(Warning : Long article)
Before Ambedkarism, I had slowly thought myself into denouncing rituals, when I was much younger, then I became an “atheist”. That makes it difficult to accept or perform rituals, or adorn my walls with photos of Buddha and Ambedkar, do Vipasana when ambedkarism is becoming synonymous with Buddhism. That, again, might be one of the reasons I have not gone to pay homage to Babasaheb in last five years but religiously participated in last three marathons (actually half-marathons).
Then on 5th Dec this year, I received a call from one of my highschool classmates. “Some 25 of us from our village have come to chaitya bhoomi. 15 of us, from from our caste only”. I was surprised, and happy too. Last time I interacted with the dalits of my village, mostly people of my caste, they had not found any appeal in Ambedkar yet. That I count as a failure of my father. He was a man proud of many things. He was a radical Ambedkarite, and would go any length to foment Ambedkarism. And our village neither had a statue of Ambedkar, nor did celebrate April 14th, nor anyone discussed about it, except probably my father. Its not difficult to see why ? But this essay is not about that.
So 5th of Dec. was a sleepless night for me. I kept thinking of the unseen forces that made the transformation possible. Also I made some plans to introduce some important people to the visitors, from Bombay and from different places from Orissa. Educate, agitate and Organise, thats the motto isn’t it !!
I reached Shivaji Park at 10:30. A constant stream of people were flowing towards it, I kept walking. The Police barricade seemed to only increase the length of our walk. A gathering protested at one such turn, a higher official requested to follow the route. At the gate, I called them up. They would be here soon, they assured. I entered, with my backpack and mobile into Shibaji Park, into the ocean of faceless people. Habituated to a much cleaner environment, the rising dust chocked my breath. I felt closer to “my people”. There were shades of tents and tarpaulins, for the comfort of the people who would risk anything for Ambedkar. There were kiosks, stalls for free food, water. And there were book stalls. I started browsing books, soon I realised I was an illiterate. Most books I had not even seen and most of them were either in Marathi or Hindi. I inquired for anything on “Dalit pathers”. I was steered to a a stall having “Dalit pather Andolan” by Ajaya Kumar, Center of Documentation of Ambedkar and Dalit Activities, priced 250 (reduced price 100).
” Paise jyada lag raha hei kya.” ” Ji, mein thodi der baad ake lesakta hoon ? I had barely Rs. 200/- in my wallet, and I was hoping to find an english one instead.
Then I reached a nashabandi stall. A moderate crowd was there. And a boy aged below 10, dressed in a three-piece suit was making a speech in marathi. His oratory skill, assertive speech and attitude was awesome. I always dreamed of being a great orator, like my father, but usually sulk in public. I called up my sister to let her hear this wunderkind. In a few minutes, my battery died. It was 11:20. And I desperately searched a known face there for sometime, then a pay-phone. I went out of the park to L. J road from Senapati Bapat Chowk, past Shivsena Bhawan. I frantically called all the numbers I had got, written on my palm or notebook to contact my friends from village. “I would at least let them know where I am waiting”, I thought. I was told, only two of them were coming to Chaityabhoomi, TO MEET ME. Others were out somewhere sight seeing. And those two didnt have a cell either !!
Distressed, I entered few shops selling mobiles, asked If they could help me out. One shopkeeper said, I would have to buy a cell-phone charger, another would recharge my cell for 30 mins for Rs. 20/-. Fair deal, I walked out smiling, my battery still dead. People were still pouring in. It was 12:30. I disappeared into the crowd, into the dust. I roamed around. Hoping to see my friends, or so any of the many people that I have made friends in orkut, or from my institute. All I could see were thousands uncared-for people in long queues, just like me. I felt closer to ‘my people”. After half an hour I remembered the police women somewhere asking me, ” Darsan karne ja rahe ho”. I had said “haan”. I, then asked a volunteer, “kya darsan kartein hei” ? He offered a sneer. I rephrased the question carefully to an older man. He explained, most of the stalls were for the convenience of the visitors. And there were lots of other stalls where I could can buy books, articles of variety of choices as souvenirs. But “darshan” was manly “to pay homage or remember Dr. Ambedkar at the seashore where his last remains were kept.
Then I walked out of the gate to towards the sea, walking effortlessly and with lots of things making whirlwinds in my mind. As I neared the sea, children, women, men were selling flower offerings. A candle and a flower tied along for Rs 2/-. I defied their faith, their commerce. But as I walked into “chaityaboomi” their faith overtook me. I took a flower from a child, gave one/two Rs 10/- rupees notes, walked on. I was standing there looking into the sea, the people, the bed of flower they have decorated on the beach for sometime. When an elderly woman pushed me aside I asked her to perform the offering for me please. I noticed she had no flower.
Walking back I bought something from a hawker to eat, drank few glasses from one of the hall. I wanted to stand in the queue for food, but it was about 15:00. And local trains would get crowded soon. I got that book, there was not any English version. On the train, two teenagers were holding a bust of Ambedkar, bought from the same place.Several thoughts jammed my mind. Isnt it surprising that India’s biggest gathering of resource starved people go so peacefully that only constant announcements of loudspeakers are what u hear. Isnt it surprising that in the gathering of the poorests there were no beggars, no tricksters. And “no” here is in absolute terms. Isnt it surprising that in fair of the educationally most backward people there were few hundred book stalls. Never in my life, I had struggled to locate a bookstall I have visited before, that too few hours back. It also surprised me a lot that, most people I saw there were poor people. In Shivaji park, on the way to seabeach I could hardly see the urban middle-class dalits. It was fairly easy to identify the few, cause their dressing and appearance were different, or just more polished. May be it reflects the hard fact about the ratio, may be they are like me shying away because of their rationality or may be they are come at different times and dont jam the the park or the road so much.