Early morning today, the autorickshaw driver asked me: “So, did you vote for the broom?”
I wanted to utter the usual reply: I can’t disclose who I voted for. But, I was transported to about a fortnight ago. Since then had I wanted to write about the exceptional and poetic rise of the AAM ADMI PARTY (AAP), on the streets of Delhi. There hadn’t been something as poetic as the quiet and growing spectacle of the AAP rallies, for a very long time. It was a reprieve from the winter, a passion for the brittle bonfires of the freezing dusks, a reverie that one could carry into one’s sleep, in the frigid nights of Delhi. The jazba brought by the maverick party’s All India Radio brand of jingles was not tumultuous ever, but it tranquilly and boldly crept as a musical hue into the palette of the streetwalker’s imagination. They were no longer childish, anarchic, brazen, wanton, impulsive, or indiscriminately accusatory. The notes of their election campaign, resonating with the jingles — soon becoming the acquired taste of the city — reached a Mozartian crescendo, and being carried away by such a catharsis, my words kept failing me until today. For me it all began about three weeks ago during a visit to Chandni Chowk with a song that reverberated from the autorickshaw loudspeakers, but what really appeared to come, from the faceless apparition of the crowd:
aarambh hai prachand, bole mastakho ke jhund
aaj jung ki ghadi ki tum guhaar do
The shattering has begun, the herds of crowns have sung
Bring your sickle and your gun; cry the battle cry
The morning sun was not so chivalrous then as today. The road from my residence near Jawaharlal Nehru University to Rajouri Garden waned by and by with the driver ranting about the successive jolts that AAP had been causing on that very road, to its dwarfed opponents. There were smatterings of Mamata Banerji’ s tweets and Nitish Kumar’s panic-stricken endorsements of AAP, there were Narendra Modi’s salutations to my friend Barack, and there was an anticipation of Derek o’ Brien’s bhaag Modi bhaag condensed in my fair-morning-friend’s emotional outburst.
As one leaves Dhaula Kuan towards the road to Mayapuri, and beyond, there comes a stretch of about 2 kilometres which runs alongside railway tracks, beginning from Barar Square. Since early childhood, that is whenever I saw a passenger or a goods train inside the city of Calcutta — which would frequently happen on the way to the railway station —, or witnessed the fleeting glimpse of traffickers waiting for my train to cross the level crossings of their townships, something seemed truly magical, yet amiss. It was as though the train, despite being a symbol of civilization, was rather a vehicle to traverse the rusticities of the country, while cities awaited outside the realm of its railway station. The ambiguity of the presence of a railway car inside the jurisdiction of a city was a haunting one, and perhaps it fuelled the fantasy of every child at some juncture of their lives. And yet, it is an experience very well quarantined, beyond the limits of urban existence. It is true that local trains very often feature in the mainstream imaginative landscapes of cities such as Kolkata and Mumbai. However, there is, in this entry of the railway carriage, always a reformulation or a reassertion that civilization undergoes. Whether to interpret this as an assertion by civilization itself, or one that asserts itself to civilization is where I have been puzzled always, apart from the usual temporal suspension that the train’s urban stint always brings to our Indian innocence.
The AAP’s prachand success is now inseparable from a grand motif of travel: the juggernaut. While some might continue to think the use of the word to be colonial, Prof Yogendra Yadav of the AAP timely rectifies remarking that juggernaut came into the English lexicon from Jagannath. So far, in my imagination, the word could only have applied to the wheels of the rail engine, the unpredictable force of which is totally immeasurable to the lateral eye. It causes a lot of accidents. It is metallic with infinite density. It crushes and pulverizes. The force with which the AAP has won today is not very different. We who saw them from our complacent lateral angles, laughed with them or chuckled at them, sang for them or sympathised with their dramatic tragedy the helm of their 49-day rule, can now fully perceive the unprecedented accident, or political damage they have caused their wrinkled adversaries. However the imagery of the train entering the city cannot be used so lightly here, for it is much more profound and has stayed longer than any political party — or even its heritage — can dream to last in power. So, as I saw this modern juggernaut over the last twenty days of my travelling to deliver lectures, this is as it happened.
The entry of the AAP — or re-entry to be more precise — into the contours of the city was much more penetrative than any other party. This much now is general knowledge. But the way they captivated the artistic imagination of the Dilliwallahs was not in making them all an aam admi (common men) but in inviting them to revisit the grand old fair of their respective childhoods. The AAP rallies were a festival in flux, not belligerent with pride but distributionist like a balloon seller, not decked with costumes of dharma and jagran, but wearing a crown of recycled thermocol, not the vehement outcry of an anarchist’s jihaad, but the radio compositions which we all had made our own sometime in the springs of our lives. I have heard many people tell me how melancholy and oppressive they found V. Balsara’s legendary composition for Doordarshan. Decade after decade it haunted the imagination and school-going-drudgery of the child. But the most significant of our inheritances, our acceptances and refusals, our successes and rejections perhaps are associated with that same tune which ushered in the union of the two burning hands, with a wheel at the centre. AAP’s melodies on the streets revived that same haunting, and we were enchanted not knowing whence and why.
The train’s ingress into the city enchants us in a similar manner. But the enchantment is so momentary that we can only relish it in retrospection. As a walker of this city I wonder how the music in the traffic will change after today. I wonder if it will be back to that sad music of humanity or will the dream-railway-car of the child continue to feature alongside the urban roads. I fear this is a dream within a dream, and I fear sometimes even dreams might have dreams. While returning today I saw the Palace on Wheels, coming down from Udaipur, on that track on which I am used to seeing goods trains, otherwise. The autowallah (a second one) was irked by the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party had not invited Atal Bihari Vajpayi, or Dr Harshwardhan, or even Lal Krishna Advani to contest for the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, as the chief ministerial candidate. In the landslide that our age-old legitimacies — political, religious and cultural — are facing, an assertion of retired or centrally engaged political candidates having been more suitable than Kiran Bedi is as legitimate as not. It cannot be termed mere political illiteracy if the one who articulates this is also a voter. The present political campaign that won the AAP its crown was a mobile soiree of literature and music. It was not the efficiency or inefficiency of a political opponent but the revival of the child in the voter’s sensibility. In this spring that revives so many memories my streets of homecoming had become the streets which took us back from our schools.
In my childlike delight I forgot to mention the key event of today’s morning route to the college. My friend, the autorickshaw driver had fallen silent for a while. I was lost somewhat in the goods train whose presence has now become a ritual, each day when I have early lectures. And, I was still recollecting the events since the onset of this spring, when we arrived at gates of the college. The driver stopped as I indicated him to, but when I handed over the money he did not respond. He was, as I would like to describe him, in a waking sleep. This was perhaps how he had driven me over a distance of 10 kilometres since the time he had stopped his ranting on about the glories of the aam admi. The last thing I remember his having said “Dilli me to bas jhaadu hi jhaadu hai har taraf ” (“All over Delhi, wherever you look, you will find broom after broom scattered everywhere). A slight nudge on his shoulder jerked him back to his senses. The rest of the day was as I have described, apart from the lingering phantasm of a thought that hasn’t spared me even for a moment: are we all awake, or in that thin miasma which separates slumber from wakefulness? Have we all actually voted, or is this just a prolonged — a very prolonged — instance of the train passing through the Sisyphian gullies of our quotidian city?