Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Salam Mumbai: An Elegy to the City of My Dreams

How Mumbai has changed: For Raj Thackeray, even Amitabh Bachchan is an alien!

FOR GENERATIONS of Malayalees, Mumbai, once called Bombay, has been their maximum city: It was the culmination of their hopes for a better life, the end of their aspirations of a world of glamour and glitter and for those poor ones who took a train there, often without a ticket, it was the only hope for survival.

It is surprising the way this city has changed: From a city of hope and asylum to a city of bigotry, hatred and racial oppression. In the forties and early fifties, there were huge number of people from Mabalar who took to Mumbai in the overnight buses and lorries, that returned after delivering their wares, and by the train that left Mangalore, and took the long and winding route via Coimbatore, Jolarpet , Vijayawada to Mumbai. There were thousands from the northern parts of Kerala who went there, worked their way through the life, made the city rich and enriched themselves in the process. Even today, when an election takes place in Kerala, candidates in northern areas like Kasargode, Uduma, Manjeswaram and Hosdurg take a trip to Mumbai to meet the thousands of voters who live there. During the 2006 State Assembly elections, I remember witnessing around a dozen buses, all air-conditioned video coaches, that took voters from Mumbai back home for the election-day and then toot them back, all five star comforts paid for by the candidates and their parties.

Bombay, in its earlier days, was a city known for its courage and progressive ideas: It was workers from this city who in early 1920s took to the street, for the first time in India, in protest against the arrest of a nationalist leader, Lala Lajpat Rai, an event that was taken note of even by Lenin. Then in 1942, Bombay erupted in a nationalist fervor as Gandhi made the historic call, Quit India, on August 9, electrifying the whole nation. Once again in 1946, workers of this city marched on the streets in support of the valiant sailors in the Royal Indian Navy who had taken control of the battle ships, a mutiny that shook the empire to its roots.

Mumbai has always been a center of Indian left wing, a place where socialist and egalitarian world view had an upper hand. It had a vibrant working class, a dedicated and highly motivated leadership, and a progressive mass base. It had some of the best progressive writers, theatre activists, playwrights, painters and other intellectuals that made the city India’s cultural capital.

But how things have changed, especially in the past two decades!

The left is no longer a force in Mumbai, thanks mainly to the decline of its strong trade union base. Even the progressive and liberal views, a tradition from the days of nationalist movement and for long held and supported by the middle class and secular forces like the Congress, are now facing severe threat. Instead, Mumbai has embraced the hard core, bitter, right-wing sloganeering and racial hatred that has become the hallmark of the Hindutva forces. Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar have taken over the soul of Mumbai. Mumbai today is a ghost of its past, a mute reminder of its glorious days.

Mumbaikars are now paying a price for allowing their soul to be hijacked by the forces of darkness and hatred. And the rude reminder came once again the other day, when a bunch of hoodlums who swear by Raj Thackeray, went on a rampage against Pratheeksha, where India’s cultural icon Amitabh Bachchan and his family live. It has been in the making when M F Husain, India’s best known artist, was hounded out of the city. It is going to be an unending tragedy, unless Mumbai of the past rebounds.

But is it possible? Is it possible that Mumbai would once again return to its former self; shedding its hatred, its bigotry, its racial mindset? Those who have watched the hounding of the Malayalees and other South Indians in the formative days of Shiv Sena by Bal Thackeray, witness the ongoing hate campaign against the Hindi-speaking North Indians, including even the Bachchans who through generations made the city proud, would think it to be a tall order. But for Mumbaikars, there is nothing impossible: They have proved it many times in the past the way they faced the agony of explosions on their trains, massacres on the streets, floods that stopped life for days…and came back with a smile on the face once again.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sudheernath, New Delhi.)


Unknown said...

Balendu,poet and translator, Bangalore, writes in an email:

I don't think the villainy of one group exploiting the sentiments of public is unique to Mumbai, or the present time. But one thing is sure, with many other cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad rising in prominence as a source of employment, surely Mumbai and Maharashtra are going to be the bigger loosers due to these events.

Regarding the fate of rivers in Kerala, who is bothered? They have more important matters like idea star singer and mad elephants to talk about. As far as bigger tragedies are concered spurious spirit, scarcity of vegetables and chicken gunia weigh much more on the public mind than the rivers. As far as the politicians are concered they have only one agenda, who has made more hartal calls, and whose hartal was the bigger success.

forget the rivers, who wants water, pour it neat. cheers!


