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Mumbai Vs Bombay

Prejudices can be hidden for political considerations, but they never entirely disappear. The last week has seen a violent resurrection of the old ‘Marathi Vs outsiders’ theme that has plagued Bombay for the last four decades. This time it’s a splinter of the original champion of the ‘Marathi Manoos’ (Marathi man) that has raised some pertinent questions in an imbecilic fashion.

Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) assaulted several North Indians over the last one week. The primary targets of the MNS’s ire were cab drivers, milk vendors and panwallahs. In other words poor folk who have come to Mumbai to earn a living and support families back home in UP and Bihar. The provocation is the oft- repeated complaint in a rehashed form: the outsiders are flooding Mumbai and taking ‘our’ jobs; jobs that ‘belong’ to the Maharashtrians; ‘they’ don’t want to integrate with ‘our’ culture; ‘they’ live here and still dream of ‘their’ native lands and so on. The target this time are the ‘bhaiyyas’, a pejorative term for North Indians, particularly from UP and Bihar.

The Shiv Sena was the party that originally patented a politics of nativism in the ‘60s. The SS (note the similarity in name to Hitler’s Schutzstaffel, which means ‘Defence Squadron’. Coincidence?) claimed that the first call on Mumbai should rest with the Maharashtrians. The fact that the ‘sons of the soil’ did not control the city’s economy in any significant way added to the resentment. Over the years the SS targeted South Indians, Gujaratis, Muslims and now North Indians, violently in some cases.

Now the MNS has picked up the relay. Raj Thackrey says he will not allow commemoration of any other states’ other than Maharashtra, a reference to the fact that UPites were celebrating UP diwas in Mumbai. He says that if the bhaiyyas indulge in dadagiri they will be taught a lesson.

The latest round of bhaiyya bashing has raised bewildering questions about belonging, intra and transnational identity, allegiance, the nature and ownership of urban spaces and contestation of those spaces in the context of a rapidly globalizing world.

Ever since the demise of the textile mills in the ‘60s, a period that coincided with the rise of the SS, Mumbai has become more oriented towards a services economy, particularly financial services. The ‘Mumbai makeover’ over the last decade has resulted in the traditional chawls being replaced with highrise apartments. The chawls were living spaces conducive for community bonding by the very nature of their architecture: a slew of houses opened out to a common verandah where the residents had an opportunity to interact with each other on a personal basis, participate in each others festivals, bond over chai and drying laundry and where their kids played hide and seek and ‘verandah cricket’. Compare this to the more impersonal highrise towers, where you might live for 20 years and never get to know your neighbour.

The construction boom of the ‘90s and the new millennium resulted in working class areas becoming more upmarket with the construction of highrise apartments meant for the rich and upper middle class. The mill workers and cab drivers who inhabited these chawls cashed out while they could and fled to the suburbs, where housing was more affordable. In a sense, the working class, many of whom were Maharashtrians, were being priced out of the downtown area that was slowly turning unaffordable for all but the super rich. As one friend of mine put it, this was ethnic cleansing by other means.

Its not restricted to only the posh areas. Take Dharavi for instance. The largest slum in Asia is also set for change. Dharavi harbours many thriving industries in its narrow and rundown bylanes. Leather manufacturing units, pottery units, jewellery stores are some of them. Kumbharwada is a thriving potters colony in the heart of Dharavi. The potters here are migrants from Gujarat who came to Bombay generations ago. The potters houses open out into a common courtyard in which they work together. Pots jostle for space with potters’ wheels. To one side are the ovens where the clay is baked. The ovens belch out smoke which covers Kumbharwada in a thick fog of white smoke. The Slum Rehabilitation Scheme (SRA) threatens to break up the community life of Kumbharwada in particular and Dharavi in general. The slums are to be replaced with apartments. Residents of Kumbharwada ask, “What will happen to our community”. There are no easy answers.

Its not as if answers are any more easy for people who live in highrise buildings. Take me for instance. I am a typical middle class resident of Bombay, trying to earn a living in a big lonely city. I was born in Bombay to a Tamil mother and Telugu father and spent 10 years living in a Maharashtrian colony speaking Hindi and Marathi with my colony friends and Telugu and Tamil at home. Those happy early childhood years translated into a love for Marathi, which I still understand and can speak to an extent. I am pretty comfortable with Marathi and in the company of Maharashtrians.

At different points I have lived in Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa, Chennai and Lucknow. I can speak Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and understand a smattering of Bengali. In addition I went to my Grandparent’s place in Andhra Pradesh every year for summer holidays. They taught me to read and write Telugu. I spent a formative part of my life and college years in Hyderabad and made many good friends. I have fond memories of Hyderabad, but am not overly attached to it. On the other hand I am also fond of Mumbai, but am not overly attached to it either. Come to think of it, there is no place I can call ‘home’ in the sense that I am rooted to it.

