On elections and being parochial.

Another long overdue post! Life is so busy I do not have time for self-indulgence! How terrible is that? No time to pump up my ego and think of myself as a world-changing writer 😦

These last few days I have been in and around the criminal neighbourhood of South Auckland carefully making my way inconspicuously through the dregs of socio-economic losers in case someone wants to mug me or snatch my bag. Shame some of the houses are lovely and the parks quite nice, the artworks and creativity busting to be acknowledged. Nah! Just kidding. Melissa Lee, the National Party candidate for Mt Albert by-election,  said it all two weeks ago and much has been made of the motorway-keeping-crims from South Auckland-away. So I shan’t diss her no more.Only point out (or say I said so) that just because one is an ‘ethnic’ or coloured or a minority does not mean that one believes in equality and justice for all. That is a state of the mind. An ideology. Right-wingers can come from anywhere even the poor.

Election campaigns are always entertaining and all candidates talk bullshit at some point. I immensely enjoy elections and campaigns. And nothing more entertaining than Indian elections.

At one level I feel stupidly patriotic and proud that in spite of naysayers and doomsday prophets India has continued to confound the world by the relatively smooth electoral process that takes place every four-five years. It is a massive, complex operation in a huge and diverse country. It has to be transparent too. Indians do it over and over again. As if there is an inherent need to believe in democracy even though it may not work the way we want it to. Am I making sense? When surrounded by chaos, terrorists, military juntas and communists-the way India is-the only thing to believe is in oneself, the right to choose and be free. This time the election results were so decisive that the right-wing Hindutva will have to think hard about killing any more people and building temples. Not that the Indian National Congress is innocent or blameless. There is a lot of work to be done and we really should get over to being an American minion. In order to be a real global player we have to have our house in order, look at health, education, environment, the arts, representation of minorities and women. Like all Indians I have an opinion on how things should be done but my theory is not yet well-formed and I don’t have an answer/solution to all the problems. The only thing I can say is that we have to build the country on peace, love and inclusion.

Which gets to me to the point of parochialism. A professor of English who recently read my blog asked me how I could be supportive of Raj Thakeray (see Frogs In A Pond-I) when I advocate multiculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Naturally I was appalled. Gosh! I thought my politics were pretty clear.  While I acknowledge that there are issues in Bombay/Mumbai and particularly in the Marathi areas, the solutions offered by Raj and Co are not.  What Raj and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are doing is to work up the fear factor and to make people insecure instead of inclusive and broadminded. Mee Marathi but that is not my only identity and I recommend it should not be of other Maharashtrians either. That MNS candidates ate into the BJP-Shiv Sena votes in Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai goes to show the unfortunate support it has amongst Marathi people. How that is going to play itself in the upcoming state (Vidhan Sabha elections) is anybody’s guess.

Frogs In A Pond-1

Raj Thakeray has done it again! We, the Marathi people, dither between agreeing with the ‘Mumbai-being-taken-over-by-the-North-Indians’ idea and abhorring the methodology of getting rid of them. Before I pontificate there are a few things to clear. My current city of residence is Auckland, New Zealand. I choose to live here. My hometown is Bombay/Mumbai. I am a daughter-of-the-soil. Hardcore. My grandfather was born in Bombay in 1899. He was a municipal corporator in the Bombay Municipal Corporation in the first post-independence elections. There is a street junction named after him. My father was involved with the Sanyukta Maharashtra movement. I was born in Bombay/Mumbai and have lived almost all my life in the family home at Girgaum (where my grandfather lived since 1928). I also spent some years in Dadar. Both Maharashtrian enclaves. Most of my family and friends live in Bombay/Mumbai. Serious, white collar middle-class. Yes. Mee Marathi. I belong to the state of Maharashtra; I am a Bombayite, Mumbaikar. But it is only one part of my identity; of who I am. In this post-globalised world, where mobility and migration are taken for granted, I am many things; I have multiple identities.

Unfortunately, like all fundamentalists, Raj Thakeray believes in the concept of a singular identity. He also believes in fanning the insecurity of his own people to enable his rise to power. How visionary is that? To generate fear in your own people; to take them backwards and create hatred for other people because they are ‘taking over’? Why just him, the government of Maharashtra has abdicated its responsibility towards its people in the name of populism and with an eye on the next state and Lok Sabha (general) elections. Raj wants power, the government wants to get back into power, they both want to eliminate Uddhav Thakeray from the race…so why not sacrifice Mumbai Aai, Mother Mumbai? She does not have a voice anyway. I am intimate with many of those bang in the middle of this madness. All sons and daughters of Maharashtra. The lone voice of sanity I spoke to and who can possibly take action is also relatively helpless because there are forces she cannot control. Such an emotive issue this is. If I was in Girgaum at this moment the discussion would be all about the bhaiyyas who ran away back to North India. Jai Maharashtra!

