Jan 9, 2008
It was the umpteen call from my editor to cover an umpteenth protest. Frantically he yelled over the phone, “Where are you? What’s your plan for today?” And before I could say anything, he pounced upon me, “Listening I am sending you to this protest at Azad Maidan (its every Mumbai protestor’s favourite haunt). There are these people called the Touchy Indians Inc. who have organized a unique protest against…uh um…against something just go and find out.”
So left with no choice; I went to Azad Maidan, braving myself to meet this extraordinary league of gentle?men who called themselves the Touchy Indians Inc. I had heard about them from my colleagues who had covered their other ‘unique’ protests before. My poor colleagues had to stand in the hot sun while they sat on one of their infinite protests in hi-fi shades fitted with fans. They had gone hungry entire days trying to capture the ‘uniqueness’ of these protests. Sigh, it was my turn today.
When I reached Azad Maidan, I saw all the members of Touchy Indians with a placard hanging by their neck ‘Halla Bol is our copyright; ban the film’ and shouts of ‘Halla Bol pe Halla Bolenge, nahin chodenge, nahin chodenge.’ The PRO Zindabad Singh soon spotted me and directed me to the makeshift office of the director Naare Nath. A portly man with a distinct Neta look, Naare Nath sat on one of those extremely common white plastic chairs used at every meet and protest; looking every bit the I-will-change-the-world-because-what-I-think-is-right leader that he was. “Naare Nathji,” I ventured, “why are you against this film, it has not even released?” “We will serve a notice to the makers of this movie. It has hurt our sentiments, how can someone name a movie Halla Bol, how can they hurt the sentiments of hundreds of Indians? How can they threaten our identity? Tell me is this right?” “But Naare Nathji, what is the reason?” I tried to understand his indignation but failed. “Don’t you see, the movie is called Halla Bol. That is our patented Naara. No one except us can use the phrase. We have copyright, trademark, IPR and every other documentation on the phrase. Halla Bol hamara jamn siddha adhikar hai.”
And because I didn’t know how to react and kept quiet, he continued. “Do the makers of this movie have any idea that they have ridiculed such a great institution of public service like ours. Dharti ham jaise logon ki vajah se tiki hui hai, do you know that? If we didn’t raise our voice frequently, our Indian culture and ethos would have ceased to exist. We say Halla Bol to all those who are a threat and we reduce them to pulp. But all said and done, we are the most secular and seva bhavi group in India. Our Hindu cadres extort gift and card shop owners every Valentines and give away all the money to Sadhu babas who teach us how to uphold Hindu traditions. Our Muslim cadres are constantly on the look out for independent girls who defy tradition. I don’t understand why all of them want to wear skirts and model in the backdrop of dargahs. Disgusting! Our Christian cadre hunts down every possible violation of the sanctity of the Bible. Then we have caste based sub groups also. They are very tech savvy, you know. They have this monitoring department where they view all the channels and track inflammatory statements made by starlets, inflammatory songs, movies, movie titles so that they can challenge insensitive people and uphold their dignity. Now, madam, you might be thinking that we don’t do anything for women. No no, it is not like that. We also have a stree morcha sangha. Very powerful women (he pointed towards some hefty women sitting at the dharna…they surely must have been power lifters…oh my god); their favourite pastime is blackening men’s faces…you know these leery men who cast their unholy eyes on our Bharatiya Naari. And let me tell you madam, all these leery men are always outsiders. These migrants, firangs and others like them. You might also argue that we destroy public property; but you know as well as I know that unless we break or set to fire these old buses, trains and buildings, then the government will never buy/ build new ones. So you see madam, how much good work we do. What would have happened if we didn’t exist? And these filmwallahs are taking away our pehchaan, our only naara Halla Bol. I say, Halla Bol on them.”
As I was escaping from all that information overload, my editor again called, “Haan, tell me what’s the scene like?” “Sir, aah well…” “Did you get why they are protesting? Good…now just file a story…and try to get some opposing views you know…liberalists…go to Mahesh Bhatt or Shobhaa De or arre you know who to call…” And so, went my day battling for sanity, juggling with the super traditionalists and the super liberals. And oh…there will be many more…sigh, sigh!