Friday, November 30, 2012

The city of hills and the sea VI

Where the mind is without fear...

When I expressed my disapproval upon the curfew imposed due to the death of Mr. Bal Thackeray and the resulting inconveniences caused, a very dear friend of mine told me, “Stop criticizing on things. Find solution. Respect the place where you stay… accept their culture. It’s same like people love Rajnikath in south India. And Amitabhji in Bihar. It’s their love for their leader.” 

I have always wondered what the “culture” of this city is. Is it bringing an entire city to halt if a certain group’s beloved leader dies? Or is it forcefully dumping one’s sorrow on another? Or is it to force the city  to shut shop? Can we use examples of fanatical behavior of another state or city to justify our own? 

And before you get judgmental about me, let me make this clear, I am not against what Mr. Thackeray stands for. In fact, I haven’t studied his work and life in much detail. I am only against any kind of fanaticism and blind faith which can pertain to any religion, caste, gender, sexuality, etc. So here, my views are not about Shiv Sena really. It’s about this city I am apparently in love with – the only place, of all that I have traveled so far, which let me be who I am and gives me the courage to let others be who they are.

I read A. Farooqui’s “Opium City: the making of early Victorian Bombay” a few days back. He writes, “the diverse composition of the capitalist class in terms of the communities from which it was drawn – Parsi, Marwari, Konkani Muslim, Gujrati Bania, Bohra, Armenian, Indo-Portuguese, to name only a few – gave it a cosmopolitan character, which was reinforced by a relatively high degree of collaboration with private European leaders. The openness that this implied rendered Mumbai less of a Maharashtrian and more of an imperial city.” 

If I believe Mr. Farooqui, which I have every reason to given the kind of research he has put into his work, it appears to me that the most significant characteristic of this city is its cosmopolitan nature. Hence, I ask whether the events unfolding on that Saturday and Sunday stand justified? 

In my exploration, I was talking to another friend of mine. She said, “Though ideologically, I condemn what happened, I think that was the best way it could have been handled. They released the news in the evening keeping in mind that people would already be going to their homes after work and least chaos was caused. Knowing Shiv Sainiks, it was important to give this national and state honour to keep them pacified and not cause riots, which otherwise would have.” 

I think this is important for us to understand. It definitely appears to be a thought out move; the best that could have been done ‘knowing the Shiv Sainiks’.  However, this hints at a very interesting question – do we legitimize fear because we expect it - fear of something concrete and practical – or do we prepare ourselves to deal with it? Likewise then, should we simply give away Kashmir because there exists a perpetual state of fear and people do get killed in everyday affairs, isn’t it? 

I woke up at around 08:30 pm on Saturday and went out on a stroll to grab a bite. The only people on the streets were the police and the Sena youth in their SUVs bearing the Shiv Sena jhanda. And  a few random strange people like me. Hadn’t seen Chembur station like that before; not even at midnight. While treading those barren streets that evening, it wasn’t fear that ran through me but a mix of anger and sadness.  My understanding of Mumbai was shaken that day.

Mumbai, a city, where when hundreds of people die in a train bomb blast or a market blow up, it only takes sensational breaking news features and a few moments of mourning to get  it moving again. Mumbai, the same city, comes to a standstill  to mourn the death of one political head. Is that how the balance shifts?  A Bal Thackeray’s life is more precious than all those people, it seems. Not because he was a great leader, but more because he was a demi-god. I was attending a book launch on Gandhi a few days back where Justice Dharmadhikari mentioned that we Indians have this tendency to create gods out of human beings. We revere our leaders with such fanaticism that we just don’t want to look at the other side. And then we make their status unattainable and continue to remain who we are, instead of learning from their lives. We did that with Gandhi so much that he has almost become a joke in our country. Whereas many other nations and leaders across the world, from Malcolm X to Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King, critically analyzed his work and learnt from him, saw a possibility of doing similar things and actually went ahead and did something about it. Gandhi sadly for us remains lying shut in our text books; folded in our pockets and garlanded every 2nd Oct in every public institution, street and park.

Another interesting thing about us -  we make death sacred. It’s an auto-correction for all faults one commits in his/her life. So all of a sudden Mr. Thackeray becomes a national leader – though he may not have even vaguely effected say a Tamil Nadu or Nagaland. All TV channels spoke about this “tiger’ and his brave life, he was given a national honour- his body being draped in the Tiranga and the police force giving him  the official Salami.

I go back to my original question – does creating a fearful environment in Mumbai because of a Marathi-Hindu leader stand justified? And where does it lead us to from here?  Does Mumbai now live on the mercy and ‘goodness’ of organizations like Shiv Sena?

A city known for its cosmopolitan outlook, and probably the only city in India, almost died that evening. It was drenched in the cruel fear of a dead man and his army of irrational men. It’s the same fear that I suppose, and what most Shiv Sainiks believe, Mr. Bal Thackeray fought against, during Mumbai’s underworld days.

Today, they forced us inside our homes. Tomorrow, they will force us outside it. And we will simply sit and enjoy a non-working day. I think the Shiv Sena supporters’ loss is not in the fact that Mr. Bal Thackeray died. Rather while he was alive, he couldn’t develop and instil the critical, sane and researched perspective/ understanding of leadership. He may have given a lot to the city of Mumbai, but he has left it with some highly irrational people as his followers.

And for my friend and many others like her, I just hope that someday they start respecting the cosmopolitan culture that characterized Mumbai, and in my imagination still does. I hope that someday we all realize that fear can never be equated to respect and fear can never be won over by another set of fears. I hope that someday we all realize that a wrong done at one place doesn’t justify the wrongs done at other places.

I don’t have to justify or testify my love and respect for this city of Mumbai. However, how you, my readers, would understand what I am saying would depend a lot on your own understanding of love and respect.

To read the previous posts in this series, you may visit following links:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012


एक बेपनाह तमन्ना ज़िन्दगी की,
या था कोई ज़ुनून,
जो हो पनपा किसी घुटन के विरुद्ध ?

वजह नहीं बता सकता ठीक-ठीक,
पर जहा भी किया पलायन,
अपनी थोड़ी सी आत्मा छोड़ आया हूँ ।

Ek bepanah tamanna zindagi ki,
yaa tha koi zonoon,
jo ho panpa kisi ghutan ke virudhdhd?

Wajah nahi bata sakta theek-theek,
par jahan se bhi kiya palayan,
apni thodi si aatma chhod aaya hoon.