Instead I am going to try and analyse the problem. Purely from the point of view if being a migrant, from being a Bombayite and a generally opinionated person 🙂 It is very complex from my p-o-v and not just about North Indian migrants. It is about the Indian democracy, the bureaucracy, the attitude of the Indian public to democracy; it is about caste, community, culture, aspirational values, money and the Indian politicians.

In a crazy, chaotic, multilingual, multicultural democracy like India where Indians can travel to and live in any part of the country it becomes more complicated. There are bound to be tensions and problems within the diversity and between people of different states. Such is the structure of India.

Those North Indians that come to Bombay are ready to do any job and work any number of hours and anywhere in the city. They come because there is absolute poverty in their states. Maharashtrians on the other hand rarely travel outside Maharashtra. I generalise here because even within Maharashtra there are regional differences. The Kokanis, those from Vidarabha, from Pune-side etc etc.  But we Maharashtrians are relativey unambitious, unadventurous, keeping our heads down, nine-five kind of people. Many of us are lazy too. And we complain a lot. On the positive side we have great wit, humour, theatrical traditions and we are a progressive, socialist kind of people who treat women well. Of course there will be friction.

Then there is the lack of infrasctructure in Bombay. The state ignored her, the centre ignored her and the people-the locals-the sons and daughters of the soil showed no sense of ownership. That Bombay has problems of gigantic proportions is not new. How much can one milk a strip of land made from seven islands along the Arabian Sea? There is no place for expansion, there is the Land Ceiling Act (now repealed) and greedy politicians who don’t love the city. Rarely have the people of Mumbai protested against all this. Oh there have been bandhs and rail rokos and other kinds of mob protests against the ruling government (and mostly instigated by Shiv Sena) but not a civil discussion about how things can change/should be changed. Democracy in India is about ‘civil disobedience’ and this civil disobedience is about riots and vandalism; about beating up people. We lack a sense of history and heritage as well.

That money rules Mumbai is also not new. How many Maharashtrians can afford a place in their own city? How many Maharashtrian ‘developers’ exist? (That Raj Thakeray and Manohar Joshi are developing the Kohinoor Mill Compound in Dadar is interesting-wonder who many ‘marathi mansa’ will be able to afford flats there?) Besides the city has always been built ad hoc. None of the old textile mill compounds now being developed have allowed for green spaces or to accomodate redundant textile mill workers and their families-who incidentally are part of the mobs that Raj incites. They look at the highrises and resent the outsiders. It is human nature. Even I get irritated at the Marwaris that are now buying the chawls in Girgaum and converting them to ‘vegetarian only’ building societies. Only because they have the money to buy prime South Bombay land.

Also we Mumbaikars have rarely tried to own our city. It is always someone else’s fault. The bhaiyyas now sell fresh fish door to door because the native fisherfolk of Mumbai don’t do it any more. Their young ones are now at university. That is just how the social order changes with time. When the Shiv Sena was ruling the state after the 1992-93 riots, ‘the boys’ were given licences and permits to run their street food stalls. Pav Bhaji, Vada Pav, Chai…the staple diet of the man on the street and employment for ‘the boys’-the locals. All Mumbaikars know and I have it from the mouth of those-that-pay-obeisance-to-the-Thakerays ‘the boys’ rented these food stalls to others (South and North Indians) and are back to being unemployed. That is how the social order is maintained ya? Through laziness. So that ‘the boys’ can hang out at the galli nakas and be ready to beat up anyone at the drop of a hat. Now that is hard work!

Because Indian democracy is crazy the way it is and the bureaucracy and politicians deliberately maintain the divide between them and the ‘common man’, the regular citizen is unable to engage with the powers-that-be. On the other hand we common citizens merely vote and leave the rest to the government thinking it is the government’s job to make things happen. It is a bad situation. And then we have those that are the frogs in a pond. Those who never get the bigger picture because all they want is power and money. Like all Indian politicians.

(There’s more to come in another blog.)

