A Beautiful Day for a Bandh.

As we ventured out today, in search of tin cups and bowls, the streets looked completely different than before.  None of the sliding gates that cover store entrances were open.  There were no cars to be seen.  Hardly any people were out on the streets, and no one was trying to sell us things.  It seemed eerie for a few minutes, until we remembered being told that there was a bandh, or strike, planned for today.  With the ongoing discontent about the nation’s “interim” government, which has been promising to finalize a constitution for a long while, there are frequent, organized, nationwide protests.

As we neared a main intersection, the streets, still quiet, were filled with policemen.  They were busy directing bicycle and foot traffic, but looked otherwise unconcerned.  A few blocks later, however, we encountered the “real deal.”  A group of Maoist protesters, waving flags and chanting through megaphones, addressed onlookers filling a public square.  Though intrigued, we opted not to get too close, and made our way to quieter parts of town.

Despite being “on strike,” we noticed that many of those who were not protesting devoted their time to rebuilding roads, maintaining buildings, and beautifying shrines.  The two men pictured below were carrying on a lively conversation and laughing while they adorned the elephant-headed god Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, with a fresh coat of paint.  It was refreshing to see people not only making a social statement by not going to work, but also using their time to improve public spaces.

Most of all though, I was fascinated by the children playing in the empty streets, thrilled at the extra room to run.  Three boys stood atop a bridge flying a kite, while 30 feet below them stood a squadron of police in full riot regalia.

At noon, the streets suddenly came alive again, storefronts were rolled open with a clatter, and life as usual went on, as if nothing had ever happened.