A Day in the Life of a Gorkhaland Supporter

For 22 years, Darjeeling has been fighting for independence from West Bengal in an attempt to establish Ghorkaland. Darjeeling's tiny size, in contrast to the vastness of West Bengal, is misleading. In terms of income, Darjeeling generates much more than larger cities, mainly from tourism and its tea estates. According to the friendly natives I've met, Darjeeling would be as economically flourishing as Sikkim, its northern neighbor, if it were independent.
Yesterday, the Morcha party (supporting Ghorkaland and Darjeeling's independence from West Bengal) called a 12-hour strike from 6 am to 6 pm in an attempt to prove how much money Darjeeling's businesses generate. None of the locals thought to inform any of the tourists, so I woke up to empty streets and wandered through Darjeeling hauling my luggage until I stumbled on an empty bus stand. My plans to leave for Sikkim had to be delayed 24 hours - a passing early riser told me that there were no vehicles running in all of Darjeeling for the day, except for the police jeeps patrolling their grounds.
All businesses - restaurants, shops, banks, the tourist bureau, museums - were shut down. There's a large public square in Darjeeling called Chowrasta, where locals and foreigners gather to chat, stare, and drink tea. I spent my entire afternoon there, on a green park bench, sandwiched between an old, toothless lady and another old, toothless lady (not related). My day's events while waiting for the strike to end:

1. A local gave me his English newspaper. The lone Mumbai terrorist captured has confessed that he went through a 222-day training camp in Pakistan, where he learned how to handle weapons such as grenades, rocket launchers, and mortars, listened to stiff doses of religious discourses, underwent training of swimming and experience at sea, and studied the patterns of Indian security agencies. Such a scary world.
2. I watched kids playing badminton and cricket in the square.
3. Some stupid Westerners stumbled into the square, looking lost. They stood in the middle, discussing what their next plan of action would be. I couldn't hear their conversation, but I'm sure it went something like this:
"Is Darjeeling always so dead?"
"I don't know...I didn't expect this..."
"And look at those pigeons just pecking around. Disgusting!"
"And all those stray dogs. Honestly, if only they had an animal rescue agency, India wouldn't be so filthy."
"Quite right."
"Why are all these shops closed? All I want is my espresso and I can't even get that here..."
4. The old lady next to me peeled a clementine and offered me half. After refusing 3 times (the golden number in the Middle East), I took those 5 wedges and happily munched. It took her 32 minutes to finish her half - she patiently picked off the flesh lining on each wedge, then chewed each slice at a snail's pace.
5. A smoker lit up right behind me, and I fanned the second-hand smoke obviously. He moved.
6. The old lady (not the one who gave me her clementine half) got up and strolled along. Down sat a teenager, annoyingly playing American songs from his mobile phone in an obvious effort to attract my attention. When I ignored him, he started singing along to the horrible lyrics. Ugh.
7. The old lady (yes, the clementine one) fell asleep.
8. I ordered a cup of chai (tea) from the chai-wallah and happily sipped it.
9. I thought about what I would order from my favorite local Indian cafe at 6 pm, the deadline for the strike. Malai kofta and vegetable paratha.
10. I finished reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Two thumbs up.
11. Macho local Indians, strutting around in their fake leather jackets, stared unashamedly at schoolgirls in their uniforms. Disgusting.
12. The annoying teenager to my left got up and left. No more horrible music and karaoke accompaniment. Hallelujah.
13. The old lady woke up and played with her prayer beads.
14. An old Tibetan man squatting near our bench blew a snot rocket. I stared at his boogers for a while, then turned away.
15. I need to pee...
16. A 3- or 4-year-old girl screamed and cried while chasing her father across the square. He completely ignored her, while she ran to keep up with him, tugged at his pants, and tried in vain to get his attention. What a bastard.
17. I paid 3 rupees for my tea.
18. A beggar stopped in front of me as I was collecting my change from the chai-wallah, her hand held out. I ignored her. The old lady next to me muttered something to her, and the beggar looked down and folded her skirt around her waist so that it became shorter. I'm sure my friend said something like, "Hey, your skirt's dragging." The beggar left.
19. The old lady got up and left, mumbling, "Going." We shook hands, and she mumbled something else that I dumbly smiled in reply to.
20. I left to go to my hotel room to pee.

The strike ended, as promised, at 6, and all the tourists (including myself) rushed to internet cafes and to restaurants for dinner.I hope this strike brings Darjeeling several steps closer to its dreams of Ghorkaland.

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