Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 39, Dated Oct 04, 2008
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
was just a punctuation in Raj Thackeray’s manifesto. What shape
will his ambition leave the city in? RANA
AYYUB speaks to a cross-section of Mumbaikars
What dominant image would you use to
describe what Mumbai means to you?
Alyque Padamsee: Bombay is a hurricane of
activities, a typhoon that runs the year round.
A passionate city and a hotpot of people
Kumar Ketkar: An efficient anarchy.
MN Singh: It’s a vibrant city, always abuzz. I
can’t think of an image for it — the city’s work
culture is what comes to my mind.
Mahesh Bhatt: My childhood. My memories
are what stand as a dominant image for me ó
memories of being brought up by a Shia
mother, having a Brahmin father and working
and playing with my Parsi friends.
Sanjay Nirupam: Mumbai is a migrantsí city,
as KL Prasad [Joint Commissioner of Police,
Law and Order] said. Mumbai is actually no
oneís property. It came as dowry to King
Charles II on his marriage to Catharine of
Braganza. As for a dominant image, Ďmotherí is
what comes to my mind.
What do you think are the fundamental
qualities that traditionally set Mumbai
apart from other cities and made it the
ďBombayĒ of collective imagination? Do you
feel those qualities are intact, or under
Padamsee: Bombay is an amalgamation of
four cultures: the Maharashtrian, the Gujarati,
the English (which includes the Parsi and Catholic) and, of course, Bollywood. What
has set Bombay apart from, say, Delhi, is its
cosmopolitan attitude. Itís a place about people,
about who you are, not where youíre from.
But I guess the same qualities are what political
parties in the state are trying to take away from
it, for their own selfish pursuits, dividing people
on the lines of region and caste.
Ketkar: This city is caste, creed and genderless.
Mumbai gives confidence and freedom to
women, which no other city does. I donít think
that these qualities are under assault today.
Singh: The complete anonymity and freedom
that Mumbai gives you is hard to come by. I
come from the north and I know what it feels
like, the city is completely free of any kind of
petty prejudices. It gives you the freedom to
work. But, of late, I believe, due to certain
political parties, its qualities are under assault.
Bhatt: Itís an alive and kicking city. The understanding
amongst people, the interdependence,
the diversity on which Mumbai stands ó the
intermingling of cultures that has been brought
by people from all over ó thatís Mumbai for
me. Itís a strong city and nobody can ever
convince me that the values of this city, its
qualities, are under assault.
Nirupam: Its work culture makes it different.
Here, if you donít work, you will be thrown
out; only the hard-working make it. Itís a sea
that you have to swim through. I donít think
the essential qualities of Mumbai are under
assault, they are intact and the credit goes to
outsiders: the diamond traders, the film
industry, industrialists like Dhirubhai
Ambani, even the dabbawalas who are from
The Shiv Sena and Marathi nationalism have
become a big part of Mumbaiís landscape. If you set aside the violence they indulge in,
are there any valid issues, on the ground,
that they raise?
Padamsee: I think Marathi manoos is a good
idea, but for unification, for education, not
the reasons our politicians are using it for.
Whether it is the Shiv Sena or any other party,
nobody has given any importance to the
language. Matters related to commerce in
Maharashtra are mainly done in English and
Gujarati. Why donít these politicians, if they
think so much of the well-being of the Marathi
manoos, make them learn English, which is
the key to their success? They have failed to
address the core issues.
Ketkar: You should understand that it was the
disgruntled lot that joined the Shiv Sena, a lot
that felt marginalised. They came to suffer
from an inferiority complex as the Englishspeaking,
educated elite from other regions
took centrestage. On the other hand, the educated
Maharashtrian, who had the same qualification
but lacked the confidence, also backed
the Shiv Sena, without participating openly. In
a way, I would also blame the Maharashtrian
community, as it was not assertive enough and
is still very much the same. It lacks self-esteem
and, by and large, looks up to the Shiv Sena,
and now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena
(MNS), to stand up for it.
Singh: I think the Shiv Sena has been able to
create an appeal amongst Marathi-speaking
people that it is the protector of not just the
Maharashtrians but also of the Hindus. I donít
doubt the Senaís patriotic fervour ó they bank
on the support of the Marathi manoos and
rightly so, as they has been able to protect the
interests of the Marathi-speaking population in
the state. Maharashtrians have a justified grievance.
Outsiders have not been able to identify
with Marathi culture. Also, over the years,
most of business, entertainment, commerce
has been dominated by non-Marathi people.
But I would also like to suggest here that Maharashtrians
lack the entrepreneurial skill that
has made non-Marathis prosper in the state.
Bhatt: I am completely for the Marathi
manoos, the whole culture, the Maratha pride.
I feel that, to be a Mumbaikar, you need to
have a genuine love for the indigenous culture
and I think, in the age of globalisation, that this
culture is being overwhelmed. Let me give you
an example: This city has been the source for
thousands of Bollywod films, but does anyone
bother for the indigenous people, the local
people of Film City, who are suffering? In that
regard, I share the concern of Shiv Sena and
even Raj Thackeray: at the end of it, who is
going to talk of the growth of the local man?
