At Ramlila Maidan: The young, the old and the ideal
Hindustan Times correspondent Nandini R Iyer meets the range of people at Delhi' Ramlila Maidan, the site of anti-corruption crusader's fight for a strong lokpal bill. Anna's sprint at Rajghat: Videodelhi Updated: Aug 19, 2011 19:55 IST
A drive past Jawaharlal Nehru Marg -- the road outside the Ramlila Maidan -- most resembles a watching on fast forward, a National Geographic video on India.
Papadwalas with their deep straw baskets full of fried papads to be sold with twists of masala, balloon sellers with their wares in tricolour, a man with a cycle rapidly spinning sugar to produce candy floss in lurid pink, an entire kilometer long stretch of parked OB vans from television channels.
That's not all. There are a hundred-plus cars bearing CD number plates -- clearly the spooks from various national daily have been told like me by their bosses to get a first hand feel of the situation.
There are men with bright red Rajasthani style turbans, young men from smaller towns wearing kurta pajamas and carrying banners. There are young college students from Delhi's more elite colleges dressed in jeans and spaghetti string tops. There are elderly Muslim gentlemen from nearby Turkman Gate still wearing the skullcaps they used for Friday namaz.
There are families with children as young as two scrambling along to get a place to sit before the great Anna Hazare arrives. Why are they here? "Well it is a pleasant day. We both wanted to see what was happening and we could hardly leave the children alone at home," says Ramesh Dhondiyal, a pharmaceutical salesman. He and his "computer teacher" wife have taken the day off.
Not in the least self-conscious, a group of four engineers holding high four national flags shouted - "Ek, do, teen chaar: bandh karo yeh atyachaar (a chant demanding that the authorities end harassment read corruption).
This wasn't what I was expecting to find when I made my way to the Ramlila Maidan in pouring rain on Friday afternoon.
Quite contrary to my own "women can always hold their own" beliefs, I asked one of the engineers, whether she wasn't worried about being molested in the crowd, where there was no dearth of kurta pyjama clad youths from neighbouring towns like Meerut and the like. And more importantly what did her parents have to say about 'this'?
"My father told me to come here. He said get out there. This man is 74 and he is fasting for you to have a country where your children won't have to pay bribes if this works. This is your battle he is fighting, my father said. So here I am," Swati Saraf told me.
She and her three friends also engineers -- Rachna Arora, Dharini Iyer, and Namita Malik -- all said they had faced no problem marching around shouting slogans against corruption.
"There is no dearth of volunteers to ensure that no one is harassed. There are some people around who don't look as urbane as our friends do but they haven't bothered us," said Malik.
These are people who are clear that corruption is not only about paying bribes. Saraf feels that her needing to have used clout to get a driving licence on time from the transport office at Rohini, last month was no less that actually having to pay money.
A large number of men have made their way to the portable toilets installed in the Maidan at the far end. There are a large number of policemen but they don't look unduly tense. The crowd appears mostly under control - for now.