Ours has to be the one country where we protest by doing nothing.
When we want to prove our government’s twiddling its thumbs, irrespective of which coalition it is, we decide to sleep in. Anthropologists could see this as subverting the idea of a show of solidarity.
But people who want to understand India – especially the tourists who come here to find themselves, and end up losing their heads – must first come to terms with the cultural significance of ‘closure’ to us.
Let’s start off with the etymology of the word – ‘bandh’; noun, Hindi for ‘closed’.
The practical applications of the word are as unlimited as the reasons for which the political tool is invoked.
An argument is closed, we say, every few minutes, as we negotiate the price of a trinket by the road.
“Final price, madam,” the guy selling it says, “you look like Karishma Kapoor (or some other actress last seen on the big screen fifteen years ago) with those earrings. Only ten rupees. Argument closed.”
“Baap re!” you scream (roughly translated as ‘Oh, my father!’), “that’s daylight robbery! I can pick up stones on the road and wires from the garbage bin to make these myself! TEN RUPEES! I’ll lose my livelihood!”
“Madam!” the guy protests, “See, these stones are hand-cut. The wire is hand-twisted. It’s one hundred percent original design. Nine rupees fifty paise, argument closed.”
He begins to pack it up.
You demur as you open your purse, “Eight rupees. Last price.”
He shakes his head, as he closes the packet and thrusts it at you.
You close your purse and begin to walk away.
“Madam, madam!” he runs behind you, “how can you close this off like this? Eight rupees, best price. Deal closed.”
You open your purse and he closes his palm over the coins, synchronising that with your zip closing over the earrings.
And the symbolism doesn’t end there.
“Why do you close the door immediately?” the relatives who’ve successfully carried out their mission of surprising us with a four-hour visit, right before Sunday brunch, demand, wedging a foot into the closing portal, “you don’t want to see us again?”
“What! How can you say such a thing! It’s so depressing when you’re away and we’re watching these four walls close in on us,” we remonstrate, and they are placated by our misery.
We further propitiate them by waving till their car disappears into the horizon before we close the gates, leave alone the doors.
This is why the rather prosaic word ‘bandh’ carries so much potential for drama.
The only ones who work on the day are those who must make sure no one else does – and those who are reporting this to a nation that is already aware of it.
But in a country as notorious for its hospitality as India, it is only fitting that the Opposition recognises the inconvenience such histrionics cause to government-run offices and that section of the general public that refuses to look at the brighter side.
They have been known to indulge their enemies by holding part-day bandhs.
My personal experience of this was a three-hour bandh in then-Calcutta. No one seems to remember who called it and why.
Hardly to be wondered at, as the half of the city that was awake at ten in the morning decided to have an early lunch for the duration of the bandh.