Swami decided to join a protest last weekend. He told me and Jigneshbhai that we are going to have coffee at a protest. But a doubt cropped up. “Is coffee allowed at a protest? Who’s going to get it for us?” Jigneshbhai and I had no idea. We had never been to any protest. “Let us go and find out” Swami said.
He did his research the previous day on all the ongoing protests in the city and gave us an address to reach the next day. Jigneshbhai and I got ready in the morning and decided to join Swami in his endeavor.
But when we reached the protest site it was confusing. There were a minimum of 4 protests there, perhaps more.
One of the protests was against CAA. Right next to it was one for CAA, though I don’t know how that can be called a protest as it was for something. It was a protest against the other protest, I thought. A few meters away was one which was not against CAA but against police brutality. So it was not against something (though I wasn’t sure if it was for it) and also against something else. I asked Jigneshbhai if such a mix can be called a protest. He ignored me. Next to it was a protest that was for CAA but against NRC. Again a similar mix of for and against, I pointed to Jigneshbhai. He ignored me again. Two buildings away was one that was for NRC and NPR.
I asked a person roaming with a placard what his protest was about. He told me he was protesting against government apathy and labor policies. The protester next to him protested. He pointed out at his placard and said “No, that is over there, this one is for government atrocity in Kashmir.”
There was even a small group protesting against Deepika Padukone’s latest movie.
I wasn’t sure where Swami stood on all these issues. Jigneshbhai and I did not have any idea. So we asked Swami, “Which one are we joining?” Swami looked embarrassed and gave us a signal to keep our voices down. “This is not a shopping mall” he came closer and whispered.
Finally after much deliberation, Swami decided that we should sit at a place that had some shade. “We won’t be troubled by the sun here” he confided. “Good idea, even in winter, afternoons are hot here” Jigneshbhai looked at me and, for once, agreed with Swami.
We settled down. I couldn’t hear the slogans in all the noise. After a while a press photographer came, and everyone shouted louder. Jigneshbhai, Swami and I also raised our hands when everyone raised them. Swami hoped our photos don’t appear in the papers tomorrow.
Around noon, Swami opened up his lunch box and gave us sandwiches. Jigneshbhai and I were pleased with our friend’s preparedness. But just as we picked up the sandwich, the person behind us tapped me on the shoulder and said “this is a hunger strike, you can’t have food here”.
Jigneshbhai and I kept the sandwich back grudgingly and gave Swami an annoyed look for choosing the wrong protest.
We sat hungrily for the rest of the afternoon. Mid-afternoon Jigneshbhai asked me whether coffee would be allowed. I thought of asking Swami or the activist behind me but thought it may not be wise.
Finally it was 4.30 in the evening. Someone came and gave a juice to the activist who was leading the protest. We did not get anything. That was a sign that the protest was over.
Swami and I got up and tapped on Jigneshbhai’s shoulder as he was snoring. His afternoon nap wasn’t disturbed despite the protesters. Swami and I wished we had this gift.
We rushed to the closest cafe and had our coffee and snacks. It had been a long tiring day.
Swami saw that some protesters were also having coffee and snacks at the same cafe. Jigneshbhai noticed that they were from different protest camps. All having coffee together. It was nice to see the camaraderie after the noisy protesting during the day.
Swami was keen to befriend some of them. “Who knows – such contacts can be useful in the future” he told us as he walked to the next table, while Jigneshbhai and I stayed put.
Swami asked both the activists who seemed to be from opposite camps what they stood for. Both of them said in unison “We stand for India”.