Standing in a sea of pink, I calculated the chances and hurriedly went over the check list. I was waiting to run ( walk ! ) for ten km and mentally preparing myself, not to ace the race but to survive a stampede. Pinkathalon was a state sponsored mini marathon to celebrate International Women’s Day. Like all such events which are used to show political clout, despite the use of much government machinery, it was a chaotic affair.
Clearly the event, being the first of its kind in the region, had caught the imagination of the public . The media hype and publicity had worked. Roping in schools and NGOs further ensured a good turnout. And now they were all there, waiting. I am not sure whether all thirty five thousand who registered had turned up but there were enough for the dreaded human rush and crush.
My cautious, cynical mind evaluated the situation and tried to identify exits in case things turned ugly. Both sides of the road were blocked with flex posters which could be torn down if necessary but were a hinderance nonetheless. To worsen things, there was a choke point ahead. The road was partially blocked by a high stage to create a gate from which the chief guest was to address the gathering and flag off the race. I shuddered at the thought of the crowd pushing and shoving through the gateway when the race started. Dreading the worst I tried to turn back but it was impossible to move against the forward surge. With no other option I decided to go with the flow and looked around distractedly.
The enthusiasm and joy was palpable. Laughter was everywhere, as was pink, an integral part of everyone’s attire. The mood was upbeat as females of all ages sang along with the singers and shouted patriotic slogans. They enthusiastically waved to the photographers on the ground and the drones flying above. Packed like sardines, some were even doing the warm up exercises being demonstrated as a prelude to the run. Most were busy posing for selfies. Happy women, trusting women, unsuspecting women! Without a clue of the danger they were in……
As the sun heated up, the crowd expanded and started jostling, the impatience slowly mounting, ticking like a time bomb. Fainting from the heat causing a dominos effect of ‘fallen’ women seemed inevitable. “Isn’t swooning integral to ladies?” I wondered. On top of it, very few were carrying water as it was to be provided by the organisers further up the road. That is if they made it that far. My chain of morbid thoughts was broken by the arrival of the chief minister who spoke briefly and flagged off the race. We were effortlessly carried in the human tide for the first few hundred yards. I got separated from my friends and it was difficult to locate them in the ensuing mayhem. So our plan of completing the marathon together was dashed. Mildly put, it was a badly managed event, but it could have been much worse.
Luckily by Indian standards the chief guest came on time, and chose to be concise.
Luckily no one slipped, tripped or fainted during the rush.
Luckily tempers didn’t rise with the temperature and there was no pushing and shoving.
Luckily no one stopped to pick up a fallen phone, tie a shoelace, adjust a Dupatta.
Luckily no one’s garment got tangled or caught, choking the wearer in the chaos.
Luckily nothing went wrong, not too wrong that is…..
Perhaps due to the collective past Karma of all the ‘herded’ women we survived unscathed.
In the end it turned out to be an ordinary day in India, another day of living on the edge and fighting the odds.
A recurring thought has been bothering me since. In our country, so much luck is needed to survive an average day. Is that why we keep running out of it?
( published in my column in the Tribune on 16/3/19)