As he stood while the metro approached his stop, Ranjit thought how good it would be if he could use public transport for his daily commute. He didn’t mind getting squished among bodies when it got crowded, or standing for long durations. His motorbike travels involved sitting while he drove and standing while he waited in torturous traffic. In that regard, the two weren’t that different, save for a vibrating entity between his legs. But it was the comfortable decibel level inside the metro that he liked best.
It was not late in the evening, but the curiously prolonged winters had drawn the curtains for the day. Ranjit was headed to Lodhi Gardens to meet a friend and had to change lines from Mandi House, but the route was shut for maintenance. It was a short journey and he thought of hiring an auto-rickshaw.
Five minutes of walking and he was yet to spot a single rickshaw. The peculiarity of the situation did strike him, but he continued, hoping things to change soon. However, different forms of public transport seemed to have colluded against him. What’s wrong with Delhi?
He grimaced and started walking faster, keeping a watchful eye out for an unoccupied rickshaw. Vehicles swept past him, blaring horns all the while, but alas, not a single rickshaw for hire. After another ten minutes of more of the same, Ranjit stretched his hand to ask for a lift. It was the first time he was doing something like that, with a meek smile appearing on his face. The very next moment, a motorcyclist stopped by him.
Wow, talk about immediate results!
The fact that it was a teenage girl left him staring at the rider.
“Well, do you want to get on or not?” she asked with a genial smile. Her feet barely reached the road and it was twice in width as her – which was more as could be said for Ranjit – but she seemed to know how to handle her vehicle.
“Oh, right. I’m sorry,” said Ranjit as he smiled and hopped on. The two-wheeler bobbed in shock at the unfamiliar, heavy load. Ranjit saw the girl glancing at him in the mirror. He smiled in embarrassment. “I need to go to Lodhi Gardens. You can drop me wherever our paths diverge.”
“Lucky you, for we share the same destination,” she said and throttled. Ranjit’s legs jerked up, and had it not been for the backrest he would have hit the ground hard.
India Gate gradually rose higher as they moved towards it. It kept rising over the trees that blocked it from afar, standing tall and graceful in all its splendour and glory. Ranjit was used to feeling proud of his nation and seeing people have a good time whenever he crossed it, but it was the first time that he saw a group gathered with quite a few flags. He didn’t need any telling what that was all about. He had seen it all on the news.
When his body jerked again because of an abrupt stop, he did need some telling as to why that happened. He looked confusedly at the girl as she parked the bike and took off her helmet.
“I’ve got to see what’s happening there!” she said.
“It’s just people venting their anger,” said Ranjit. The girl stopped and glared at him.
“And can you fault them for that? Do you not feel your blood boil and want to call for some action?” she asked, thumping her helmet on the handle. It was the first time Ranjit had had his patriotism questioned, and he wanted to prove himself. His baby-face twisted and he morphed into Ranjit the revolutionary.
“I’m standing here at India Gate in front of a crowd gathered to protest against the recent terrorist attack. Things have been heating up since that fateful day, and the call for action is loud, clear, and ubiquitous. Sir, what do you have to say about this incident?” asked the anchor from a nearby individual.
“It is really shameful what has happened! What is even more shameful is people questioning the credibility of the retaliation by our armed forces!” he yelled, unmindful of the microphone despite staring into it. The crowd roared.
“And you, ma’am, what is your opinion of the conflict within the nation?” asked the anchor. Ranjit was amazed by his energy. He scuttled around as if he had scored the World Cup winning goal.
“To fight against an outside threat, first the nation needs to be united!” Loud approval reverberated over the raucous traffic. Ranjit saw half a dozen flags waved with transfixed eyes. Adrenaline raised his arms in the air, kicked his legs into motion, and made him yell his love for his country. His eyes met with others around him, and each voice was bolstered by the support.
The anchor dashed about with his cameraman, holding out his mike to anyone he wished. People had foregone answering questions and were in the mood for rallying. Almost everyone chanted ‘All hail mother India!’ Ranjit, too, let himself go. He saw the girl who had offered him a lift shrieking with all her might. Each individual’s voice was buoyed by their passion.
“And what do you think of our neighbours?” asked the news anchor as his prancing around led him to a suddenly-petrified, baby-faced, bulky fellow. The mike was thrust in Ranjit’s face but the camera, with its flashlight, arrested his attention, thoughts, and movement. He could hear disgruntled murmurs around him but his eyes refused to shift or blink. His mouth failed to utter a sound. All he could do was gulp and prevent drooling.
The crowd was beginning to turn into an angry mob. The anchor turned quickly to rescue the live show. Ranjit could hear people muttering ‘Down with them! Down with them!’ His adrenaline flickered and he felt it bubbling up within. His arms rose again, his legs moved again, and this time, he yelled in front of the camera.
‘Down with them!’
Pandemonium ensued. The live telecast on viewers’ screen shook violently and showed a couple of people rush up to and lift Ranjit on their shoulders. But their arms and shoulders were just as unaccustomed to heavy loads as the kind girl’s motorbike. The coup de grace, though, was the cameraman regaining his composure and adjusting his camera just when Ranjit was lifted and went crashing down, taking the wave of revolt and fervid rallying down with him.