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29.06.2017

In the first news reports announcing the #NotInMyName protests this weekend, Mumbai isn’t even on the schedule. (Solidarity? Try Thiruvananthapuram or Kolkata.) The event notification pops up on Facebook early Tuesday evening. The place: Carter Road. The time: rush hour. The organisers: who? people ask, all the way to the venue. 

At 3.15 pm, high tide peaks at 15.1 feet, scattering the egrets from the high branches of the mangroves. “A protest?” a young banker says at Koinonia, a local coffee shop, oWednesday afternoon at 4 pm. “Against GST?” At 5 pm, a few marchers in parkas - a film critic, two Save Aarey activists - are on the phone at the Carter Road amphitheatre, asking “Where are you? Where is it?”

It is at the promenade, where a small crowd juggle their signs with their umbrellas. It is swelling even as a salty rain careens in from the north-west, the first of three lashing showers over the next two hours. Sreemoyee Bhattacharya of Transmic Space, who made the event notification, is somewhere in the throng with her placard. Some “Not In My Name”s come with hashtags, some with exclamation marks, others helpfully translate the phrase to Hindi. “Come, uncle, it’s this way!” a protestor says to a grey-haired gentleman. “I know, but I haven’t been on this stretch in so long,” he replies. “Just taking one round and coming.”

In Mumbai’s rudderless upper-class dharnas, the police often outnumber the marchers; the cameras sometimes outnumber the people; and the people you know always outnumber the ones you don’t. Somehow on this evening at Carter Road, about five hundred people turn up against the odds.

At the Mumbai Press Club, shows of liberal regret come with spotless white tablecloths and excellent sound systems. At the sealed-off little triangle at Azad Maidan,the city’s officially designated protest ground, there is the almost tangibly oppressive scrutiny of the Mumbai Police, who watch you with the same sense of dutiful malevolence as they do the striking farmers and non-contract workers’ collectives in the next tents.  

At Carter Road, there are actors. #NotInMyName is a silent protest, so even the cameras chase Kalki Koechlin and Shabana Azmi mutedly. They badger Rana Ayyub, the journalist, and a variety of college girls, including one who makes a reporter put the words “All the rights! Equal rights! For everyone!” in her notebook. “I am a volunteer for the Aam Aadmi Party,” one very young man admits to a camera, but he seems to be in the minority. There are more chihuahuas than self-declared party workers here. “That’s how the organisers must have wanted it,” a filmmaker says sagely. 

In a city where thousands turn up in the blink of an eye at housing protests and marching farmers can paralyse traffic from JJ Flyover all the way to the Mahim dargah, politics is somehow still optional to some people. In other cities, protests like these often ring with hyper-articulate energy, rife with poetry and argumentation and the spectacular rhetoric bequeathed by the Marxist left to their heirs. In Mumbai’s rudderless upper-class dharnas, the police often outnumber the marchers; the cameras sometimes outnumber the people; and the people you know always outnumber the ones you don’t. 

Somehow on this evening at Carter Road, about five hundred people turn up against the odds. “I was expecting 12,” the writer Annie Zaidi admits later in a tweet. Most can’t even hear the single voice near the front of the crowd, singing the words of the Hindi poet Dushyant Kumar: “Mere seenay mein nahin to tere seenay mein sahin / ho kahin bhi aag, lekin aag jalni chaahiye” - If not in my breast then in yours, it doesn't matter where the fire is lit, let it be lit somewhere

The monsoon blows louder than any human voice today, and the rain is turning umbrellas inside out with its ferocity. “Oh, here’s the revolution,” jokes the actor Danish Husain when it comes howling in from the sea for the third time. In Bombay, getting soaked to the bone at 5.30 pm on a workday is a little rebellion.

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