It was damp and cold as I made my way to Madison Square Garden. A crowd had already gathered. It was not a very big crowd, but they were quite vocal. They had arranged for a very good sound system, so every chant and insult could be heard loud and clear (complements to the sound engineer). Among the anti-Modi and anti-Hindutva signs were some anti-Indian Army in Kashmir signs, which was confusing, I thought that the protest had been organized to protest Modi being feted by the Tri-State area Indians. It turned out that the Kashmir folks had been piggybacking on the anti-Modi protest. They were politely banished to the other side of Seventh Avenue.
A knot of policemen were setting up barriers and sort of standing around, looking rather bemused. All of them were white (Irish perhaps?, where were the Black and Latino cops?) The cops didn’t really have that much to do, I saw a lot of them trying to figure who this Modi fellow was being insulted with signs like, “US Visa Rejected.” The passersby hurried by in a typical New York rush, some holding up their fingers in a peace sign, without slowing down. There were some who paused to read signs that said, “Hitler’s plan: exterminate all Jews. Modi’s plan: exterminate all Muslims, Christians and Minorities.” There were a couple of tourists coming out of Penn Station who paused to take photographs. I hope they are having a wonderful holiday.
I was having a pretty good time too, I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and made some new friends. Among them a photographer, Stan, who told me of a conversation he had with a participant going into the Garden. Stan asked him if it was true that two thousand people had been killed, the man very matter of factly answered, “sometimes people needed to be disciplined and taught a lesson.” Who were these people who approved of Modi”disciplining some people”? Most of them seemed like our neighborhood grocer, and rather rattled by the fellow shouting “Shame, shame” at them while holding his “Visa Rejected” poster. What are they thinking? Why don’t they know any better? They looked like they had been herded by the more affluent Indians, who were the organizers of the show. Unlike the folks who had been bussed in, most of these people weren’t wearing a tilak, and were barking orders in their walkie-talkies, and generally looking self satisfied. I spoke to a woman in a leather jacket, I asked her what she thought of the proceedings, which she had been watching with an eagle eye, she answered with great unsmiling certainty, “Modi will be the next great leader.” While she was chatting up the better heeled delegates, a man draped in a saffron shawl stood on top of the steps, not speaking to anyone and standing very still. He seemed to be committing every protestor’s face to memory. I watched him, fascinated at his concentration, till I was disturbed by a hubub behind me. Two marginal looking white people were holding a “Indian Army Out of Kashmir” poster, and yelling that the folks inside the garden were Nazis. Nobody knew who they were, where they had come from and what they were doing there. When they got into an altercation with a protester, the police intervened, the fellow and his female companion moved along, the man shouting, “You are taking away our rights of free speech bit by bit. Think about it, its for our kids, I ask you, do you want our kids to have no rights?” the cop said, “Yes,” and gently moved him along. At that point a very large man in a trench coat and hat told me to clear the sidewalk. he was the detective in charge. He was the spitting image of Orson Welles in “A Touch of Evil.” Star struck, I spent enormous amounts of video tape on this charismatic character.
On my way home, I shared a bus ride with some middle aged Gujarati people who had gone to the event, they seemed like nice people. It was chilling to think that they were unmoved by the brutal killing of so many people, and in fact they had gone to fete a leader who should be held accountable for what happened on his watch.