Voices Thursday, October 02, 2014 - 05:30
Tanvi Lal | October 2, 2014 | 9.20 am IST Moment #1The man seen in the bottom half of this picture, is how I see Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. This is not a comment on his stature or his personality, it is not meant to belittle or bemoan. It is a fact. The magnified image on the screen, is how the people around me at Madison Square Garden saw the same man. Larger than life, amplified, powerful, a savior, a symbol for change. To them, he stood for Unity. Action. Progress. Moment #2 Several times during his speech, he paused to allow ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’ to echo across the stadium. Reveling in the praise, he pandered with the voices that intermittently called out ‘Modi we love you,’ and ‘God bless you.’  (Image courtesy: YouTube) The end result, thunderous applause from an audience that frequently jumped to their feet. And me? I remained firmly seated in the safety of the shadows. Moment #3Outside the venue, on the left were people protesting the impending arrival of ‘Prime Murderer Modi,’ on the right, were people celebrating #ModiInAmerica. I stood in the middle for a while. And then I crossed over. Literally, not figuratively. Hopefully they would believe that there were eighteen to twenty thousand supporters swarming the doors, minus me. Today, curiosity demanded courage. Moment #4“Please stand for the national anthem,” came the announcement. By this time, I’d forgotten I was in New York, not New Delhi. The gaggle of familiar languages, the dhol, the chants- familiar sights and sounds from home. I fell for the illusion. As I braced my self for the opening lines of ‘Jana Gana Mana,’ the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ began instead. And reality came crashing back. This show, the lights, the dance and song routines, were all meant for an audience that excluded me. On multiple levels. Moment #5The last time I would stand, the only time I joined the proud voices around me, was when the Indian National Anthem finally played. Hands of people all around me moved from over their heart to their side; the transition was flawless, natural, automatic; the voices, reverent as we all sang along. As the final notes faded away, it finally sunk in, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India took the stage. Moment #6Before the main event, the organisers played out ‘Chak De India,’ a song engineered to evoke patriotic sentiments in the audience in attendance. It worked, immediately people around me joined the chorus. Within seconds, it melted into Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA.’ This sequence would be repeated when a dance troupe would perform their ‘fusion piece.’ Unsual, unexpected, unnerving. Maybe it made sense to everyone else but me Moment #7Standing in line for security check behind a long line of men in suits, I had time to observe those around me. People young and old, some dressed in their traditional best, most sporting casual clothes, stood around me in groups. This was clearly a family outing. Did the children know they weren’t heading for a picnic or a movie? Did their parents explain who they were there to see? What was the story they believed? I wish I had asked some questions. Smiled encouragingly at the curious stares. But I had no response to the inevitable questions on my opinion of the prime minister. That’s my excuse. Moment #8“Take a free T-shirt, a poster, a pamphlet,” said a volunteer to me. The escalators were right next to the table where people called out “small, is too small, medium is better,” and “no, not extra-large, I am only large.” By the time I stepped up, an enthused volunteer chatting with a group suddenly proclaimed ‘Bharat Ma ki Jai!’ I found my self ducking and dodging; sliding past the crowd; past the t-shirts; past the posters and the flyers, and on to the esclators. Up, up and away. To borrow a phrase I saw on facebook, I am a patriot, but not a nationalist. Moment #9After the Chak De USA performance, or was it the Born in India one; fusion gave way to the traditional. It started with the garbha, well received by a seemingly pre-dominant gujarati audience. Then it was time to show case the secular nature of the organizers. The Gujarati Samaj of New York would perfom a Rajashtani number. Ah, secularism. Unity in Action for Progress. Many times I felt like a minority, and then laughed at the pretentious thought. After all, I was witnessing #ModiAtMadison. Moment #10Red, white and blue; saffron, green and white descended on Madison Square Garden. Here, I speak of the balloons that were released at the end of the show, not the composition of the audience. It was all over, much much after it all began. Seven flights of stairs separated me from the outside world; stairs, and the stream of supporters. Outside, the sun was still shining, the streets were still swarming, horns were still blaring and New York was still not New Delhi. Nothing had changed, literally and figuratively. The minute the overzealous elements encountered the growing crowd of protesters, I was ushered away. There was no need to witness the imminent clash. Nothing had changed.

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