't he wearing plain sandals in this one?

Nimpipi said...

And may he not need to fast unto death again.

Nope, not plain sandals. The leather, the design, the little stick-out thing on the strap -- seems to me distinctly kohlapuri.

stuti said...

I believe the gathering was more than a tamasha. or is that just some self-effacement?

and hey.. u misspelt whether.

as weather. just.


Nimpipi said...

Stuti: Self effacement, not at all. Good cause, people mobility, voice of the nation -- not taking that away. Of course it was more than a tamasha. Doesn't mean there wasn't an element of disinterested onlooking. There can't not be! This is India. Everywhere you look is tamasha. People eating at a hungry strike = little bit tamasha. Come on.

Oopsie@whether blooper. Thank you for pointing it out. See now.

The.Mystic said...

Well the bill will be passed and it'll open a whole new avenue for bribes! The Lokpals will be stinking rich!
To fight corruption like Gandhi says we need to stop being corrupt ourselves only then will the world change! Anna is doing a good job, but the truth is, in the long term it'll be a money spinning phenom. for the political parties in power.

Anonymous said...

heh Perakath cool aint he being able to fast unto death so many times.. us ordinary mortals barely manage once

Anonymous said...

total tamasha it is

why elect MPs if you don't want them in Parliament