Nirupam: The Shiv Sena has been popular but
only amongst that one-fourth of the city that is
Maharashtrian, capitalising on the insecurity
instilled into their minds ó that migrants will
take away what is theirs. The only valid issue
ever raised in the name of the Marathi manoos was the unification of every Maharashtrian
towards the formation of Bombay state into
Maharashtra in 1960. Besides that, the Marathi
issue has done nothing except divide people.
|Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
What do you make of Raj Thackeray? Is he
a chip of the old Thackeray block, or is he
different in any key ways?
Padamsee: Raj Thackeray seems to be a
charming man who could have done well in a
multinational company, not politics. What he
is doing in politics is simply trying to model
himself on Bal Thackeray: these are exactly the
issues the Shiv Sena used to rise to power. He
knows that he can take up any issue, make it
inflammatory and get mileage. Raj Thackeray is
also, by and large, a product of the media.
Ketkar: Raj Thackeray is a person with a
tremendous connect with the masses, and
charisma. Someone who is loyal to his comrades,
his partymen, which has made him popular.
A man with magnetic appeal, he manages
to wield the same clout as his uncle. He is raking
up the same issues his uncle started with
although, in 1960, when Bal Thackeray first
raised the Marathi manoos issue, the economic
situation was different.
Singh: Raj Thackeray has the fire that the senior
Thackeray possessed, but he is devoid of
ideas. What heís doing is just a poll gimmick.
He wants to set his base here, carve a niche for
himself. After all, he has nothing to lose.
Bhatt: I was charmed by Raj Thackeray when
he came to power. He was a Maharashtrian
who dared challenge his uncle, who dared
move out of his shadow and away from his
uncleís ideology. But I disagree with the path
that he has taken. His approach has been
regressive. Having said that, I am not going to
dismiss Raj Thackeray because, deep down, he
is a man with potential.
Nirupam: Who is Raj Thackeray? A clone of
his uncle and nothing else. Whatís his identity?
All he is doing is raking up issues that the Shiv
Sena once used to gain popularity. His only
aim is to cut into the votes of the Shiv Sena,
which he is willing to do by any means.
What is your take on the whole Bachchan-
Raj Thackeray fracas? Do you think Amitabh
Bachchan was right to apologise for
something so trivial [Jaya Bachchanís
remark that she would speak in Hindi since
she is from Uttar Pradesh]?
Padamsee: I am appalled at what Amitabh Bachchan has done. It has lowered
Bachchanís stature in not just my eyes but
also in those of lakhs of his countrymen. He
has let them down. By apologising, he has
raised Raj Thackerayís stature.
Ketkar: Raj has learnt the art of making political
mileage out of the most trivial situations.
Jaya Bachchan made an off-hand comment
and did not expect it to snowball into something
so big. As far as Bachchanís apology goes,
he had his own compulsions.
Singh: There was no option left before
Amitabh Bachchan. Frankly, I think Jaya
Bachchan should have maintained some
restraint, considering the kind of environment
that existed. There was nothing wrong with
what she said, it was not offensive ó it was
said in a light vein and she was caught off
guard. But it was also quite obvious that she
was making a dig.
Bhatt: Let us understand that Mrs Jaya
Bachchan is not just a film personality but also
a key member of a political party. Any utterance
from her loses its innocence even if said
from the podium of a film function. It was a
political issue. Mrs Bachchan should have certainly
maintained restraint, especially in an
atmosphere when there was already tension. It
was the time of Ramzan and Id, and she did say
it as kind of a dig ó she almost provoked him
as a key person from a political party trying to
take on a person who had been under a gag
order. I think we should all stop making comfortable
villains and look at the reality. I would
say Amitabh Bachchan was intelligent enough
to have apologised in this case. He has also, in a
way, contributed to Raj Thackerayís cause.
Nirupam: There is a stark difference between
Amitabh Bachchan and Raj Thackeray. While
Mr Bachchan has achieved what he has with
hard work, Raj is trying to do so by maligning
the image of that man. Also, Raj knows that Mr
Bachchan is close to Balasaheb. He wanted to
instigate the Thackerays, which he has done.
As for apologising, Mr Bachchan has let
down not just his fans and supporters but
also every north Indian in the city. The north
Indian community is now embarrassed to
speak its own mother tongue.
What grouse do you think underlies the
idea of protecting Marathi language and
identity? Is there popular sentiment backing
it or is it merely lumpen politics?
Padamsee: Two kinds of people like headlines:
terrorists and politicians. Raj Thackeray likes to
create controversies. Politicians like him and
Bal Thackeray create enemies for the Marathi manoos they claim to represent. First it was
Muslims, then south Indians and now north
Indians. Tomorrow it will be someone else.
