Some nights ago, on our way home after dinner, my friend was stopped by the Mumbai Police at a check naka. The Mumbai Police has become very strict with drink driving and metes out the treatment on weekend nights to Bombayites. Anyway, my friend had had a couple. He was not drunk but did not want to lose his licence. A constable asked him to get out of the car and show his licence. Have you had any alcohol, he asked. My friend got out of the car, fished out the driver’s licence and spoke to the policeman. In Marathi. How are you today, he smiled. The constable was pleasantly shocked. A Marathi man! I am fine, he said. And examined the little piece of cardpaper that is the driver’s licence in Maharashtra. Come watch my play, requested my friend. Conversationally. The policeman scrutinised him. Oh, you produced that Marathi play, he said. An acquaintance saw it and liked it. I would love to see it. Of course, said my friend. And the conversation ended with my friend noting down the policeman’s name and phone number. We were stopped twice that Friday night. Both times my friend ensured he had new audience and the driving licence was intact. Only because he was a ‘local’ talking to a ‘local’.
Years ago when a patient was stalking me I made a police complaint. A ‘local’ talking to them in their language.
So far so good. Being a local has its advantages. Like the system is skewed towards the Pakeha (Europeans) in New Zealand. It is an ‘inherent advantage’ for some people. Then what? Keep out the migrants and let society, the economy and local culture rot?
Raj Thakeray, the man-who-almost-became-kingmaker-before-he-was-ousted-by-his-cousin, Uddhav, son of Bal Thakeray, wants the bhaiyyas and the Biharis out of Bombay. They are the problem, he proclaimed. Just like the ‘Asians’ are a problem in New Zealand. (Before that it was the Pacific Islanders.)
So is it only locals that make a society? Is it only the Marathi person that has made Bombay/Mumbai a cosmopolitan city? Is it only the Europeans that made New Zealand?
Politicians harp on about migration issues, pressure on resources and anything that is a problem. If there were no bhaiyyas who would deliver milk early in the morning to all the households in Bombay? Who would make the furniture? If there were no businessmen from Gujarat/Rajasthan where ever would the Bombay Stock Exchange even exist? What about the film industry here? If the Punjabis had not come, broke and emotionally torn by Partition, who would have made the films? (Never mind that Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian cinema was a Maharashtrian man.) If the Chinese had not mined gold in Otago would the local economy and hence that of New Zealand have flourished? Or if the Croatians had not dug gum/the Indians had not cut scrub etc etc. Know what I mean?
My friend, who avoided being ‘caught’ is close to the upper hierarchy in the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Our local, right-wing, belligerent, parochial political parties in Bombay. But he too gets uncomfortable when talk of ‘Mumbai for the Marathis’ comes up. Because he knows. It is an obsolete, regressive concept. If Mumbai had been built only by the locals/Maharashtrians it would not be the city it is today. One only has to visit the top floor of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla to see how this city was built.
Auckland may have been named after Lord Auckland who was Governer-General of India (and lead a disastrous foray into Afghanistan in the 1850s) so what? It projects itself as a global city but has proposed budget cuts in the area of migrants and refugees. The irony is that the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance wants to hear from ‘ethnic’ communities. Some questions to start discussion, according to an email sent out by The Office of Ethnic Affairs, are:
Do councils respond to the needs of ethnic communities?
Are ethnic communities able to access council services?
The Indian constitution deems that India is for all Indians. They can live anywhere they like in this country. So Maharashtrians can go anywhere they like. Why haven’t they? Afraid of hard work and sweat? Or discrimination? Or to fight for what is right but in a proper, civil way?
What is the meaning of being a New Zealander/an Aucklander? Just hyphenated words? Yeah, I am a female-Hindu-Brahmin-Maharashtrian-Bombayite-Indian-Aucklander-New Zealander….or a transnational, transcultural citizen of the world who would like to contribute positively to whichever country I work/live in?
Yesterday was the beginning of a long weekend in India. Eid-e-Milad, Navroze, Holi and Easter. Four festivals in four days. Three of which could be ‘Marathi’, irrespective of religion. Yet the Parsis also built Bombay no?
As I count my days to return to New Zealand I have reaffirmed one thing. I know where I come from so I can go anywhere I want. And that is more than being Just Marathi.
Thanks for your wonderful blog – I have been away from India/ Mumbai for over 7 years now and your words resonate strongly with me.
Have a fun and safe trip, eat and drink without worry and enjoy India – but return to NZ 🙂