Monday, May 22, 2006

The things that we do

During the last week of April, I was living just another intern’s life – getting to work by 8, blood collections, signing musters, getting bored, casualties, movies… the works. And then, one fateful afternoon, some seniors of mine were discussing the injustice that Mr. Arjun Singh is trying to perpetuate in the name of social justice. And this is how it begins: how I start to do things that are no longer normal for an intern. But, the strange thing is that most interns are now doing what I’m doing; and so we’re all doing the normal thing.

Letter to the First Citizen
It was yet another sweltering afternoon and I was trying to escape the oppressive heat by running off home. Little did I know that I would soon be thrown into the frying pan. A couple of seniors ask Sumedh and I to help in framing a letter with our grievances. And to whom was this letter addressed? None less than the President of the sovereign democratic republic of India. Somehow, I felt very dwarfed by the whole notion of actually writing a letter to the president as if it were a complaint to the school principal. In fact, all of us weren’t too convinced that the man himself would read the letter and were giggling at our naïve presumptuousness of advising the President as to how the Government is going wrong.

Calling the Media
When we realized that mere letters to presidents weren’t going to make the slightest of dents in the Government’s plans, all of us decided that a more vociferous form of protest was required. So, what work was I stuck with? Nothing more important than calling the media to cover the event. This included getting journos from Maharashtra Times and Loksatta to NDTV 24x7. Suddenly I am on first-name basis with the omnipresent reporter of Sahara Mumbai. This did not happen just to me; but, as far as I know, half of the intern-batch of KEM now regularly finds itself on TV or being quoted in the papers. Just another day, just another journalist, just another request, “could we get 3 speakers for the RKB Show tonight on Sahara?”

I never, ever imagined that one day I would sit in the dusty, sprawling grounds of Azad Maidan. I never thought I would scream “Ek, do, ek, do, Arjun Singh ko fek do”. In fact, the first time I did it, I laughed at myself. But, during the second rally, when 300 of us sat outside the Governor’s bungalow and rokoed-the-rasta, suddenly I was in the moment and the words “Ek, do, teen, chaar, bandh karo yeh atyachaar” rolled off much easier. When the cops came, my uneasy premonition of the afternoon was being played out alive. The crowds, stubbornly seated with crossed-legs and locked hands, chanted “Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai; dekhna hai zor kitna bazu-e-qatil mein hai” and meant every word of it. During the last candle-light protest at Shivaji Park, the IITians came up with a bunch of innovative slogans, of which “Shikshan ke dalaalon ko, joote maaro saalon ko” kicked ass! (pun intended)

Courting the court
Thanks to our impromptu protest outside none less than the Raj Bhavan, the police were flummoxed as to how 300 students materialized out of thin air in such a high-security zone. To hide their discomfiture at being made a pandu, they found two scapegoats in our YFE group. Obviously, none of us could tolerate these people being made the fall guys for that which was our common plan and, so, 65 people showed up in the Sessions Court to attend the hearing of their plea for anticipatory bail. I had never thought that as early as 23 I would see the insides of a criminal court. For those who haven’t been there and don’t think they will have the opportunity either, it’s just another high-ceilinged, dusty old building, which is, strangely, very, very quiet.

Almost on Air
When Sahara Samay gave us our first full hour of airtime on the RKB Show, I was to go on air but chickened out and just accompanied the guys who spoke. Well, in the bargain, I have now visited the recording studio of a news channel and it’s much smaller than I imagined it to be. Also, it seemed like just another office where a couple rooms had cameras. In fact, we got to know of the office hierarchy firsthand when one of us was lounging on the boss’ chair and was unceremoniously ousted forthwith.

In these two and a half weeks, I have not lived my own life but that of an activist. The sad part is that all my peers have similar stories. The Government’s populist measures are having an immediate impact on our lives and hard-working, happy students are suddenly going on hunger strikes and are at the wrong ends of the police’s lathis. Who knows what the weeks ahead hold for us? In fact, just today, I met women from an NGO who have instant access to the CM and Mahesh Bhatt (!). All I can say is that whatever be the results of our protests (and the picture is bleak very often), what must be done must be done.

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