“This isn’t a crowd that has been paid to attend. They all have come on their own. I love them, yaar!” I heard someone say.
I turned around. It was a young man’s observation. He was on his toes, looking admiringly at the people ahead. “It’s unreal!” he continued.
My cell phone rang. It was Neha, an office colleague. “I have reached Ghatkopar.. where are you?”
“I am near the Gateway” I replied. I was unsure if she heard that.
“I am near the Gateway. Call me when you reach CST.” I shouted again. She had already hung up.
I was near Tendulkar’s when the people ahead stopped. I thought someone was about to address the crowd. I soon realised why had we stopped. Everybody was chanting “India.. India.. India!!” It was deafening but better than any music that I’ve heard. The chants gained momentum and people started clapping in unison. It was slow and rhythmic, the clapping. I could sense the anger of the people in those loud claps. I too, was clapping hard. I looked around, I saw many people crying, clapping and chanting simultaneously.
We resumed the walk. People had lined up on both the sides of the road. They were egging us on with loud cries of “Vande Mataram”
“Bharat Maa ki Shaan hai.. Mumbai meri Jaan hai!!!” I looked in the direction of the voice. It was a strikingly beautiful girl who was shouting at the top of her voice. She and a group of collegians were distributing placards and candles to the ‘protestors’
This event was organised through SMS, Orkut, E-mail and Facebook. I got an SMS and I had expected about a few hundred people to be present. It turned out to be the biggest leaderless rally in India. The event was devoid of political presence and organisers. This was clearly the sentiment of the Citizen.
“Politicians and Dogs not allowed!!” Screamed another banner, reminiscent of the legend that the Taj was built as a result of a similar racial discrimination. I reached the Gateway of India. I looked at the Taj. It was still the same magnificent building, but people were not looking at it admiringly, the expression was of curiosity, horror and anguish. The building now stood as a grim reminder of the worst terror Mumbai has faced. There were some 20 odd lights that were turned on, in stark contrast to the thousands we’ve been used to see.
People were thanking the cops around. The cops too, were emotional and some were shouting slogans with us. Opposite the Gateway of India, a small group was shouting Anti Pakistan slogans. A very old man asked them to sing the National Anthem. They obliged. Then they did more. They started singing “We shall overcome”. I was immediately reminded of a friend who said that the song, when sung in chorus fills one with energy. And here it was, hundreds of people singing the song in chorus. I was at the front, singing, my voice quavering. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, I saw faces, lit by candles, smiling and singing, some crying and singing, some singing for the first time in their life and some, simply awed by the scene. Behind me was a statue of Shivaji Maharaj, the Warrior, upon his horse, looking at his people proudly, probably for the first time.
People singing “We shall overcome”
As if reading my thoughts, I saw another banner “ Thank you Mr. Terrorist for having united us like never before.”
There was no shoving or pushing, something that is so characteristic when it comes to the crowds of Mumbai. The Police were being polite too. I reached the Regal Cinema. The scene there was no different. No politician was spared. The PM, the CM, the Home Minister everybody was flayed. I was happy for the politicians who chose to stay away from the rally or they might’ve been lynched by the crowd.
“Mr.Cheap Minister, We accept your resignation” I burst out laughing. I felt like hugging that person.
The life behind Taj had already bounced back to normal. Bade Miyan, the Kebab shops, the roadside book vendors were enjoying brisk business. I reached Leopold’s. It was packed with patrons, with people waiting outside the bar to grab a quick drink. For Bombay’s sake.
I chose McDonald’s. McDonald’s employees were a harried lot. They were not used to serving tens of thousands of customer’s in a span of two hours.
I tried calling Neha for the umpteenth time and finally got through to her. “Where are you?”
“I am near Regal Cinema. The Phone lines are jammed.” She replied.
“I know. Come to McDonald’s, I’m waiting”
By the time she came to McDonald’s, It was time for us to leave. We took a walk back to the CST station. And I chose not to tell her about the bomb they defused there earlier that evening…