What is strange about this man is that everyone feels he or she has met him… and possibly connects with him on some issue or the other. I met him on the 13th of May, 2013 and was with him much beyond the scheduled thirty minute drive from Jantar Mantar to Hauz Khas village in Delhi. He was then an activist dreaming of taking on the politicians on their own turf… and so, no, I am not going to talk about that interview here. However, I do intend to talk of the many discoveries I made about him that go way beyond the real fiction of the many questions and the answers that happened that day.
As I returned home with my smartphone weighing heavy with the audio file of that interview, Specky my wife asked, ‘Do you think he will end up being a heavy-weight in Indian politics?’
‘I can’t say yet,’ I said, ‘but I am certain that he will end up over-hauling attitudes that stain the politics of the day.’
I told Specky of Arvind Kejriwal’s response to a blind man waiting to cross the road near Rajpath. He asked the driver to stop by the side, went out and helped the blind man cross the road. I was there with him as we did this and he spoke, ‘What the nation needs today is leaders who have the patience to stop running towards their goal to help a common man cross the road to prosperity.’ No, the blind man wasn’t planted there and Arvind wasn’t willing to convert this into a photo-op. It just happened and his answer was to my question on how politicians need to prioritise their agendas.
I have interacted with a lot of political figures and that day I was talking to man who was yet not on the radar of our av-channels… and the print media did not think he could really do anything to deserve a place on their ephemeral news-print that is pulped daily. This was probably one reason why I got so much time with this man who not only answered my questions with a smile but also gave me enough reasons to believe that I was sitting next to a person who sought excellence and had a bolus dose of self-belief injected into him. I wanted to believe that he was someone who is #madeofgreat but told myself repeatedly, ‘Hey! This is just an interview with someone who is attempting to come out of the frenzied anonymity that social activism is all about. We do ot know if he will survive to even qualify for more dharnas or not.’
The distance from Janter Mantar to Hauz Khas isn’t long but the day had been taxing for Arvind and asked, ‘Can I have a coke please?’ The driver was asked to stop at the next possible place where this beverage could be bought. The car was at a crossing and as Arvind was about to take his first sip, there was a rough rap on the window on his side. He looked and saw a child trying to sell him pencils. Arvind rolled down the window and asked, ‘Coca Cola?’
The child nodded excitedly, forgetting that his aim was to sell his pencils. Arvind handed him the coke mobile he held… and the car moved on as the traffic lights turned green. No words were exchanged and he did not give me a look that implied anything. I guess he just did what his heart asked him to do and that was that… pay-outs were not what he was looking for. I asked, ‘Can I quote this incident in the interview?’
‘There are many other vital things that need to be a part of that interview,’ he said, ‘and this is not the way I want to remove poverty. It is only about giving some joy to a child.’ That interview is there on my blog and you can click and read it whenever you are inclined to. I am simply trying to go beyond the words in an interview to see if something happened that day which made a lasting impression on me.
So is it handing a fizzy drink to a street-seller that creates a lasting impact?
No. But what struck me was that I was sitting next to a man who did not think twice before handing over a chilled beverage in the blistering month of May to a child to see him smile even though he had been speaking at a rally and interacting with the protestors sitting on a dharna to get justice to the 1984 riot victims and I knew he had not had even a glass of water since his arrival. To my mind this was way beyond being a simple political opportunism and reflected his intense concern for those who are toiling away to earn honestly. And if you think that getting down to help a blind man cross the road is a gimmick to get some good words in print, think again. We are all leading lives that leave with hardly any time to stop and help others… so if Arvind did it, I think he taught me the way small acts have the power to suggest solutions to really big problems. If I now hear him asking people to stop and help victims on the road, I know he means it all… and that these are not wild and whirling words meant to have that puffy effect on the snooty media that reigns the av-universe.
Is this all that happened that day? Well, no, because as we reached our destination, he got down, gave a warm nod to all the young volunteers waiting for him, asked for a placard and marched ahead without waiting to first eat or drink something. That’s josh… I said to myself. By the way, I did hear him ask many of the volunteers there if they had their lunch and that if they had their water bottles with them, ‘because the sun is harsh and I don’t want any of you to fall ill.’ He then turned to me and asked, ‘Why don’t you come with us and see the spirit of these youngsters as they walk with me to understand what the nation really needs?’ I guess it is difficult to refuse such an invitation and it also told me that I was with a person who did not possibly allowed age and maturity to create walls of snobbery simply to dismiss the existence and validity of exuberance of youthfulness. I had always seen leaders cocooned in smugness and constantly informing me from their pedestal that their job is to represent me in the parliament. So yes, I did learn that day the importance of remaining proactively in touch with your roots and that a real leader walks ahead and shows how to make right all that is unwell.
These paragraphs are not about me as a fan of any political personality but they just remind me of a person who stepped beyond his answers to serious sounding questions and did all that I would have wanted to do had I been more concerned about the life that surrounds me. Yes, I could have stopped that car and helped the blind man cross the street… but I didn’t. I could also have rushed out and bought another bottle of coke for that nearly naked child on the roadside… but I didn’t.
Will I do this now? Did I find some sort of change in my attitude to social inconsistencies? Well, I do stop and help. I do stop now to make sure that I do not cross any line that the law doesn’t permit me to cross. I do stop to share a smile. I do pause to bend and remove the stone that is lying in the middle of the road. I do keep back the pen kept inside a bank to help me fill a form and never walk out with it. Come on now, Arvind Kejriwal hasn’t taught me all this… but yes, all that happened that day has had an impact and does make me think how it might affect our social matrix… and this is what makes me take a few right steps.
15 November 2015