Monday, February 04, 2008

Hasta Lavista Bombay (and what you stood for)

I leave Bombay in a week to set up life in a new country, and around the same time that I am getting nostalgic about places and people in particular and about the city in general, I have also come to the conclusion that much of what Bombay has stood for in the popular imagination is changing. And so when I say good-bye to Bombay next Tuesday it will not just be to a place, but to a concept that is quickly and systematically being murdered.

With more and more incidents of women's molestation coming to light and with an increasing intolerance of outsiders, Bombay is losing the cosmopolitan, progressive tag it always had. People came here from all over India to make their fortunes. A Nat Geo programme said Bombay is both the New York and the Hollywood of India. So true - with the stock market and the film industry headquartered here, it is where India's global heart beats today.

And the buck just keeps passing on and on. When a woman was cut into three pieces by a train last week at Dadar station no one agreed to take her to the hospital. The station said it was police responsibility. Police said it was the railways'. Ultimately 3 coolies wheeled the body on a goods cart to the Sion Hospital 5 km away. All this as the woman's son helplessly watched his mother's body lie there.
When women were groped and their clothes torn at Juhu after the new year's party, the Shiv Sena said, 'these were outsiders.' Today, news channels showed footage of Maharashtrians on the rampage, against North Indians. I watched a man carefully pick-up 2 sealed packets of paapdi from a stall, tuck them under his arm, and then knock down the chaat vendor's cart. Someone even committed the heresy of trying to attack the house of the original UP bhaiyya in Bombay - Amitabh Bachchan! Raj Thackeray said 'They were not from my party.' Tomorrow, his party workers do something wrong he will say 'It was not me.'

How long can we keep constructing an 'other' to blame for all that is wrong with a place. How comfortable. How convenient. But don't people realise that Bombay's world identity also comes from these 'others'? And where does one draw the line between 'us' and 'them'? Tomorrow Christians in Bandra might say that they won't allow Muslims from Mahim to come into Bandra as they are spoiling our 'culture'. People from Nariman Point will say that they don't want people coming in from the suburbs and taking away their jobs. What sort of boundaries will we draw when there is nothing left to divide further?

As the world becomes a smaller place, our minds are getting smaller too. There is nowhere left to run. The daughter of a Bengali from UP and a Bengali from Delhi, married to a Bengali who grew up in Dhanbad, where does that leave me? If tomorrow Dubai tells me to go back to where I belong, where will I go? If I come to Bombay will they send me to Delhi? If I go to Delhi will they send me to Calcutta? If I go to Calcutta will they disown me?

And while we talk of blaming the invisible other, here's the first poem that taught me about passing the buck:

Mr Nobody

I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody's house!

There's no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.

'Tis he who always tears our books,
Who leaves the door ajar,
He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
And scatters pins afar;

That squeaking door will always squeak,
For, prithee, don't you see,
We leave the oiling to be done
By Mr. Nobody.

He puts damp wood upon the fire,
That kettles cannot boil;
His are the feet that bring in mud,
And all the carpets soiled.

The papers always are mislaid,
Who had them last but he?
There's no one tosses them about
But Mr. Nobody.

The finger marks upon the door
By none of us are made;
We never leave the blinds unclosed,
To let the curtains fade.

The ink we never spill;
the boots that lying round you see
Are not our boots -- they all belong
To Mr. Nobody.

Each of us is a Nobody. As is everyone else. So Nobody is Everybody. And Everybody is Nobody.


Tharini said...

Tagged Ana.

Anonymous said...

areh, that was a pessimistic bye bye!

all the best for the packing / sorting. btw, pls tell your hubby i love excel too and i made my own sheet today as well!! ;)


the mad momma said...

oh dear... well i hope when u return to india.. bombay wont be quite so bad....

sbora said...

this has always been the case, unfortunately, pointing the finger at someone else instead of looking inward. its there everywhere, not just bombay!
its sad that you are leaving the city with a not so positive impression....
hopefully by the time you return, if you do, things will get better!
again, good luck with your move and look at the brighter side of things!

dipali said...

What a depressing farewell your city is giving you. It is really very very sad.
Tagore's immortal lines come to mind:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

I wonder if this awakening will happen during our lifetimes. The reverse seems to be happening now.

All the best for your move, Anamika.
Keep blogging:)

aunty g said...

You've hardly been, and away you go || So far away -- more than a stone's throw || About your anguised post || Don't worry, my dear Dost || These things happen, and over they blow!

A Muser said...

Hey Anamika! I would agree with sbora that the pointing the finger at someone else syndrome exists all over India, not just Bombay. As for the Dadar station incident, I heard of incidents like that fairly regularly while traveling in local trains to college 15 years ago. That doesn't make it OK, of course. And the Shiv Sena, with their anti-Muslim, anti-outsider tirade, have been harping on the same tune for decades. I agree however that Bombay's losing its allure. I should point out that although I am an ex-Bombayite (and an NRI), this is my favorite city in the whole world. But the traffic, the smog, the home prices, the poverty, the general indifference to poverty and corruption and garbage have left their mark on me. To the point that I don't think I can live there anymore. So where's home for this ex-Bombayite with a father from Sindh and a mother from Punjab? Where the heart is, of course! :)))

Anamika said...

Its really sad, the way things are right now. This is definitely not the city I grew up in.
Btw, my parents are from UP and we both share the same name :)
Good luck with your move.

karmickids said...

Anamika, many hugs and keep blogging. And dont you fear, the finger pointing is commonplace everywhere. Not just Mumbai. Its always not me. Keep safe, keep happy, and dont you worry. We're all nomads in this universe anyway....

Chakoli said...

My first visit to ur post....

And you have raised quite a serous issue...

Physical borders were ealrlier limted international level only, but nw every state wants to draw themmmm....
thats bad....

Its just handful of people those are trying to actually corrupot us....but the impact is so strng, that people hardly dare to raise a voce against it:-))

Anamika said...

G: Oh don't worry, I'm not pessimistic at all. I just felt like recording some angst!

MM: Fingers crossed!

Sbora: I'm not leaving the city with a bad impression - on a personal level I have always liked the city and it holds lots of great memories and now friends too. Perhaps it's that I like the city so much that I feel betrayed by recent events.

Dipali: Thanks for those lines. As for an awakening, I don't know when. Hopefully people will soon stop waking up at the convenience of politicians and think for themselves!

Aunty G: Maybe some of that choco-raisin cake you baked will help me feel better.

Anamika said...

A Muser: Agreed, finger pointing is common and convenient. Yes, I guess we just need to find home where the heart is. Perhaps it helps to be nomadic, to know that nothing is permanent, and to go from one place to another with minimal fuss.

Anamika (2): I read your comment and for a moment wondered when I had written that! Welcome to the 'Anamika' club! Thanks for dropping by. Do come back!

Karmickids: Thanks. Yes of course I will keep blogging! And I think I will be a nomad. Always have been!

Chakoli: Thanks for visiting my space and for commenting. You are right, it's easier to be silent and hope it will blow over than to actively contest some crazed trouble-makers. That's sad, but true.

I just realised that considering my average number of comments on a post is something like 1.27, this post has drawn a record 10 comments! I think I should vent angst more often! It helps the TRPs :) Thanks everyone.

iz said...

I'm sorry youre leaving with such a bitter taste in your mouth. I felt that way too when I left bombay five years ago. Unfortunately, I still feel that bombay isn't the city we were promised it would be. Best of luck wherever your life takes you.