The shouts. The cries. Vande Mataram! I trained my eyes onto an oncoming group of people. Dressed in chaste white Shalvar Kameezes, donning white skull caps, flowing beards, they were devout Muslims. Then I noticed the placards. “Pakistan is a Terrorist State”. Indian Flags aloft. The Group was highly animated. Pretty Large number by any standards. Raza Academy, the people behind this organised walk. They brushed past. Then, the clapping started. Thunderous! All around me were people who stopped what they were doing and applauded this segment of our community for doing what they did. It was then I realised the strength of my country. India.
Let me rewind. Blogs, SMSes. Facebook. Orkut. Everywhere was this call for being there at the Taj on 03.12.08 to send out a message to the entire country, the administration and the Politicians that we were to be no longer taken for granted. Non Cooperation was the word that Suparn, my organiser coined. As the day dawned, I had other pressing matters of the office to take care of. As if in sign of honour of the day, BEST got rid of the electricity in our office building at 8.45 am as I reported for work at my office. I lingered for a while at the chai shop while BEST put things right. The talk was about mundane things in office when someone piped up that he would be going for the march in the evening. Now, I am not really forthcoming about my other life with my office mates. So, I mumbled about me going there too.
Evening 6 pm. I hurried to finish my work at office. Left at 6.10 pm. My driver was smart enough to get to Churchgate by 6.40 pm but after that it was snail pace. I could see the sea of people all over, in “I love Mumbai” T shirts, with placards, flags and other assortments of democratic indignation spilled all over right upto Metro, that old and venerable movie hall. I did not fume. Let the driver be. He instinctively got everything right too. We turned in front of the Mumbai Police Headquarters. I told him that he needed to drop me there and proceed to any parking space that he could get. I would walk it from Regal. Ha! Little did I know that it was the only decision that could be taken under the circumstances.
Manjeet, my friend from PFC had already called and was waiting somewhere near the Ferry place along with our other mates. So, my mission was to get there first. But, what was this. ‘Sea of people’ was an understatement. People on the road. People on Traffic Podiums. People on the dividers. People on cars. Even people on the shoulders of other people. The Tricolour had been freely bandied about. There were scores of them. Banners were there in all shapes and sizes. The grim ones, the smiley ones, the naughty ones, the solemn messages, the concise ones and the silly ones too! Politicians. Pakistan. Parties. Media. CM Deshmukh. Raj Thackeray. RGV. Achutanandan. Naqvi. RR Patil. They were all lampooned.
Then the Cries. Vande Mataram was a crowd favourite. Jai Hind rang out all the while. Then the made up ones. Poor Pakistan bore the brunt. “Jab tak Sooraj Chand Rahega” was another favourite. Scores of youngsters in Tees. I had never seen such an emotional outpouring ever in my life. Absolutely never. There was no breast beating, mind you. Just a response. A huge response to a call given by fellow citizens about the state of our country. There were people from Colleges, from surrounding offices, from the far suburbs, all classes of the society, all religions and all age groups. I saw young kids in shorts doing “Jai Hind”, saw perfectly sane housewives from South Mumbai shouting “Down Down Pakistan” and a very old couple with the lady holding aloft the National Flag proudly and walking erect beside her husband of many years leading a bunch of very boisterous youngsters to an amazing effect. I took my time soaking in this unique and historic happening. I plodded along amidst this amazing humanity. I shouted too. I laughed at some ridiculous slogans too. The occasion was sombre but the people weren’t. The glint in the eye was combative, resilient and intelligent. Nobody was there to make merry. Not one soul did misunderstand the occasion. But they made it their own. It was so freeing, so life giving!
I reached Gateway of India. Manjeet, Raja and Suparn were there with their group. We talked about some normal stuff. Actually, I did not have much to talk. I was overwhelmed. Totally taken in by the sense of occasion. I am not Harsha Bhogle who can reel out a measured take on any occasion leave alone Cricket. I was not Alyque Padamsee or Mahesh Bhatt who could have given a philosophical edge to whatever was happening, anywhere. I just stared and stared. Trying to make a sense of where this could go. Shortly, we were joined by Kartick and Ashish. Kartick told me that he was witnessing history here and then would again be witnessing history back in US in a few days again with the Obama induction. Yes, he was absolutely right. This is history. In the making. And I just hope I can be some part of it!
Lastly, as we were coming back, we could see a large group of people standing still in the middle of all the melee. Went closer. “Jana Gana Mana” was on. I also belted out the last lines as I joined them. A sense of relief swept over me. This is my dear country. India. Redux.