A couple of days ago, I walked into the elevator of a commercial complex in Mumbai and was asked to step out the next moment. A scrawny security guard — in an army-like uniform — was standing in front of me. “Ye waali lift owners ke liye hai, aap doosri se jaaiye (This lift is for the owners, you please take the other one)”. There was authority in his tired eyes. So what if he can’t use that lift, he can stop others. Give them something to be proud of — maybe a temporary sense of power — so that they keep on stopping people from entering offices, temples, schools, mosques and sometimes their own houses. We all are security guards. We all do this to each other. Every day.
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And this is what he survives upon — moments like this — because otherwise working 12 hours to get Rs 7,000 in a city like Mumbai can kill him. Twitter won’t talk about his death or his salary. English looks down upon him. What you read on WhatsApp is his violent response to a systematic violence no one has talked about. “How free is he?” I think as I enter another lift. How free am I? No response. Another floor, another building.
“Ye bahut achchi building hai sir. Idhar ek bhi Musalman nahi rehta (This is a very nice building sir. No Muslim stays here).” A broker shows me a house with similar pride. We all are brothers and sisters, we used to recite out loud after the school prayer.
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“Sir, you don’t eat non-veg na?” another broker asks me. “This is very important for the society, Sir, and no film-industry people. They fight, they drink alcohol, they commit suicide. No singles sir, they love, actually, they make love.”
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We are supposed to be brothers, I tell him. He doesn’t know about that textbook oath. He is ready to reduce his brokerage though.
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A Bollywood song asks me to live my life to the fullest because we only live once. Brokers don’t understand this. They understand money. A friend tells me that we should earn more money to be more free. A lot of friends are already following this. Now they live only on weekends. They use brands which ask them to be themselves and cost just Rs 8,000 per piece. Do you feel free? I want to ask, but I don’t.
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A monk disagrees with me when I tell him about that song that says we live only once. It’s stupid, he says. I love that he disagrees. I hug him with tears in my eyes and tell him that it’s beautiful to see somebody disagree. A man appears and tells me that I shouldn’t hug a monk, I should touch his feet instead because that’s the rule. I object. This is how I express love and I don’t want rules for that. This is not a badminton game. The monk agrees but these men — now there are more — don’t. The monk asks me to run for my life as they surround him in rage.
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Noticeboards, instructions, new rules, conditions, amendments, advisories — I remember them even when I make love. I don’t want to be punished. Try not to hurt any sentiments while you write, a lawyer tells me. Say a lot but don’t say anything, he adds.
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Still when I pick up this white pen with the blue cap, I think of that young man in 1931, who walked to the gallows with a smile at the age of 23, so that I can pick up this white pen with the blue cap and write whatever I want to. They all talk to you if you keep on listening. Keep on listening.
Gaurav Solanki is the scriptwriter of Article 15.