The rains came and went with irritating irregularity. We had moved from our first day’s stakeout to the other side of the road. Not only was the original site more slush prone, located as it was right next to a public toilet, but also because the site across the street had an additional tree. We strung several water proof tarpaulins to trees nearby to remain dry. The elaborate set up of the first day — stage, green carpets, public address systems, Bhopalis, Delhi supporters — all had shrunk considerably. Many Bhopalis left last night. On 29th, the big rally is to arrive. All festivals will be over by then.
We were a small group today. As I looked around, familiar faces from yesterday were missing. The morning session, I am told, was energetic — sloganeering, songs. Some of the Hindu women in the dharna are particularly adept at a folk song form called languriya. Normally reserved for religious occasions, the repetitive, and somewhat plaintive tunes allows one singer to lead the song, making up verses as she goes, with others joining in chorus. The songs sounded like the rise and fall of waves, almost as incessant, and soothing. Just after lunch, another lot left leaving behind about 50 survivors and two young ones.
The dharna site would have given a deceptively quiet appearance to visitors who came around 3 p.m. One knot of women clad in brightly coloured saris and salwar kameez sat together talking. Another group of city supporters and some Bhopal activists sat in a group discussing the plans for the days ahead — what media opportunities, what logistics and various other what-ifs and but-whens were debated.
Mehfooz, a characteristically hyperactive five-year old boy, punctuated the early part of our meeting shouting out for his 9-year old sister Kaajal. “Kaaju, Kaaju!! Aey Kaaju.” It was only after his sister heeded his call and took him away did the meeting progress.
We sat on the pavement loudly debating, consulting, calling people and assigning jobs. The traffic went honking by without an apology, without a glance. It is almost as if we were without bodies. Come to think of it, it is as if all people sitting on the streets were without bodies. Invisible to passers by. Irrelevant and rejected.
Chai was a welcome break to the planning that we were engaged in. The attention quickly shifted from ‘who does the letter drafting’ to ‘we don’t want chai in a plastic cup.’ No amount of telling the chaiwallah that helped. He is hard of hearing, and so continued to pour the tea unmindful of our demands for an ecofriendly container. And just in time for tea, a large number of women returned with their bags from the station. This group hadn’t managed to elbow their way into the crowded unreserved compartment in the train to Bhopal. They returned dejected. One person’s misery, another’s mirth. The women in the tent welcomed their friends with taunting, but affectionate, laughter, thankful to have more company.
It didn’t really rain in the afternoon. But nevertheless we stayed together, closer and happier under one small piece of shelter today.