What I learnt in Melbourne

This blog is long overdue. I know the elections of the world are around the corner and the elections of this little country called New Zealand are on 8th November…there is much happening everywhere. The ‘ethnics’ in South Auckland are unhappy with the way their problems are being handled. Deliberate ghettoisation and fragementation of communitites, pitting one against the other…as a friend mentioned. Hmmm…now where have we heard it before? Divide and rule? Anyway, there is much to write about if I want to. Elections are always exciting times but really I leave it to the experts. I know I will vote and for whom I am going to vote. Then maybe I shall make noise another day. This blog is about my trip top Melbourne almost a month ago. What with crashing hard drives and looming deadlines it has been tough to find time to blog. I want to discpline myself and blog at least once in fifteen days…maybe after the elections?

Right now it is all about what I learnt in Melbourne. I love Melbourne. This was my fourth trip to the city. I love hanging out at Federation Square, taking the local public transport-bus/train/tram to different parts of the city and just walking in CBD. I love sitting by the Yarra on South Bank and see the world go by. Yeah I love Melbourne. This time I encountered a very interesting person with a very interesting family history that is deeply connected to the world of Indian cinema. It is not a story that I can tell-yet. All I can say is that I was privileged to see the private collection of a person that brought out fond childhood memories for me. Those days of watching ChhayaGeet/Chitrahaar on Doordarshan and Sunday evening Hindi films when that was the only entertainment in good old India. Might sound boring now but looking back I think it gave us (or at least me) a sense of history. That is why when I saw this collection of pictures, photographs and movies I knew how important this story is and why it needs to be told. A story that spans continents and is full of high drama. A story that is like a typical masala Hindi film with action, emotion, drama, comedy, tragedy, romance, colonialism…get the gist? A story that has affected the lives of the most unlikely people. I know, intriguing. But in today’s time when the meaning of ‘Bollywood’ is usurped by capitalists and those-that-want-us-to-be-exotic or those-that-want-us-to-consume only, when you don’t know where you come from this identity-defining story can give the shivers. I then looked up Youtube for old Hindi film videos and-thanks to those passionate people out there who have uploaded absolute gems. Remember this song from ACCHUT KANYA? Did we get bored of this on ChhayaGeet or what? Now I taught it to my nieces. This story also has the strangest connection to a British music composer of Indian origin. To digress a bit there is this generation of musicians in the UK who have been inspired by Indian film music. Stuff that teens today may not know that comes from way back. Just one example. This song from the film YAHUDI made by Sohrab Modi (Minerva Movietone) was remixed by Nitin Sawhney for THE NAMESAKE into a completely different context and it worked!

I also saw an amazing exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. This place never fails to surprise me. Last time I visited Melbourne I saw the Guggenheim Collection and this trip I got a glimpse of Art Deco from all over Europe, from America and also Australia and New Zealand. I love Art Deco. There are many buildings in Bombay inspired by the concept. Heritage structures that might not survive if Raj Thakeray and other forces have their rule over the city. Anyway I did not know that Art Deco had a nationalist basis and in spite of being called only decorative, I could see the colonialism in the concept too. The Egyption inspired Cartier jewels and the Japanese inspired furniture, the African inspired clothes…then France had a major Art Deco exhibtion in Paris in 1925. This confirmed France’s place in the world as a premier ‘arts’ nation.

The streets of Melbourne are so vibrant and multicultural that it sort of belies the ‘White Australia’ that is portrayed in the Australian media. It may not be officially so now but television in Australia is all about blokes and big haired blondes that speak and behave ‘Stralian’. There is no place for other migrants that may have built the nation. Apparently Melbourne has the highest number of Greeks outside of Greece. But do we see them on the telly?  Or so many Italians that live in Melbourne? The culture on television is all ‘Anglo’ and ‘Stralian’. In Auckland, on a daily basis, I see Maori every where. I see them on television too. On the ‘white’ channels and on Maori Televivion but I saw maybe two aborigines just once on my first trip to Melbourne. Shuffling through the streets, in rags and smelling of alcohol; a defeated attitude to them. This is what Australia has done to her natives. I saw them and was struck with guilt for my middle class, post-colonial existence that allows me an education and mobility across the world. I wonder if third world migrants to Australia ever think of the aborigines or how systematic suppression, racism and colonialism has destroyed one of the oldest peoples in the world?

I try and learn something new everyday. I learnt on my various trips to Melbourne how all the people of the world are connected to each other and to the past. What happens in one part of the world affects people somewhere else maybe decades later. What the Western world does to stay in power, what parochial politics does to local people has resonance somewhere else. We may have our cultures, religions and languages; we may have our countries but we have this world, this universe and sisterhood first.