Ok.Ok. I've posted this a couple of days late. Big deal. As we say sweetly in India when we goof up, "Don't mind, saar." I've been running around keying in columns, packing for Cambodia,forgetting important stuff.... you know, pre-travel panic.
Jaipur vignettes keep coming up. I was narrating juicy tidbits from the trip - what exactly happened in the Pink City over a sumptuous dinner hosted by the sweetest husband on earth ( no, not mine! Mita's .... sigh!) - to David Davidar and Mike Bryan ( my best buddies at Penguin Books). Our conversation took place over dahi puri and lassi at the Sea Lounge this afternoon. At the end of it all, they refused to believe me! Well... perhaps I had proved to be a particularly dangerous catalyst that night, for I was told by these worthy gentlemen that they would never associate the sequence of events as I described them , with the people who were present at the table. Aah well.... a good time was had by all, so who the hell is complaining? All I can reveal is that I sang a duet (" Besame Mucho") with Biddu (whose autobiography aptly titled 'Made in India' was launched at the book fair earlier), and rather enjoyed myself!
It's a pity I couldn't accept Ameena Saiyid's invitation to participate in the Karachi Literature Festival, since the dates were clashing with my book launch in Paris. I love Karachi and have good friends there ( yoo hoo Nadya, Abbas and Nasreen). Perhaps next year.... inshallah.
Oh, and for those who may want to watch the re-re-telecast of 'The State of the Nation' on cnn-ibn ( Kiran Bedi, Sharmila Tagore, Vinod Mehta, Mr. Subramaniam and moi), ably anchored by Sagarika Ghosh ( gosh! she sure has grown into her job after a shakey-shrieky start), you can catch it on the 30th of Jan at 8pm. And 31st of Jan at 12pm. Worth watching!
The Republic celebrates its 60th birthday tomorrow and I hope we’ll be able to blow out 61 candles on that gigantic cake with confidence,joy and optimism.The overall scenario is looking pretty good, and even the worst cynic will have to admit India’s report card is not all that bad… definitely well above just ‘pass marks’. While it isn’t exactly time to chorus, “ Aall eeez welll,” compared to most of our neighbours (distant ones included), we are doing just fine, thank you. At 60, the Republic is going strong, enjoying reasonably good health, and is financially secure. India’s senior citizen status should be seen in the right context – the slight graying at the temples is quite attractive, and so long as the knees remain stable, India does not have to buckle down. Stamina and staying power do need to be worked on…. but India enrolling at a high-tech gym can go in for some serious cardio exercises and emerge with an even sturdier heart in future.
In Mumbai, the story is more mixed. On one level, we have a youngish, educated Chief Minister attempting to woo the electorate with populist moves that seem to backfire on the poor guy. But in his defence ( for a change!), I have to say there is nothing fundamentally wrong in his suggestion that local cabbies should know Marathi. Of course they should!! Isn’t that how it works all over the world? Imagine a London cabbie not knowing English, or a cabbie in Rome not speaking a word of Italian. Why go that far?? Try giving directions in Hindi to a cab driver in Kolkata \Chennai \Kochi. Chances are he’ll throw you out of the cab! Would a Maharshtrian cabbie who only speaks Marathi be given a license to ply a cab in Delhi? Yes, the constitution of the country does guarantee freedom of movement\employment across the nation. But in purely practical terms, aren’t we missing something here? By all means let cabbies from Meghalaya ( frankly, I have yet to come across a cabbie from the North East anywhere in India) or any other state, come in droves to Mumbai. But let them learn not just the local language but local roads before they get that license. That is such a basic requirement, I am surprised it has been converted into a political tinder box. Ashok Chavan’s wording may have been wrong, but in principle he is absolutely right. Perhaps we need to get fundamental issues out of the way, before we twist this into an ugly ‘outsider\insider’ war. More taxis on Mumbai’s choked streets are going to be bad enough ( the city is gasping for breath), but more taxi drivers who don’t have even a working knowledge of Marathi?? Sorry – that is unacceptable. We know how easily unqualified drivers acquire instant licenses ( by bribing as little as 3000 bucks), often without appearing for the mandatory test. It’s a gigantic network of touts that makes this possible in record time ( 3 to 5 days). These are the men we often entrust our life and belongings to. When things don’t work out for any of them, they go back where they’d come from, disappearing without a trace. We talk about terrorist attacks from the skies – perhaps we need to think about threats posed by dodgy men parading as cabbies, whose antecedents are unknown. Learning Marathi is the easy part - why, even Qasab is cheekily responding in Marathi to questions in court ( he can get a job as a cabbie quite easily!), but scrupulously screening drivers from other states and ensuring they are technically qualified to carry passengers, is a far more crucial security task.
Just as an experiment, do hail a cab one of these days and speak to the guy in Marathi. Give him directions to take you somewhere close…. and see the fun.
Happy Republic Day!