Monday, October 27, 2008

Bombay

'Bombay is a crowd' - this is how V.S Naipaul started his grand book - India, A Million Mutinies Now.

Growing up, Bombay was my favorite city. Partially because a good part of my extended family lives there and as kids we would enjoy vacations every summer in Bombay. But more so because of it's "cool" character. It was cool to be in Bombay and be a part of it. It's 'Bumbayya" language, those double decker buses, those local trains, going to Mud Island on a ferry from Versova, visiting Juhu beach as if it was a family tradition, visiting Mom's old cousin in South Bombay who would throw us a party in Bombay Gymkhana almost like a religious ritual every year... it was positively engaging.

My cousins were spread across the Bombay island.. from Santacruz to Parle and from Saat Bungla to Chembur. Somehow Bombay always felt "at home".

In some sense, to me it symbolized something bigger than sum of the parts. It was pluralistic, pragmatic and had lots and lots of energy. The true melting pot of India, if there ever was one.

Today's Bombay I think is a patch of it's own past self. The Bombay that could pride itself on civic sense and discipline has imploded under it's own weight. I started having an uncomfortable feeling when finally as a working professional I actually started living there. It seemed to me that the city had been taken over by something and it was hard for me to figure out what. Bombay was always crowded, but around 2000 when I was living there, there was something odd about the crowd. It had become rowdy and you could feel that in local trains and markets and stations. The language and character of old Mumbai that I knew growing up had changed. It had acquired a different color, a different dialect and entirely different character.

There was an indication that a massive inflow of immigrants had flooded the city suburbs like never before. The local politicians were no more the Joshis and Patils and Naiks but names like Kripa Shankar Yadav and Javed Khan (both from UP) started becoming Bombay's "local" politicians.

Maharashtra politics was the last remaining citadel of Marathi Manus in Mumbai. Because even though Mumbai was state capital it was never ruled by Marathi manus as such, except only politically. For example, the restaurant industry was dominated by Shettys, the real estate was always dominated by Sindhis, Bollywood was always dominated by Punjabis and north Indian Muslims and Stock Exchange was dominated by Gujaratis,..

Another View from Chennai (Interesting Take)

At no point did Bombay feel restless. It embraced and absorbed endlessly. I would often call Bombay a miracle. It boggled my mind to see the sheer size, diversity and population density of this great city being managed each and every day. Power and Electricity, Road network, BEST buses connecting remotest of places. All seemed streamlined and seamless. The system in all it's strange ways "Worked". And when you were in Bombay, you knew it always "Worked".

What has happened in last few weeks in Bombay is a wake up call for it's residents. Raj Thackrey may just be the name and face behind the violence buut it would be naivety if the elite think it's only a language and MNS problem. What we English media reading elite may not realize is there may be an under current of support for Thackrey Jr and he may be shrewdly tapping on that anger. It is common trait in Times of India reading and NDTV watching crowd to discard these MNSs of the world as "irritants and nuisance". But before we know, it's this same attitude that makes these clowns, Heroes. Because the Raj Thackreys of the world have a connection with the grounded "ghati" which we may not have.

More on this by Shobha De, a hard core Mumbaite herself

It should be remembered that Lalu Prasad Yadav was uncouth, English hating, rowdy guy who ruled Bihar for 3 terms continuously. Every time the English media would count him off because of his violent ways of getting things done in Bihar, his massive corruption, his near total disregard for anything legal and constitutional, every election that guy would come out more powerful; media's scorn notwithstanding. The elite did not read what he read. There was anger in Bihar against the upper cast feudal system. Arguably lot of it was only perception. But Lalu was shrewd enough to tap into that Yadav/OBC anger and become a leader of masses he never would have been. It's interesting to see how a nobody can become an ogre, a "somebody" if a threshold is reached in his/her popularity by series of events that may have been avoided.

If Raj Thackray has to be stopped and we want to make sure that Maharashtra state does not have it's own version of Lalu 2.0, the "elite" should look at the deeper problem and just not discard MNS violence as random act of political gimmick. There may be more to MNS anger than what meets the eye. There may be a genuine discomfort in regular Mumbaite at the "squeezing out" of Marathi from Bombay's DNA.

Raj Thackrey and his ilk is not qualified to stand up for anything Marathi. In fact his standing up is only counter productive to genuine problems. But to discard these events as only MNS issue is playing right into hands of Thackrey. He will only becoming more powerful if mindless, rampant influx is not stopped into a decaying city, who's infrastructure, resource and resilience has been tested beyond limits.