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.