Unknown said...

K Satchidanandan, poet, New Delhi, writes in an email:

Dear NPC,
Thanks. I went through the blog, esp. the pieces you mentioned. They are well written and original.It is true that our mainstream papers give lottle international news; I get Manorama and Mathrubhumi Delhi editions here, and I have always to supplement them with TOI and the Hindu.Your story on Mumbai was also interesting.I was also happy to be updated about the state of Chaliyar.And am waiting for the next two pieces on Kerala.


yasho said...

On Mumbai, did yoyu happen to see the tehelka article on the cvurrent developments? ZThere are a number of takes on the issue on tehelka, but look this one up in particular please...



Unknown said...

Sudhir Devadas writes in an email:

couple of observations about bombay:

the congress never learns...

in the '60s they connived with bal thackeray (about whom nair sir, the legendary fpj n e once famously remarked 'the only thing he can draw is his salary') to bring to heel the strong left movement, especially in the mill area in central bombay - lalbaug, parel, chinchpokli.. in the late 80's still remember how used to get down at parel and walk through the desolate gullies of millhands' chawls reeking of despair, on my way to meet the that mellow intellectual giant behind a handlebar moustache - purushotham nedungadi at mahindra & mahindra.

for sometime was a tenant alongwith m shankar, (who used to be with apn/novosti and would sing marvellous russian songs in blissful ignorance of their meaning, since he never knew the language, but who first introduced me to one the few masters of 20th century fiction, the incomparable bulgakov) in one such, close to portugese church, spitting distance from sena bhawan - two incorrigible leftists with all their nocturnal foibles in the very belly of the beast!

s k patil and rajni patel were the devious minds behind this design, and how they succeeded! they succeeded so well that like that later genie in punjab, this too turned on its masters, and is still ruling the roost in our richest corporation, with an annual budget of rs 12,000 crore!
and now they have set on its tail another minion, the estranged nephew and jealous cousin. the ironies of history are indeed delicious, except fot its hapless vvictims...

last visited two years back, the first thing that hits one being the stench.. unless they manage the waste, monsoon will witness not just the ritual commuting misery, but an epidemic...and this was a city which till late 20s had an army of sweepers who would clean the roads with water every night!

another thing which struck me was the amazing lane discipline, where nobody used to overtake, so much so that honking was more the prank of a bored driver stuck in a jam than by intent.. then came the maruti and this passed into memory.. suddenly a whole new breed of busybodies joined the rat race and discipline lapsed into mayhem on the road (probably they hadn't heard of the classic one-liner of lily tomlin: 'the problem with a rat race is that even if you win, you are still only a rat.)

the beginning of the piece on rivers jars. don't quite catch how relevant is da gama (we have taken sweet revenge through that atrocious song!) in this context, for more than the forces of globalisation, it's our own rapacity and uncivic practices that have brought doom on our riparian bounty.. as once, dr sunita narain commented in personal conversation, unless we learn to conserve water like rajasthan, we will go the cherranpunji way and will have to seek israeli expertise..

hope you would touch upon chalakkudy puzha, in your following posts, which is in the killer sights of our electricity board. similarly the waste issue in the city of god, guruvayur, which no media likes to acknowledge, an embargo by devotional consent. the moot question being whether would any deity will its local habitants suffer the voidings of itinerant worshippers? also the issues in muriyad and erayamkudy too..


Unknown said...

M K Das, former Kerala editor, Indian Express,writes in an email:

Dear Chekutty,

Read the two pieces, one on Mumbai and the other on Kerala's rivers. They certainly read well, besides
being interesting and provocative. I wonder whetheryou had seen the article on Mumbai by our old Editor,N S Jagannathan in last Sunday Express. I thought it
has really brought to foucs the "loss of Bombay's many-splendoured face."
That said, I think there is a flip side to the issue.
Does'nt Raj Thackrey's movement betray strains of the emergence of sub-nationalism seen in other parts of the country and even the globe, the most recent being
Kosovo? For all the internationalism that we
Malayalees profess, don't the recent spate of media
write-ups on migrant labour reflect our self-deception? In which category will you put the
recent outbursts against non-Kannadigas by Congress leaders in Karnataka? I am not justifying the Mumbaiincidents. All I want to point out is that the malaise
runs deeper with sinister political overtones.

Thanks and regards.