Saturday is my version of Temple Run. I dutifully visit three temples. The first is the Bhairon Temple in front of the Kalkaji bus depot; the second is the Shani Temple in Govindpuri and the third is Mataji’s temple in Giri Nagar. Normally if we do not leave on time, we run late and into crowds. This morning as soon as we hit the main road from our colony road I knew something was amiss. A police picket greeted us at the end of our colony road and as we drove on the main road heading to the temple, we saw men in uniforms of all shades and hue and also armed in all sizes. The road looked eerie and it took me a few seconds to realise that the sidewalks had been cleared of all hawkers, beggars and were squeaky clean. You guessed right: a VIP was expected. He would be zipping through this part of the city to attend a meeting of sorts. Even the beggars who sleep under the over bridge and who normally are waking up at this time, some brushing their teeth, others cooking the daily meal were absent. It was after a long time that no smiling kid came to seek a few coins. They too had been hidden away. This part of the city was looking unreal.
The roads were empty and we zipped through and reached the Temple which was also unrecognisable from outside. No car, bikes, scooters, three wheelers, buses were parked on the road side as they normally are on a Saturday morning and the Temple was also less crowded. There were no flower and other offering vendors at the gate and no beggars with their recipient waiting for their morning hooch. Bhairav is a God who is propitiated with whisky, beer, and any sort of alcohol and the ‘prashad’ is gathered in huge vats and is a heady cocktail of all sort of alcohols that is given to the beggars aligned outside. Today no beggar will get his morning shot. No flower lady will make earn her mornings share’s people tend to come to temples in the morning and hawkers too will have to forgo part of their daily earnings.
I wonder why the city authorities felt the need to clean and spruce up the route the PM would be taking to get to his destination. Was the city as it is everyday, buzzing with activity and day-to-day chores too dirty for the VIP to see. Would it not have been better for him to see how his people live, the ones who voted him in and reposed their faith in him. Maybe if he had a glimpse of the filth and the squalor, if that were possible in a zipping BMW, then he may have done something more permanent than this artificial sanitisation that happens too often. The one thing it does prove is that the very people who are supposed to ensure that civic amenities work are themselves aware of the fact that much remains to be done, then why not of it.
In yore times rulers use to visit their fiefdoms incognito, dressed in rags if need be, to feel the pulse of the ones they ruled. I guess the press and media have now become the eyes and ears of the rulers, though they sometimes present a warped view. One also wonders whether these rulers actually read and view things or a given a sanitised and cropped version of it.
I admire José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano the present President of Uruguay who lives on an austere farm and donates 90% of his salary to benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs, yes the very people who were so carefully hidden today! Pepe is known as the poorest President in the world. A person worthy of our admiration. He has no palace, no motorcade and waits in queues just like his fellow countrymen. It is time our politicians learnt a few lessons.
I still feel galled at the number of police personal detailed for any VIP movement though I guess it is par to the course in our day and age, but to feel the need to dislodge people who earn their living even in disturbing ways like begging is simply unacceptable. It is part of what we are of have become courtesy the political choices we have made over the years. By ‘hiding’ children who beg, you do not solve the problem. And if it is something you have accepted as inevitable then why ‘hide’ them. On the other hand if it something you find disturbing then it is time everyone saw it and maybe did something to put an end to such abhorrent practises.
If each time a VIP has to cross the city to attend some function or the other, the whole city has to be ‘made’ momentarily presentable, then why not do to once for all in a humane and sensitive manner. Everyone on the sidewalks you so mercilessly expurgated is there for a economic purpose, be it the beggar who earns a living or the water cart man who quenches the thirst of passersby or the snack cart that makes waiting for the bus easier, or even the cobbler who saves you when your shoe gives up en route . They are all small entrepreneurs with a keen market sense as they meet the demands of the market. Regularise them but do not cast them away as they not only fulfil our needs but feed their families. They are no danger to the VIP that whizzes by and are very much a part of the electorate that voted him in.
Needless to say, everyone was back in place as soon as the caravan passed. Good for them. I hope they made up for the lost time.