Friday, August 9, 2013

Cry, My Beloved City....

Two images which tell different stories.... amazingly enough, about the same city!
 That's the new book from the SDe imprint. It will be launched soon.
 The other picture was clicked by a neighbour from his window when the mobs came...
I have to record my appreciation for the Mumbai cops who did such a great and efficient job of rounding up the rabble rousers and packing them off to the nearest thaana. Or else cars and property would have been vandalised.... and my ratings with the neighbours would almost certainly have been seriously dented!
This appears in the Special Independence Day Issue of India Today...tweet and be damned!

                                Cry, my beloved city…
Maximum City , with Minimum Freedom  -  that’s today’s Mumbai. What a fall there was my, countrymen! And as India rolls towards its 66th Independence Day, one begins to wonder what this hard won freedom was all about? Freedom for whom? Freedom for what? From what? Just look around you! What do you see – what sort of freedoms are we talking about? We know of at least one important freedom we are on the verge of losing – freedom of speech. Once we surrender that, what remains? Without making this  personal  ( I leave that to our netas), what has been the most astonishing part of the ugly  controversy that erupted over my tweet last week is the abysmally low level of public discourse and debate on parade. Despite the tawdry developments around the incident, I am certainly not going to fall for the bait and start swearing my allegiance to Mumbai and Maharashtra from every available platform, in order to appease those looking for a pitched battle. My distress arises from a totally different source : what we are witnessing today is political muscle flexing at its crudest. That, and a growing tyranny towards anybody who has an opinion that does not sit well with assorted groups nurturing assorted vote banks with an eye on the delectable election pie. The message coming across is loud and clear : step out of line , and you are dead meat. If you dare to open your mouth, you are asking to be ‘taught a lesson’ .  Freedom itself has been appropriated by political thugs. It is their ‘freedom’ versus the freedom of all others. A case of ‘my freedom is bigger than yours.’
 And now that the much bandied about word -  ‘elite’ - is  officially recognized as an epithet that is to be liberally hurled at ‘people like us’, what are we supposed to do? Cower, quake and shake in our shoes? Run for cover?Apologise for our existence? For being who and what we are? Unlike countless netas who have looted and cheated people to become overnight millionaires, there are millions of  hard working, honest citizens who have actually bothered to go to college, pick a profession they love, and earn decent wages for their efforts. They have not stolen anybody’s money, they pay their taxes and yes –  they also enjoy life to the hilt . Unless even that ( enjoyment) is going to be declared a crime shortly. Most of those hurling charges at me, are far, far richer than I can ever be. They live in grander homes , drive better cars, and have amassed immeasurable wealth that is unaccounted for. Some have serious criminal charges against them, and are known to be debauched and unutterably corrupt on every possible level. These are the people who want to silence citizens. These are the people who talk idiotically about  Page 3 People. What is this seething resentment  all about? Money?

Aha – it’s much worse than that. It’s definitely not the money. It’s the mind. Anybody can make money. But where can you buy thought? The rage is over a different way of  thinking. The real frustration arises out of  the fact that no matter how much ill gotten wealth these people make in their lifetime, the one thing they desperately crave for remains elusive and out of reach – respect. If they can’t earn it, they would rather shun it. Stifling free thought is one way of asserting that control. An unambiguous message is sent out to anybody with a different mindset from theirs – conform, or else! Toe the line, or else! What are they afraid of? When I read all those sanctimonious platitudes referring to the 105 people who lost their lives in 1956 leading up to the formation of the State of Maharashtra, I want to ask, what has a single political party  in  the State done to improve the lives of the average Maharashtrian today ? It’s all very well to lecture others and talk about those martyrs. But if these same politicians had been sincere and serious about honouring their memory, they would have ensured Maharashtra and Maharashtrians  prospered on every level.They would have concentrated on making Mumbai a world class metropolis. Exactly the opposite has happened. Maharashtra  is in shambles. Mumbai ranks as one of the filthiest cities in the world. Corruption on an epic scale defines day to day life . And now there is this! Intolerance and intimidation. Vendetta and violence.There is an ugly battle being waged for absolute control over Mumbai. For no matter how shabby, or how stinky, Mumbai still rules as India’s number one city. If you ‘acquire’ Mumbai, nothing else is needed. Mumbai is the biggest asset in any politician’s portfolio . There is far too much at stake here. Which is why an innocuous tweet which obviously touched a rawer than raw nerve, triggered off  such a nasty backlash. Nobody wants the golden goose that’s Mumbai to slip out of those grasping hands. The question these avaricious chaps are arrogantly overlooking is simple – what is a city without its people? Mumbai is Mumbai because of its extraordinary people. Mumbai belongs to each and every Mumbaikar.  It is Mumbaikars who make Mumbai what it is. And if there’s one thing Mumbaikars loathe it is bullies. And muzzles.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Shobhaa! I am in our city - Mumbai.

You hit the corruption bit on the head.

