Friday, April 15, 2011

Dilli Live

Today I spent about 5 hours at the Patiala House Court in New Delhi standing and waiting for the 2G scam accused to step out after a bail hearing. A fellow intern and I arrived at the court complex at 1245am with a reporter and a cameraman and were only able to leave 5 hours later after standing for most of that time on an empty stomach. The hearing was supposed to be from 2pm to 4pm, but the ending kept getting delayed in increments. It felt like waiting for a late Indian train which has no intention of arriving before a delay of 14 hours (that happened to me once).

There was no place for the press to sit, and some photographers eventually decided to sit down on the very filthy ground. I could only bring myself to a squat after around 330pm. The photographers got so bored that they started taking pictures of each other, "for Facebook" someone joked.

When the accused eventually stepped out one by one, cameramen (there were no camerawomen there) ferociously descended on them from all sides in an overwhelming God's Wrath sort of fashion. Who were these guys? Where were the sweet cameramen I had just stood with for so many hours? It was a stampede, the ground was shaking. My heart came into my mouth, and I sprinted out to a safe distance. Tall men with cameras that looked like the Terminator's machine gun were swarming around (up, down, and on the sides of) the accused like giant cyborgs, yelling at each other as flashbulbs went off like juggernaut lightning. It was like a scene from a pilgrimage gone mad. You couldn't see the accused in the middle of the crowd, but they kept moving, trying to get to the safety of their vehicles out on the main road. I felt somewhat afraid that someone would get hurt badly in that chase. There was so much shouting and aggression in that crowd that orbitted around the accused, I realised later that I had held my breath waiting for the sound of a cracking camera or skull. I am still not sure if I'd be able to tell the difference between those sounds.

It was not a short way from the courthouse to the main road. The accused and their suffocating envelope of cameramen pushed and shoved all the way to the outside and rocked the security walkway and a metal gate on their way. The guards kept their distance mostly out of shock. Bystanders both inside the courthouse and outside kept asking us who was being chased. An older man in the court complex huffed and puffed - photography was not allowed in the court complex! An old dust-covered toothless man sitting near the main road was watching the accused dive into their cars. He kept chuckling and calling out, "Ayyy Raja Babu!"

But that was a learning experience that I am grateful for. The real memories that I will be taking with me of the Patiala House Court in New Delhi are:

1. people taking long luxuriant naps on the court lawn
2. a dirt-covered boy of about 4 standing in the middle of a court courtyard with his pants pulled down to his feet and peeing with all the glory that God had intended. He just stood there with his lower body completely exposed, urinating on Indian judicial property as lawyers, judges, and maybe some media personnel walked all around him. They kept walking after the boy had put his pants back on and left. Some walked right over his urine, by then an anonymous puddle in the middle of the courtyard.
3. a lawyer blowing his nose hard and letting it drip to the ground outside a court where the camerapeople , including my fellow intern and I, were standing and contemplating sitting on the ground
4. dogs and cats wandering about the court complex
5. swarms of flies (and much worse?) around all the food stalls in the court complex
6. everything smelling of excrement and urine, especially when the breeze picked up
7. dirty walls that I eventually convinced myself to lean against when my feet began to hurt

Today was a small sample of the paparazzi experience. I expressed my surprise at the aggression of the cameramen to a reporter, what if the accused had got hurt? A fist fight had almost broken out out there on the road. An accused had been unable to get into his car at first because the crowd had pushed him to another car.

The reporter shrugged my concerns away with a grand disaffected declaration - so what, he said. What's more important, getting the visual or keeping the subject safe?


Christopher said...

Hey, this is Chris Jarrell from OSU Career Services. My wife and I went to Hyderabad in January. You paint a life-like picture of public Indian life in the City. I also did some "outdoor shooting" but always had the decency to find cover first! Are you in India to stay or just visiting?

Khadija Ejaz said...

:D When in Rome, eh? You should let me know if you're ever in Delhi. I'm here interning with NDTV ( at least until August, not sure as yet where I'll be after that.