Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Strike two

Fellow citizens, beware of being a public personality. Especially beware of being a public personality in Mumbai. And if you have the misfortune of being both, better learn Marathi pronto.

If certain individuals in Mumbai are to be believed, not speaking the language, even though you've stayed here for decades, is tantamount to being a traitor. Never mind that Hindi is our national language; never mind that you, as an individual, have made significant contributions to the pride and culture of your country.

What's the point of all this? Gujarat is all for Narendra Modi, not because of his ideologies, but because of all that he's done for the economy and security of the state. Ditto for the State Government in Delhi. Given that Maharashtra is plagued with even bigger problems, aren't there many other grassroots issues for over-enthusiastic politicians to handle? Issues that would give them the necessary political mileage and lots of positive press, and in the process, also create some benefits for the aam junta.

Marathi is already a compulsory language or a compulsory third language in many schools, and generations of non-Maharashtrians speak it with more comfort than their so-called native tongues. Vijay Tendulkar's plays are just an instance of how popular Marathi literature is.

And if the concerned gentleman feels so strongly about his Marathi antecedents, why not organize poetry reading sessions and other literary activities that would induce people to know and appreciate the language? Why is it that so many public reading rooms are closing down, when the Marathi language has such vociferous well-wishers?

As usual, issues are made out of non-issues for some quick brownie points; while the real issues languish by the wayside, along with the scores of people they affect.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

mi mumbaikar

In the big cosmopolitan city of Mumbai, my locality is a microcosm, a small sample of what the city at large stands for and entails. One of my first thoughts after coming to Mumbai was how easy it was to integrate into the city and its lifestyle. Despite Shiv Sena bandhs, loud exhortations about 'immigrants' and the growing stronger by the day 'Marathi manoos' stand, my faith in the city's fundamental pluralism is unchanged.

But that faith suffered a serious dent recently. Overnight, nearly every shop in my locality has undergone a transformation. Hastily painted cloth banners or signboards or strategically inserted words in the original signboard proclaim shops' names in Devnagri script, ostensibly to say that the shop does have a Marathi signboard. Never mind that people haven't bothered with translation; the speed with which the change occurred meant that the Marathi language had to make do with transliteration from English to Devnagri.

When you've invested lakhs of rupees in setting up a business and spend most of your living hours in growing it and make it profitable, it's fairly understandable that you don't want a bunch of hooligans swooping down to attack and loot your enterprise. Principles and culture don't come into it--it's all a matter of saving your life and belongings.

And that's where politics of the 'danda' scores. Common people are vulnerable, because their livelihoods often depend on the very resources that are attacked by politicians and their supporters in the name of community or religion or culture.

If it's a matter of a mere signboard change, most traders would willingly oblige. Consumers wouldn't care much about that signboard, most of them find it a blind spot after the first few visits anyway. Most languages, including Marathi and English, don't lose or gain; they're too powerful on their own to even suffer the slightest scratch. MNS and Raj Thackeray gain a few column centimeters of print space and a couple of airtime hours; some lawkeepers get a chance to earn their wages; some people are disgusted, while I guess some do feel that it's a victory for the 'Marathi manoos'.

At the end of the day, all that I feel is a bad taste in the mouth and a frown in the mind. Not enough to anger, nowhere near enough to galvanize into action. Just a mental shrug and a sinking thought of where all of this will end.