Today, I had hired a car from a travel agent in Nariman Point for a whole day.

Mumbai mein bahut chor log hain saahab. Is liye ... mujhko 2000 rupiye advance mein chaahiye. main pachchees saalon se kaam kartaa hoon. kisee ko dhokaa naheen diyaa!

I immediately knew I would be taken for a ride and played along.

The car stopped for under one hour each in 3 places. Fraudulent parking tickets were issued without the name of the spot and time. In one ticket, the fee was clear enough to say Rs.20 for one hour and the parking attendant and the driver conspired to make it Rs.40 by hand. When I confronted the driver, he said, aap ko action leynaa hai to leejiye naa. yeh paarking waley chor hee to hain.

I told the driver who revealed his name as Santosh Babujee Gaekwad that I would get an FIR registered to check the handwriting on the parking tickets by experts. Arre saahab chod doa naa... becharey gareeb log hain, went the refrain. And when I had told him that he needed to return Rs.100 to me, the guy began the charade of calculating in a busy thoroughfare. So I told him, he was as bad as the rest of the cheats and went to my friend's flat. The point is that the driver and the parking contractors brazenly cheat those who use the facilities in this city with fraudulent, forged documents. Would I get justice if I register an FIR?

With 35 years' crime reporting under my belt, the answer is a resounding NO!

The potholes all the way from Regal to Tardeo to Mumbai Central to Sion to Kurla and back to Colaba were appalling. I know for a fact ... some Rs.31 have been paid per sq ft. The stretches totaled 78 km long and some 100 feet wide. As I got off, a friendly inspector of roads estimated some Rs.6 per sq ft may have been spent and thus some Rs.25 per sq ft disappeared into corrupt pockets. I did a quick calculation and was shocked as the figures of the loot ran into five figure crores.

And someone was saying some Rs.800 crores would be spent to repair the roads before August 25 2013! All of us know where the money would disappear, don't we?

How else would some political party pay for the paid crowds outside your home to protest against your un-Maharashtrian diatribe, Shobhaa! Come on, have a heart!

Meanwhile, readers can take heart in this: I wrote 2 angry blogs lambasting the fascists of Mumbai. Someone as ordinary as me got this kind of readership in Blogger: India
United Kingdom
United States
United Arab Emirates
South Korea

And everyone and anyone is free to guess what someone as famous as Shobhaa would have got!

Vinay Bhushan Bhagwaty said...

every word you said is right. i think you are at your best when you are upset.

Anonymous said...

I am back in Chennai and feeling a lot safer. Well, I am going to fight with you over the promised, but, delayed Kaapi, ha ha ha!

Ambika said...

Well, they might mock p3 types. But, when you open p3, they fill up all the column space!
Who are they mocking?

Satish Ashtaputre said...

Our first Prime Minister Pt.Jawaharlal Nehru was against the creation of states.He knew the problem well,that we are witnessing now.The condition of Mumbai city is horrible & no political party can ameliorate the situation.

Janhavi :-) said...

Brilliant piece sir...i completely agree

vimlesh kumar said...

It is really useful thanks for sharing your knowledge friends.



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rinu said...

Capt Haddock said...

This is in reference to your article, The Forbidden City in India Today dated 19th August, 2013.

In this context I wish to share with you a slice of my family history.

We are originally from Ahmedabad. My ancestors together with our community members stayed in what is today the old city of Ahmedabad. In the second half of the 18th century, the Maratha forces overran much of Gujarat. The crumbling Mughal Empire was not able to resist them and soon Ahmedabad was in their control.

The Mughals were religious bigots but they understood the importance of administration and valued trade and entrepreneurship. Traders were not unduly harassed and trade was generally encouraged. The cess / taxes generated by trade made a sizable contribution to the Mughal coffers.

The Maratha conquerors who were now in control of the city came from a rural background. They neither realized the importance of administration nor the significance of trade. Having got hold of Ahmedabad they set about enriching themselves with the wealth of the city. Corruption and extortion were the order of the day. To add to this cup of misery was the internecine rivalry between the forces of the Gaikwad, loyal to the Peshwa in Pune and Raghunathrao Peshwe, claimant to the title of Peshwa.

The result of all this was that within a short span of time the city was laid to waste. Trade suffered and businessmen migrated to safer and more conducive trade centers. My ancestors too migrated to Surat, which thanks to the British was safe, better administered and business friendly. Subsequently, with the rise of Bombay as the commercial capital eclipsing Surat, and a stable British administration in place the next generation of my family moved once again, to Bombay.

Nearly two centuries later it seems Mumbai has met the same fate as Ahmedabad. Sadly there seems to be no redemption in sight. The fortunes of Ahmedabad improved once the British gained control of the city subsequent to the third Anglo Maratha war in year 1818. Will Mumbai, developed by the British from nothing but a cache of fishing villages and paddy fields ever get its redeemer?

Aditya said...

NICE Article

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