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At 9.30pm on Thursday, the night was far from young at Connaught Place. Shops had downed shutters, restaurants crowds had thinned and there was only one place to go — home. Those without cars or houses on Metro routes hurried for the Shivaji Stadium bus terminus, where a surprise awaited them.
The terminus was abuzz with activists wanting to "reclaim the night". With placards that read "Shahar hamara hai" and "Taking the Last Bus", around 200 men and women — from students to members of activists groups such as Jan Natya Manch (Janam) and Jan Sanskriti — boarded the last buses headed towards Shahdara, Rithala and Buddh Vihar among other places with guitars and a distinct party mood. "We decided to convert buses into performance spaces with music and poetry reading to make our point about the need for better public transport, especially at night," said Sudhanva Deshpande of Janam. Titled 9.30 pm ki Aakhiri Bus, this initiative was triggered by the recent gang rape. The few non-activists who were present had heard of the event from friends or Facebook.
The most popular bus was the 620 to Hauz Khas. The driver looked bemused at the houseful crowd — "We usually have only 30-40 people on the last ride," he said — as the bus began to move accompanied by whoops and a burst of the popular song Tu zinda hai, tu zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar.
Aishwarya Muralidhar, a 22-year-old zoologist, who is a part of the Young India Fellowship Programme that trains leaders of the future, took the lead in playing the guitar and egging the "mobile audience" to sing Bollywood numbers such as Allah ke bande and Rubaru, and anthems of protest Blowin' in the Wind and Hum Hongey Kamyaab. Regular passengers seemed curious and, after a while, impressed by the show, though two shop assistants who boarded the bus at Udyog Bhavan said it was too late in the day to care. The performers' energy didn't falter even when, at times, the music did.
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