Ground Zero: Standing up to be counted can be hard for some!

Full disclosure. I’m not – young. My friends are also not young. In fact, in some rude circles I am considered anything between old, really old or just crabby as hell.

And in these days of protests, marches, slogan shouting or just standing up to be counted, I want to be a part of history-in-the-making. I will completely ignore those who point out that people like me ARE history.

Last Tuesday, having soaked in the heady writing of the anti-JNU violence Gateway protests in Mumbai, my friend and I set off to join the protest at Azad Maidan, where we had heard it had been shifted.

We were, of course, fully aware that there was also the great, big nation-wide trade union protest called by the Left parties on the same day. To tell the truth, I was excited, feeling as if I had time-travelled to the early ’70s when trade unions bullied, postured and struck at a moment’s notice and everyone sort of fell into line.

Before we started out, we attended to the really important stuff. Friend: You think we should buy food for the protestors? Me (faintly scandalised): Food? Don’t they have too much already? Chips-vips, cake-vake. I read they were piling it all up on the seawall in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Friend: Tchah, you can never have too much food. I’m buying.

We met at the Mumbai Press Club which will, in a couple of years, be in the heart of the Metro station for the area. That is the impression I got, anyway.

My friend was lugging a heavy bag and already looking put out. I peered in. Chips-vips, cake-vake, bottles of water. Better keep some for ourselves. Protesting is hungry work, I told her.

We walked to Azad Maidan, already feeling like part of the protests. It was getting hot, a sheen of sweat appeared on my forehead. Into the gate of Azad Maidan from the CST side and there seemed to be more policemen than anyone else.

But we are not journalists for nothing. Protests kutthe, we enquired cheerfully, and were pointed in the right direction. There were lots of people, none of whom seemed like students, the defining units for OUR protest.

Near the huge and promising-looking pandal, we puffed up to large groups of men and asked protest kutthe again and were told ikre, so we put the bag down.

Nobody looked like they really needed food. In the pandal, a huge sign announced the worker’s protest, followed by a veritable alphabet soup of trade unions.

There were large groups of women inside, all sitting on the carpets, looking like flower bouquets in their carefully colour co-ordinated groups. Mostly anganwadi workers from Raigad and Pen and Palghar. The damn bag was really heavy.

Like magnets, we were drawn to two women who seemed to fit the bill. They did. They were also looking for the protest they said. Unlike us, they already had ‘hazari certificates’.

They had attended the Gateway protest. More to the point, they were full of political, social and economic opinions about everything they were witnessing. They were also fighting with members of their own families about these opinions, they declared.

Would they like a packet of chips, we asked hopefully. No, they said, they would be picking up lunch somewhere else because Azad Maidan seemed like a dead loss for them. Meanwhile, the crowds were pouring in, some had already started trade union chants.

We made phone calls, learned that the student protests had now been decentralised till January 27. There was stuff happening at Bharatmata in Parel, in Andheri East, at Kalina Campus. The girls split for Kalina, we picked up the bag, decided to go to Bharatmata.

When we finally got there, we learned that the protest had been fixed for later in the day. We opened a bag of chips. Made plans for another day of protesting.

That’s the nicest thing about Mumbai these days. Everyone is protesting, almost as if this is a kind of protest Woodstock with everyone welcome to do their thing. And it is not just Mumbai but cities and towns all over India. Wrap your head around 150 million people, if you still believe mainstream media.

Next time, no bag. But perhaps a yoga mat would be useful. Maybe it’s a last hurrah for us, but that’s no reason not to thoroughly enjoy the unity, the fuzzy emotional sense of well-being, the feeling that at last we are taking control of – something.

So, see you on January 27 at Azad Maidan. There will be songs and chants and soapbox speakers and placards and snacks and water and young and old and middle-aged, all united by one thing. Concern for the future of the Idea of India.