November 25, 2005

Leave me now

Sanjeevani sits there, singing song after Hindi film song. "Gore gore", "Mohabbat aisi dhadkan hai", "Dil cheez kya hai" and more. It's a breezy, dramatic setting with palms and the ruined ramparts of the Fort rising up on the hill, people seated all the way up. Everyone's in a fine mood, shouting requests or handing them over on scraps of paper, foot-tapping in time. People stroll in all through the performance: a young couple with their two children; a girl by herself; a thin man holding a plastic container filled with rice; another couple, their kids and a friend. All find places, sit down to listen and clap along.

Another man walks in. He's in a uniform and carries a long stick: a security guard. He climbs the stairs to the thin man. Yanks him to his feet and shoves him down the stairs. Whacks him a couple of times on his back and neck, mouths some abuse, pushes him along and out of the arena.

Nobody reacts. Sanjeevani sings on.

Bewildered by what I've just seen, I get up from my seat across the arena and run after the two men. I catch up with them near the exit, towards which the guard is shoving the thin man, who is holding the back of his neck as if it hurts.

Perhaps this is the right moment to mention that the thin man is also somewhat shabbily and grubbily dressed, and is wearing worn out slippers.

"What are you doing?" I ask the guard. He replies, "Can't have him in here!"

"Why? What's wrong with him?" I ask, and then call to the thin man not to go. The guard replies, "We got a complaint from someone in the audience that he was sitting there, so we have to throw him out!"

I'm suddenly angrier than I've been in a long time. "You throw him out for that?" I am nearly shouting. "And why were you hitting him anyway? What did he do?"

The exact sequence of this swift exchange is now hazy in my mind, but it's about now that one of the young volunteers for this festival comes over and says, "We don't allow food in." To my continuing regret as I write this a day later, I accept this explanation. I keep asking why the thin man was hit, but I don't immediately question this food policy.

And also to my continuing regret, I take my eyes off the thin man. In a few seconds, he has vanished.

Several minutes later, my whole mood irretrievably destroyed, I remember: two days earlier, I came to a performance in this very place with my kids and a load of sandwiches for them. Nobody stopped me because I had food along. I find the volunteer and tell him that. "The guards must not have noticed," he says, "or they'd have stopped you."

But I also remember that I sat listening for 45 minutes that evening, surrounded by hundreds of people, openly feeding my kids and eating the bits of the sandwiches they did not finish. Plenty of people saw us, some even reached out and mussed my kids' hair. Not only did nobody stop me, nobody complained about me as somebody has complained this evening about a thin grubby man and his plastic container of food.

It tears me up, but I have no choice but to believe that somebody complained about this man purely because he looks like he lives on the street. Can't have that kind listening to Sanjeevani.

Famously, we're celebrating the Queen of Bombay's suburbs over two crisp November weeks. But someone who has come here believes such celebration must also exclude.

I am still angry, but most of all at myself. Because I didn't have the presence of mind to call the thin man back, saying: "Come sit beside me and listen to the lady. If they complain about you, they'll have to complain about me."

And now he's gone. With no hint of irony, Sanjeevani breaks into a song several people have requested: Sahir's "Abhi na jao chhod kar." ("Don't leave me now").

Later, on my way out after the concert, I run into the same guard. I tell him: "Next time you feel like hitting someone, come and hit me, OK?" He says: "Look sir, we have no interest in hitting people. After all, all of us like to listen to music too."

Then he says: "The fault is really with people like you. You people make these complaints and ask us to do these things."


Goyal said...

Probably we aren't actually free enough even more than 50 years after freedom... Sad but true...

Kartik said...

How many people do you think were in the crowd that actually might have backed the "complaint" against the thin man, Dilip? The only way to get past that would be to individually ask each person separately to come up with something that the man was doing wrong - if asked as a collective group, anyone can find a reason.

And what's with this typing a "verification word" for each comment that one posts? has some good ideas, but honestly ... :-)

SKK said...

This reminds me of an incident I witnessed. I guess it was 2003, I was living in the Regency Park apartments in Gurgaon. The apartments have 21 floors and I was living on the 18th floor. Now how would anyone get to the ground floor from the 18th? Take the lift? Well, so did a labourer who was probably working at something on our floor, fixing some inconvenience of ours (the civilized and educated residents of the 18th floor). The labourer, an older woman and I boarded the lift. The older woman was not very comfortable with the fact that a poor labourer accompanied her in the lift. The discomfort was clearly visible on her face. The man couldn't have been responsible for her discomfort as he didn't even glance at us. A few moments after the lift began its descent the woman reprimanded the labourer for having used the lift. She asked him to use the Service Elevator, the one that was used to carry stuff that was not considered fit for the lifts that all used for commuting between floors. I had seen people take their stinking pets in the common lifts and here this rich lady had a problem with a harmless labourer. In the end I guess it was the labourer who was the more civil one in that he didn't deem it fit to react to the lady's tantrums.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Neela, it was awful. I was angry and depressed the rest of the evening. Thanks for the story about your cereal bar experience. "Ashamed that you were impressed" -- says something, doesn't it.

Kraktik, perhaps not many people would have backed the complaint, I have no clue. But someone did complain -- they would not tell me who, I wanted to go ask them what the problem was. And nobody stopped this from happening. As it turned out, neither did I, and that left me even more upset.

Sanjit, thanks for your experience too. This reminds me of the signs I've seen outside lifts in some Bombay buildings: "Servants and dogs not allowed."

wise donkey said...


talk about judging a book by the cover.

a person in torn clothes would be a crook,
but a crook who is a politician or a businessman is fit to give speeches to children.

Mridula said...

In this age and time? I mean servents and dogs not allowed? Dilip, you tried to intervene at least, I wonder why no one else did!