And I witnessed history

October 19th, 2011

Last month, soon after a visit to the Liberty and Twin Tower Memorial, I was having my favourite flat bread sandwich at Subway with Pakistani and Argentine journalists, when a sudden march of more than a dozen New York policemen and women, gigantic by all standards, turned everyone’s head.

The scene resembled some typical Bollywood flick where policemen in disguise of buying a sandwich were on the look out for a possible convict who had just managed to dig a tunnel and slip out of the jail.

Outside, right at the heart of America’s financial district in Manhattan, young American Turks were shouting anti-establishment slogans. It was anyone’s guess that the Police had come to look for some protester, rather than a bite of Subway salad that afternoon.

It was September 17th, the day, the Occupy Wall Street Movement had started. That day I read the protests as nothing more than ruckus by bunch of college kids, throwing tantrums on rich parents on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, when I see those scary images of riots on local television channels in India, I realise, I witnessed history.

Back at Manhattan, The New York Stock Exchange Building that day was as silent as the Calcutta Stock Exchange (a regional stock exchange in India, dysfunctional over the last decade), encircled by half mast American flags, due to the commemoration week of the 10th anniversary of 911 attacks. The Wall Street Bull was bearish with Police escorts on all sides.

Just a day before, as a spectator at the New York Times morning edit meet, I remember one of the stories being pitched for the front page was the beginning of an era of democratic protests, with Anna Hazare in India as one of the examples. However, the story had no mention of protests in the biggest democracy, the United States of America. At that time, (only about four weeks ago), the protesters were seen as a group without leadership, fascinated by the revolt in Egypt, deserving no comparison with the Tea Party movement.

“Inspired by the peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, tonight we are are coming together in Times Square to show the world that the power of the people is an unstoppable force of global change. Today, we are fighting back against the dictators of our country - the Wall Street banks - and we are winning,” said Linnea Palmer Paton, 23, a student at New York University. (This is from the Occupy Wall Street website press release).

About fifteen days later after my New York trip, I was in Chicago. At a strategic location between the Chicago Federal Reserve Office and the Chicago Board of Trade, I saw similar protests, although with more caustic slogans. “Say Goodbye to US$”, and “Free Market, my A$$” and Hitler’s bankers - Wall Street” had replaced “Wall Street is destroying America”, and “people over profit”.

By then, these Young Turks were in the Wall Street Journal, if not in Wall Street, and Tahrir Square was relegated to the inside pages of most American newspapers.

But, inside Chicago Mercantile Exchange, it was a different world. It is one of the few exchanges where open outcry still is in vogue. Behind the chaos of screaming brokers and the red and green flash lights of price movements, and paper bits scattered all over the floor, some of biggest trades of the day in Soya and Corn were going on in perfect harmony.

Again a few weeks later I was back at Minnesota on the last leg of my fellowship and I heard protests in this pristine city of the Midwest.

Now, back in India, I hear what started as( what I thought ) as tantrums by errant kids, has spread to Europe and Asia. From London to Rome, there are scenes of violent protests.

So my Subway sandwich was indeed historic!

Let’s see what’s in store for India. Occupy Dalal Street or Mint Road? I witnessed history digg:And I witnessed history newsvine:And I witnessed history reddit:And I witnessed history Y!:And I witnessed history