On a rain soaked night at Ramlila Maidan

August 24th, 2011 - 2:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) When Delhi sleeps, the Ramlila Maidan remains awake.

The sloganeering does not end, except sporadically, although the fasting 74-year-old Anna Hazare is sleeping only around 100 meters away. The tricolour is being waved endlessly. The mood of defiance never fades.

Incessant rains all of Tuesday night have turned the vast Ramlila ground into a virtual swamp. The thick ground mats are drenched and lie in heaps, here and there.

Even the tented enclosure looks no better than the open space - slushy and muddy. A part of the tent has tilted.

It is well past midnight, and there are some 1,000 people at the ground. Almost all the young in the crowd are wide awake. There are about a dozen women.

A policeman calls this a “small crowd” and blames it on the unceasing rain. He says the ground never had less than 5,000 people on any previous night.

The daytime crowd, of course, has never been less than tens of thousands.

Under the night sky, a small but boisterous batch of young men is raising full-throated slogans in Hindi hailing 74-year-old Hazare. A larger batch watches approvingly.

Many sport the trademark ‘I Am Anna’ white caps. Many also have the tricolour painted on their cheeks.

A smaller group of youths is walking in seemingly aimless circles, holding aloft the tricolour and shouting slogans of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

Armed with a harmonium and table, a group of four from Uttar Pradesh has attracted a small crowd as they belt out devotional songs and poetry dedicated to Hazare.

A few policemen are engaged in an animated discussion with farmers from Uttar Pradesh - on corruption and more. Hazare is after all fighting for a strong anti-graft Lokpal bill.

A few hundred people have spread themselves out where they can find space to sit or squat without getting drenched. There is no escape from rains, however, as the tent leaks at dozens of spots.

Most in demand are the tented enclosures meant for TV channels and India Against Corruption (IAC), the network behind the Anna show.

Here people talk about Hazare’s health and the anti-corruption campaign that has attracted tens of thousands all across India.

Water sachets are on the house. No tea at night.

Remarkably, despite the noise and discomfort, over 100 men are managing to sleep under the main tent and in the smaller enclosures, on the ground or on wooden benches.

At one of the two medical centres, young Paritosh struggles to keep awake. An aviation engineer, he has been with Hazare since he fasted for the first time here in April, triggering events that have led to the present protest.

An occasional person seeks medicine for sore throat, fever and body ache.

Ramesh in his late 20s, a trader, says he comes to the ground every night from east Delhi “because I feel for Hazare and what he stands for. It is the least I can do for our country”.

The sloganeering abates by 3 a.m. By then, a small group of young men are busy cleaning the ground, painstakingly picking up hundreds of polythene bags, sachets and paper cups, partly buried under mud and water.

As they work, the slogans follow: “Anna Hazare Zindabad!” and “Ek, do, teen, char, khatam karo yeh brashtachar!”

Two of the students holding a wheel barrow while cleaning are MBBS graduates. Another is an engineer. All three are from Delhi.

A young man from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh now working in Delhi says he finds Ramlila Maidan a good place to meet “people from all over the country”.

A policeman says he and many of his colleagues return to the ground in civilian clothes when they are off duty, some with families, “because we are sick and tired of corruption. I really feel for this old man (Hazare).”

An hour later, the muezzin calls out the day’s first prayer from a nearby mosque. Other mosques follow.

Some of those sleeping begin to stir. Sporadic Hazare slogans are still on. Another day has dawned. It is Anna’s ninth day of fast.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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