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Thursday, April 7, 2011

A view of the Anna Hazare ' Show' from the sidelines

It is early evening on the third day of Anna Hazare's fast . Two men are exiting from the place of action. The fatter of the two remarks, 'ekdum neta hai". The other opens his betelnut chewing mouth to riposte ," neta nahi- abhineta hai woh".They burst out laughing and stroll off  in the opposite direction, presumably to look for more entertainment. Their remarks seem to be the final nail required in the coffin set up by the editor of 'Open ' magazine in an article which calls Anna 'obsolete', publicity hungry and a puppet of the media. My vote is decided  before being cast. I walk in and look  around with a jaundiced eye. A man is selling 'pappadums', another( keeping in mind India's culinary diversity ? ) is making " jhal murri'.  Two policemen are leaning on a barricade , discussing the current mistress of their boss . A bare chested young man struts around. His shaved chest and unshaved back have been painted with slogans supporting Anna Hazare's call  for changes in the Lokpal bill. The young man disappears inside a mobile toilet. Many khadi kurta clad young men and girls can be seen. The men have curly hair; the girls have put up their hair in studiedly untidy buns . And yes, they have that great symbol of Indian marxism- the 'jhola' on their shoulder.

 On the left are the tents. The first has a handful of  senior citizens with straight backs and faces. A glance at the banner explains all- 'Ex sevicemen in support of the fast' .The second tent is the 'information desk'. Many busy looking men are manning it. The third 'shamiana' is where all the action seems to be taking place. On one side is a dais. A rockstar lookalike is exhorting  the crowd to please put up their hands and clap. I look at the crowd squatting on green durries and realize that the word 'motley' was coined for  just such a group. There are the young, the middle aged and the aged ;the jean clad  nymphets to the salwar kameez wearing aunties; the lower divisional clerks rubbing shoulders with serious men .Their seriousness tells us that they are either bankers or managers or both.Where the  last line of the squatting crowd ends, the first line of the television crew begins.Their cameras are trained at the dais and at the guitar strumming rockstar lookalike. He looks very familiar. The penny drops. He is a bhajan singing disciple of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.Now he wants the people to sing along with him- 'hum honge kamyaab ek din...'.They lustily respond, swaying to the beat, hands up in the air,clapping in rhythym.

A decidedly weak looking octogenarian stumbles onto the stage. He is wearing shorts which have a RSS pracharak look to them. He sits down self conciously and adjusts his three fourths.The singer carries on .He asks how many in the audience know about the Janlokpal bill. Everybody shouts,'we do'.He sings," hum bill layenge ek din..."The crowd cheers. I find myself also clapping. Swami Agnivesh walks on to the stage- nothing self concious here, but, surprisingly, he sits quietly in one corner, making no attempt to hijack the limelight. A lady stumbles, her feet caught in the wires of the television cameras.Many hands reach out to help her. Just then a loud cheer erupts from the crowd  The man spearheading the 'show' has made an entry. By the time the lady is helped and settled down, Anna Hazare is sitting on the dais.

I wait for him to make a 'speech'. He is quiet. The crowd is quiet. The quietness is not an uneasy one or a bored one or a dangerous one.It is the quiet between a husband and wife married for many years. It has the same calmness, the same understanding and the same goals.Somewhere in the background the haunting lyrics of Gurbani are being recited by a turbanned gentleman.

I now know why the movement has appealed to the masses, to the twitteratti, to the facebook netizens, to the non resident indians, to the bankers,the clerks,the geeks and the nerds .It appeals not because they believe Hazare is the 21st century variant of the mahatma; and not because they are convinced that the corrupt have met their waterloo. Most of them know the media is orchestrating it for its T.R.Ps. It has appealed because they know a beginning has been made- the beginning everyone was waiting for. They know that things may not change immediately,  most things don't, but they will ultimately change. Anna  may end his fast " when it is mutually agreed between him and the politicians" but not before he would have changed the mood of the nation. Another Anna will come and then another Hazare and something will tell the high and mighty that an Egypt is brewing in India also.

And this is for all ye cynics- Gandhi was a Mahatma not because he was perfect but inspite of being imperfect. Yes,  he enjoyed the press, the foreign media, the' farce' called a fast, the adulation, the attention.Many of his events were media orchestrated. But, hey- he led us to independence ! The nation is not looking for a perfect mahatma. The nation is looking for an imperfect mahatma to free it -not from a foreign rule- but from corruption.

I turn to leave. Opposite the tent is a stall selling kulfi with falooda . Five minutes later i exit the' mela' ,eating a kulfi. From somewhere behind come the strains of Vande Materam .