Right to Life dharna (Day Five): expressions of solidarity from the ice cream man and staying put through a midnight rainstorm

Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, Feb 24, 2007
Paper-bag-making was the highlight of the afternoon. The turn-out was mild but the products were close to perfection, the women having fine-tuned their skills after making multiple bags already. The ice-cream man who travels by the sit-in site daily and parks his cart across the street was staring intently at our tent. Would he care about what we are doing? His business wasn’t booming at the moment, so we dropped him a visit. Shiv Charan the ice-cream man was more supportive than the lady at the nearby kiosk. While she feigned ignorance (and didn’t want to be educated) Shiv Charan expressed solidarity with the gas survivors and promised he would tell his friends and family about what has been happening at the Tinshed for the past five days. Does he think justice is near? “Everyone deserves the demands you have up there”, he motioned with his head toward the banner that was gracing the front of the tent. “You will win.” Yes, Shiv Charan, we will.
The weather was beautiful, the breeze strong, and there was no event taking place today that would classify as a media-magnet, other than the fact that people were taking time out of their day to express solidarity with a cause that’s already led to thousands of deaths. But deaths are not enough to attract the media, so the morning and afternoon were spent planning for tomorrow’s events. However, the relative uneventful-ness of the day was compensated for by the hysteria that took place after the sun had set.
Mother Nature has a habit of rearing her face at the most inopportune moments. This was one of them. The breeze had been strong, but by nightfall it had become a little too strong. While the leaders of the local campaign discussed future plans, the cream colored flaps on the side of the tent whipped back and forth at the mercy of the wind. The tent’s lean poles wobbled back and forth and the lone light bulb that illuminated the sit-in area flashed on and off ominously, like a scene out of a bad horror movie.
It wasn’t until closer to midnight that a drizzle sent a few drops of rain on our faces. Those few drops became a nuisance only when the cloth roof of the tent couldn’t hold the water out, and a portion of the tent became drenched. We ran for shelter into what classifies as a room but was much smaller and damper, covered from wall to wall in some black slime that could have been coal sludge or bad fuel. The darkness made it hard to tell, so we made it a point to keep our hands off the walls while ten of us attempted sleep in the packed 6×10 foot storage space. Rachna and Gulabo Bai stayed back in the tent overnight to hold the space, and tried to stay put in the sliver of “drier” space that remained. They are the ones who had it bad. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most pleasant night we have had at the Tin Shed.
There are nights like the ones we have had in the past few days that make the sit-in an enjoyable experience. And then there are those nights which are more memorable than enjoyable. It makes one realize that no matter what the circumstances, natural or unnatural, we are here to stay. If only the Madhya Pradesh government saw firsthand the difficulties that the survivors have to go through, their stone hearts might melt. Just a little.

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