One of the two gates at the expressway exit toll plaza is not working and shows a red cross. There are about five cars in the line in front of me at the other gate. There is a truck trying to squeeze in from the non-working gate into the row of moving cars. The truck’s efforts slow the movement and number of cars behind me increase rapidly. New arrivals are getting in the moving line till someone used to his ways, lets call him a bully, ignores this line and the red cross he can see from distance and drives straight behind the truck which has now managed to get in the line. This car acts like a magnet and the no. of cars in the wrong lane add up fast. The smooth movement of cars through the only working gate has reduced to a trickle by the time the truck exits. And with the bully leading the charge of cars in the non-working row it will remain a trickle now for a while. The bully manages to squeeze in his car’s nose right in front of my car.
Maybe because I am just returning from Singhu tractor-trolley township of resistance, or maybe I am just pissed that he squeezed in front of me forcefully, I step out of the car and walk to the front of his car and with my arms show him the queue that folks were following and ask him to get back. In about five seconds everyone is honking, those in the correct line and those who have formed a line by following the bully. They are not honking in demand or support of the right thing. They just want me to get back in my car, let the other guy cross and get a move on. So that they can get a move on. Move on to whatever…
The sun is nearing the western horizon, dotted with Ghazipur land fill and crows and kites that the landfill and the meat mandis there invite. Its rays are illuminating the sweat soaked backs of a small gathering of farmers facing the stage at the Ghazipur morcha. The speaker in his white kurta pyjama is at the end of his speech. He is the last speaker for the day and is requested to sing Azaadi, a poem he has sung in the past as well. He obliges.
Kaid kab tak rahogi batado hamein,
Hum tadapte hain kewal tumhare liye.
There is an earthly deep sadness in his voice as he sings. It is as if he is singing for a long lost lover.
Lakhon deewane tum pe jo kurbaan huye,
Fansiyan chad gaye hain tumhare liye.
The sun-kissed gathering claps to each line. There is romance under this little shed, in the hearts of this gathering and in the words of this farmer turned poet turned singer.
This is the side of road that leads to Delhi, to the powers that be. The powers they sit here challenging.
As the farmer-poet-singer serenades the stranger azaadi – Aisi mashooq ho ajnabi tum suno… I gaze towards the other side of the road, to the hundreds of vehicles returning from Delhi. It is a relatively new expressway, and the cars fly by the romantics gathered on this side. Maybe the occupants of the cars looked at them occasionally ten months back wondering at this tractor-trolley township which mushroomed here out of nowhere. The speeds of their cars now say that they don’t register this presence any longer. They just want to cross this road and move on. Move on to whatever…
The powers that be first barricaded the highways, then they barricaded the little openings left for some vehicular movement and now have barricaded the small opening in the path where locals and farmers would walk through from main Samyukt Kisan Morcha stage to the Kisan Majdoor Sangharsh Committee stage to Guru Teg Bahadur memorial to waiting autos and buses. Everyone takes a much longer detour now, through broken walls and waterlogged streets. MainStreamMedia and BJP IT cell (Joseph Goebell’s of our times) will report that farmers have inconvenienced locals. Locals know the powers that be are inconveniencing the farmers and them.
On this detour, at a section still not submerged under rainwater, a young boy stands and looks at every passerby, if they look at him he looks into their eyes and says, ‘modi daku hai, modi lootera hai, modi chor hai.’ He says this to everyone. Everyone smiles or laughs or makes some comment and move on. The boy appears to have some mental handicap, someone who doesn’t have 100% grip on his bearings.
We walk along the edge of the street, which is the only walkable area. As I pass him he repeats ‘modi daku hai, modi lootera hai, modi chor hai’ to me. I continue walking (not possible to stop in this single file, edge of the street moving humanity) and wonder, if he doesn’t have a grip of his bearings then what should be said of these annadatas sitting on Delhi borders for nearly ten months?
And then the understanding hits me. He is not a retard. He is crazy. Just like all these farmers are. Crazy. Just like that version of me stepping out of the car to question the bully at the toll plaza. Lakhon deewane tum pe jo kurbaan huye, fansiyan chad gaye hain tumhare liye.
They are all here, serenading azaadi in their own unique ways.
Yesterday evening during a zoom call with friends, as usual all things politics made their way into the discussion. I am billed ‘an idealist’ in this gathering (probably because they are yet to visit, or even consider visiting, the crazies sitting at the Delhi borders). At one point a friend said that irrespective of the system of governance or party in government there will always be bullies. I agreed with him. But insisted that the system should be such that I can call a bully a bully and if I want to stand up to the bully, I should be able to and hope that system is fair and just.
Many years back, after watching a late-night movie at a Gurgaon theatre, we were in my friend’s car and in line of cars waiting to pay the parking at the exit and head home. Everyone was in one row till this rich brat is his open-top-fancy-jagauar decided to drive pass tens of cars waiting in line and make for the exit counter. The idealist stepped out of the car (we were not at the front but a few cars behind) and walked to the front of the jaguar who had not made into the line yet. He looked at me. I pointed to the tens of cars in line and towards the back of the queue. Before he could say anything the elderly couple in the car at front also lowered their windows and spoke in my support and told him to get in line. The empathy of one towards the crazy idealist won against the bully that day. No one honked the horns at me for wasting their time. One elderly couple’s empathy was all that needed to defeat a bully.
A powerful nexus of politicians-corporates-mafia is out to kill two individuals. They get one and the second makes a run for his life. His young son is with him. But the father knows that his time will soon be over. He writes few pages for his son and tells him to read these when he is not there to take care of him. He tells him to give these papers only to someone who he can trust. And he tells his son to always know and remember that his father did the right thing. ‘Those who wish me dead’ is reel life. They get his father. But the boy finds someone whom he could trust. In reel life, he found empathy.
It’s always a battle of empathy vs apathy.
Your Empathy… the bully retreats…
Your Apathy… the bully wins… the crazies die.
And death here doesn’t necessarily means the end of life (which has also happened to 607 farmers since the farmers movement started), but the end of a certain way of life – where by wishing us dead they mean we wither away sliently and invisibly, without a whimper, without a trace. Behind the walls they would create to welcome the foreign dignitaries painted with green and golden fields and laughing village folks on their side (and the other sides of the walls reflecting the ghettos left behind by their greed).
Next to the ghetto, Ghazipur landfill, created by the waste of the city of power, the farmer-poet-singer holds us all in the grip of his words.
Naam azaadi bataya unhone hamein
Jaan dedi jinhone tumhare liye.
Lakhon deewane kasmein ab kha rahe,
Dil mein armaan hai kewal tumhare liye.
Jung jaari rahegi suno jab talak
Tum na aayogi jab tak hamare liye.
Kaid kab tak rahogi batado hamein
Hum tadapte hain kewal tumhare liye.
The gathering of crazies clap like crazy. In Empathy.
The cars drive past. In Apathy.
Those who wish us crazies dead – they bank on your apathy.
And in your apathy, you become one of Those who wish us dead.