[Reader-list] posting

debjani sengupta debjanisgupta at yahoo.com
Thu Apr 10 19:17:11 IST 2008

Transforming a city

For the whole of last week, as I took the Metro from Krishi Bhavan, I have been noticing them. Sometimes in two’s or three’s, sometimes in a group, young women and men, old women in traditional Tibetan garb, prayer beads in hand, worn out and tired. They got in at Rajiv Chowk or at Patel Chowk, obviously on their way from or to a demonstration. Some were returning to Majnu ka Tila, very near where I lived. I noticed so many things about them. Like distant people who are at a marginal removed from our collective consciousness, they were now all over the public space of the Metro stations, transforming an ambiguous and impersonal city space with the intensity and vivacity of their silent presence.
    Today, the Tibetans who came into the train carried the red, blue and yellow flags of their lost homeland. Unlike the stereotype of exiled people that we might harbour in our heads, they did not look passive, abject, listless. They were quiet, determined, and serene as they trooped into the train. A young man wore a T-shirt with bold letters, ‘Justice is raped in Tibet.’ A young mother, with a baby strapped on her shoulders, came in too. I looked up and stood to give her my seat. The baby dozed, its plump forehead wearing a bright blue message, ‘Free Tibet.’ The mother looked tired, she had been demonstrating at Jantar Mantar, in anticipation against the Beijing Olympic torch that was to cross Lutyens’ Delhi, a city that was her home but where she did not belong.
    I stood staring, forgetting my resolve not to do that. There was something about all of them that made me forget an unwritten rule of urban travel. I was a seasoned Metro traveler, averting my eyes from direct eye contacts, keeping an impassive countenance. The Tibetans were quiet, not euphoric after a public demonstration of their strength and resolve. The Tibetans were smiling, not at all scared after confronting the might of nations determined to crush their public demonstrations of anger. Into the impersonal, glittering neon lit interior of the Metro train they brought a steely determination, a glow of their unequivocal political consciousness, their unbroken spirit, like Lhasa’s crisp cold air that many of them have never felt on their faces but they knew in their dreams. They stood out amongst all others, and I looked at them. What brought us close? It was something so far distant and yet so familiar that I could not put it into words. The whole morning I had been
 reading about DP’s, in rehabilitation parlance Displaced Persons, of India’s Partition in 1947 who came into West Bengal’s borders, trundling broken trunks and shattered lives. In the grey photographs of the newspapers, their faces looked the same, yet in the quiet way they held themselves, I recognized a posture that I had seen so often this past week. They were people who were the flotsam and jetsam of politics, yet determined to be alive, to survive, to hang around with endless patience in the waiting rooms of history. In every decade, they were fated to crowd into our lives, determined to make us feel and see as we go about our busy lives.

Today I knew what I had in common with that Tibetan mother and that man in his black T-shirt, like those other countless grey ghostly faces in the newspapers. I knew for a fact that these men and women was transforming this metropolis that was not my own and where I did not belong either. This knowledge lay between us, like an unspoken word of love, and that united all of us in the compartment as the train carried us to light and distant dreams.

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