Ketkar: The middle class certainly supports
Raj Thackeray because it has grievances but
the grouse should not be against north Indians
or outsiders as much as against the elite Maharashtrians
who have not been able to stand up
for their fellows. There has been a criminal
neglect of Mumbai, no doubt, but by whom?
By Maharashtrian politicians. The Shiv Sena
has been ruling the Bombay Municipal Corporation
(BMC), but what has it done for the city?
Singh: Despite being a north Indian, I agree
that this city has become over-crowded. The
influx of north indians in the city has certainly
created problems. It has become unhygienic.
If we stay in the city we should
contribute to it and not just look after our
own interests. The middle class is certainly
invested in this kind of politics ó the
Marathi class is miffed with outsiders and Raj
Thackerayís politics finds support with them.
Bhatt: My spot boys, my watchman, have all
been supporting Raj Thackeray because they
are the people he is fighting for. The elite may
deny this and say that Raj Thackerayís politics
does not work, but for the middle class it does.
When the sense of your self is being eroded,
this is bound to happen. The Marathi middle
class wants its identity to be saved.
Nirupam: There is nothing wrong in fighting
for you mother tongue, your identity, but
against whom? Earlier it was south Indians,
tomorrow itís going to be Punjabis, Goans,
Sindhis. They just want to alienate the
Marathi-speaking population from the rest
because thatís the only way they can retain
their votebank. And sadly the middle class
has been used in this entire drive, in the
name of their interests.
Mumbai is now in a state of upheaval and
turmoil ó a new identity is being fought
over. In the process, do you think the space
for liberal discourse is shrinking? What
worries you about this new identity?
Padamsee: The space for liberal discourse is
certainly shrinking in the city, and its citizens
are responsible for this as nobody wants to
speak out. Nobody has the guts to stand up
and say that whatever is happening is wrong.
My plays and my views, too, have been
attacked by these people in the past. Itís how
you choose to react.
Ketkar: I am worried that Mumbai will
tomorrow not be the same city that it was,
the Mumbai of dreams, the cosmopolitan
Mumbai ó and for that I would squarely
blame not just the Shiv Sena but also the government
Singh: I worry that Mumbai has started to resemble
other cities where caste-based politics
rules the roost. Votebank and caste-based politics
is taking away its cosmopolitan nature. Its
people are broad-minded but the law-enforcement
agencies have not done their jobs. Being
a policeman, I think the authorities and legal
department have done a shoddy job and let
someone hold the city to ransom. The Mumbai
police has helped make Raj Thackeray.
Bhatt: To say that the space for liberal discourse
is shrinking is overstating the case.
Mumbai is too big and accommodating a city
to be affected by this. One needs to learn
from the MNS and the Shiv Sena about its
commitment to the culture and the cause of
the Marathi manoos, the local man. Of
course, everyone is free to work here but not
at the price of the well-being of the locals.
The Marathi man should not get step-motherly
Nirupam: We talk about Marathi nationalism,
and that it started with Vir Savarkar. As far as I
know, Vir Savarkar did not fight for Maharashtra
but for India. The Shiv Sena has been active
for 42 years, but still the state has produced
some of the best writers, actors and creative
people. Had they been successful, the film industry
would not have made the kind of liberal,
thought-provoking films it has. Fortunately, the
liberal colour of the city has been nurtured by
Marathi-speaking people like Shobhaa De and
Kumar Ketkar, who are excellent examples of
pluralism and a liberal attitude. What worries
me is that the urban educated, who can stand
up and speak, refuse to do so.
|Photo: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
If you were to pick two people who
embodied the best and worst of Mumbai,
who would you choose?
Padamsee: The best would be MF Husain. Iím
yet to come across a more virile person. At this
age, the man continues to contribute in a way
no one can. The worst is not a person but the
stateís Congress government, for being mute
spectators to every problem.
Ketkar: The best would be Vijay Tendulkar. As
far as the worst is concerned, I would not want
to name one particular person.
Singh: I donít believing in picking one person
and holding him responsible or making him an
epitome of certain values.
Bhatt: The best is Ratan Tata, a man with a
global image; highly successful yet firmly
rooted in his city. The worst is not one person
but the entire me-first, pleasure-seeking generation,
which is completely disconnected with
whatís happening around them.
Nirupam: The best would be Mr Bachchan
and the worst has to be Raj Thackeray.
Do you think of yourself as a Mumbaikar? Is
it important to think of oneself as that?
Padamsee: I am a Mumbaikar but thatís not an
identity for me. The identity I hold important is
that of being a human being.
Ketkar: I consider myself a Mumbaikar who is
now embarrassed about the identity.
Singh: I am a Mumbaikar, born and brought
up in Mumbai. I have served this state to the
best of my abilities and I donít think I want
to give any more proof of being attached to
Bhatt: I have never restricted myself to an
identity because it is not necessary. But if you
force me to wear it on my sleeve, then yes, I
am a Mumbaikar from Shivaji Park.
Nirupam: I think of myself as a Mumbaikar,
as somebody who carves out a niche for himself
with his hard work.