Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mumbai Dying

A couple of days ago some learned members of a noted political party destroyed part of the "Bombay Dyeing" sign at Worli. They toppled the letters "B" and "O". Had they been any good at making things instead of merely breaking them, they would have doubtless made an "M" and a "U" and converted the sign into "Mumbai Dyeing" in consonance with their love and respect for the Marathi language and their heartfelt desire to have others share that love and respect.

I would had advised them to remove the "E" from "Dyeing" as well.

But more seriously - whenever something like this happens, there is a lot of head-shaking about "politicians" and "political parties" as though they are the root of the problem. They are not. Remember, we are a democracy. In a democracy it is evident that no political party would express an opinion unless there is a significant part of the citizenry, i.e. their own supporters, holding the same opinion.

So let us not blame parties ending in "S", or families whose surname starts with "T". Let's ask who are the enlightened souls on whose behalf such childish, mean-spirited destructive acts, that weaken the very fibre of our country, are carried out. Are these souls, like the gentlemen who broke the "Bombay Dyeing" sign, some sort of disaffected unemployed youth living in slums? Not at all.

Supporters of destructive agendas like forcing "respect" for one's language by breaking things, or humiliating other communities and destroying their places of worship, are to be found in very respectable middle-class homes. Some of them are colleagues of mine.

Here is an example. On the morning of December 7 1992, I came to work and expressed my distress to a colleague that the Babri Masjid had been destroyed in a completely illegal and pointless act of public vandalism on the previous day. "Yes it's a pity" he said, though his smile indicated he was not quite so distressed. He then added "of course, now that it's gone, no point thinking of re-building it, is there". And he smiled again.

In early 1993 when riots were raging in ..mbay, as a direct result of this destructive act, some of us collected old clothes and food to distribute to the worst-affected families. During this collection in my housing complex, a colleague stopped me. "I think religion is a personal thing", he said. "It should not be politicised". I agreed with him. "But there is one thing that always puzzles me" he added. "Whenever a rape is committed during these riots, it is always by a Muslim man on a Hindu woman, never the other way around".

I collected my jaw from the ground to which it had dropped, and walked away as fast as I could. But this person is still a colleague of mine. And I swear I'm recounting his comment nearly verbatim.

So the next time Mumbai is Dying, remember it's not the petty vandals (who in this case are now in jail) but the armchair poison-minds who are really responsible. Some of them are very highly educated.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

I wonder why they don't pick on and vandalise the Bombay High Court. (The court hasn't changed its name because it's not named for the city, but one wouldn't expect these goons to know that.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have myself seen it and heard it in my family, friends and acquaintances. It is almost impossible to counter the arguments they give which are built on hearsay, exaggerated media reports and a few true events.

I remember reading an article by Ashish Nandy that argued that rioting/Ram-mandir movement is mainly an urban phenomenon. From my experience, I can certainly say the feeling of hatred is far more in the urban areas than in the rural areas. In rural areas there is mutual harmony though it may involve hardly interacting with each other on a personal level and having separate areas in the village for different religion/caste.

Although with the younger generation things are changing, Gujarat being an example.


Sunil Mukhi said...

Yes the name of the Bombay High Court is rather a slap in the face for them, isn't it.. but if they tried to vandalise the court, I guess they would get more than a slap in the face!

Courage has never been the strong point of the goons - they function on the cowardice of their victims. I notice that as of today, the Bombay Dyeing shop on Colaba Causeway is only called "Dyeing" as they've hastily covered up the "Bombay"! Perhaps that is a practical temporary measure but I hope we are not going to see a spate of cowardly renamings, which will only feed this kind of nonsense.

Rahul Basu said...

I am curious to know what your friend and colleague thinks about what happened in Gujarat in 2002. What about all the proud claims by some of Modi's goons about slashing the womb of a pregnant woman and killing both the fetus and the mother. Even if the telling was just a bit of bravado, the fact that a human being would want to enhance his worth peddling stories like this is a damning commentary on the state of civil society in Gujarat today. I don't know about the number of rape incidents of which your friend seems to know so much, but I kind of doubt that there were too many Muslim men going round raping Hindu women.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Rahul - well obviously I did not see fit to enter into a debate on facts and figures with the person you generously call my "friend"! And the Gujarat riots were many years after the incident I recounted. But they have indeed had one desirable effect: people like "my friend" have, I think, realised that they cannot expect their nonsensical claims to go unchallenged.

I want to add something here - TIFR is a very large institution specially if you add up the numbers of academic and non-academic staff. If two of my colleagues in this large set turned out to be what I call "poison-minds", the flip side is that the vast majority of people I know here are eminently sane and even courageous about these issues. I feel that during those awful days I was able to stay sane myself only because of them.

Anant said...

Well boys and girls, the subject is not as academic as one would imagine or hope. Thanks to what has happened in Jaipur, now every Muslim will now have to apologise for what he or she has certainly not done, has to keep justifying and explaining that he or she is as horrified as anyone else. Of course the bombs know no religion --- they are equal opportunity killers. The poison minds will need no proof that these dastardly acts are done by Muslims, even though incident after incident goes off uninvestigated, with bogus claims by the long arm of our law, with trial by NDTV and other clowns. It is just too terrible for words.

As for what poison minds would say about Gujarat 2002? Well, you know, they probably deserved it anyway. What about Godhra? Why did they not condemn Godhra? And of course the final assault on (pseudo-)secularists: how come you don't talk about Kashmiri Pandits? Of course we do.

Sorry if this is incoherent, but as you might well imagine, I am upset today.

(Pseudo-)secularist, and proud to be one!

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I too know people who are otherwise very broadminded and not particularly religious who, when I mention my aversion to BJP and mention Gujarat, say "But what about Godhra?"

It is very odd that they see nothing wrong in killing 2000 innocent people in "retaliation". I think, basically, human life is not regarded as valuable in India. People die every day on the roads, the railway tracks, of disease, of starvation -- why not in riots? Particularly if it sends some perverse "message"?

Anant said...

Of course these are real criminals who are behind such things. What is sad is that one has tried to, and has stopped trying to explain to poison-minds that these are indeed crimes, and nothing else. Yes, it is sad when people die in road accidents, but the key word is `accident'. In the other case, it is wilful slaughter of innocents (indeed as bomb blasts also are). The aim of all this is to treat humans as sub-human, and that they are not worthy of `human rights'; they should just be happy with what others give them, not that they are entitled to rights as human beings are. But I digress.

Big Bro said...

Most of the comments about this post have digressed to another, albeit related, issue. Returning to the theme of the name of the city of Bombay, I don't believe anyone (other than the keepers of the Oxford English Dictionary) can change the English name of the city. Just as we are not forced to refer to Cologne as Koln or Prague as Praha, so also no one can stop us from calling the city Bombay, so long as we are using the English language.

Besides, how come the alleged instigator of this moronic vandalism does not spell his name (again, in English) as 'Thakre' rather than the Anglicized 'Thackeray'?

Sunil Mukhi said...

Sujata Anandan, who writes for HT, claims that Prabodhankar Thackeray (father of B.T.) chose the spelling of his own surname to reflect his admiration for the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

What Prabodhankar-ji failed to anticipate is that unlike his hero, the middle name of his own descendants would be Make War!