My search for ‘roots’ has led me to learn Telugu more fluently. I take long distance telephone tutorials in the language from my Grandmother and have taken to reading a Telugu paper daily in Mumbai. According to Raj Thackrey I am a traitor. Do I feel like one? I don’t know what a traitor feels like? Maybe Raj knows something that I don’t.

3 responses to “Mumbai Vs Bombay”

  1. A Reader says:

    Came across your blog via Google. Just wanted to give my 0.02. The Marathi population (and for that matter all other communities) never had to face free markets before today, so there was no real need to be assertive about language, roots etc. Mumbai is the first city in the country to be opened for free-markets. Clearly it has led to a deluge of immigrants (as ‘controlled immigration’ is an anti-free-market ideology, not to mention impractical to implement in a country like India where each state is part of the Indian Union through political will, because together we are all stronger than each state by itself can be.). Now, because Mumbai today faces a ‘tragedy of the commons’ i.e. slums, filth, etc have become a menace. To add to this, is the immigrant arrogance (in this case its North Indians, before this it were the South Indians), who question the very meaning of ‘natives’ i.e. they say, who says Marathi people were the ‘original residents’ of the geographical area called Mumbai today ? My only question is, can they accept the same argument about their home states ? I think it is understood that whenever a person A moves to a State B, he/she is initially in “Guest mode” and within some years (say 5/10) becomes a “resident”, after which he/she is expected to follow local language to better his/her business/friendships. If people deliberately refuse, then in a society like Mumbai (facing tragedy of the commons), the only solution is political, just as Raj Thakare is doing. You should indeed feel that you are being discourteous/rude if you are living in Mumbai, yet refuse to speak in Marathi after substantial number of years. You are not a “traitor” just that you are not being sensitive to the culture that nurtured you. Today people want to wipe out the local culture, and that is unacceptable to the Marathi population. if it comes down to physical fights, so be it. However, it is just rude to walk into someone’s house and refuse to follow their rules about living.

  2. axxymax says:

    Will Punjab give up using Gurumukhi script for the ease of outsiders staying in cities of Punjab? Will Bengal discard Bengali language for the convenience of outsiders in Kolkatta?
    Will you prefer calling Calcutta instead of Kolkatta or Madras for Chennai? And will government of Tamilnadu and Bengal permit you using Madras and Calcutta?
    As per report of Government of Maharashtra there are only 27% Marathis left in Mumbai and 66% marathis in Entire Maharashtra. No other state of India has more than 25% outsiders. This proves that Maharashtra has already done a lot for people of other states. However it seems that Marathi language is vanishing from Mumbai and no North Indian will help to prevent it from vanishing.
    I don’t support violence made by MNS. But why learning Marathi becomes a problem for North Indians? Why should Maharashtrians only change their language while communicating with outsiders? if a person wants to be a minister of the state he has been in the state for 15 years and says i do not understand the local language isnt that a slap on the face of the indeginious ppl.. can agra and up be different. can a sardar and his turban (its his identity)be different. how can you just disect mumbai frm maharashtra.. people have shed blood for keeping mumbai as an integral part of maharashtra.. if not maharashtra mumbai would have been integrated with gujrat.. and gujrathi would have been its official state language and you wouldnt have a problem accepting it.. as a maharastrian and a person with more than five generation in mumbai…. i miss the place i was born and bought up in i miss the security and the warm feeling i had in the society 20 years back.. i miss the parsi community and the irani chai.. mumbai has welcomed every one with open arms.. i do agree ppl have enriched mumbai in there own way.. but now i see the situation changing.. i see the change of attitude of the ppl migrating to mumbai,,, every one in this country thinks mumbai as a money minting place, where in you come rake in as much as you can and then just get the hell out of this place.. i do not see mumbai nourishing or flourishing.. yes there are malls .. and other places of recreation and the sky scrappers but where is the soul… mumbai has lost its soul its character its identity..as i see mumbai is the showcase of maharashtra..and the maharastrian culture.. tell me what you know about maharastrian culture ppl..even in the movies all the officers will be vermas sharmas all the sweepers cleaners domestic help will be gangu bai.the top ranking po;ice officer will be roy, gupta and some one else and the bribe taking havaldar will be a marathi name..depecting maharastrian in a badlight has been the order of the day…and yes other states can have swimming pools…waterparks.. every thing.. here we have to face water cuts, penalty for wasting water,provide free homes for the homeless from other states..watch ppl defecate in open..building illegal stalls. starting up shops whereever they feel .developing slums whereever they want. corporators supporting them just for votes.. crime is on a rise..victims of terrorism though none of our fault.victims of political rallies for some problems in different states .traffic situation is a mess..marathi manoos has been walked over has been pushed to the edge and cornered.. and now the marathi manoos has snapped. I have never liked the way the situation handled by raj thackrey but i am running out of ideas of communicating with you ppl, my fellow countrymen and its sad very sad. what you see today is just the tip of the iceburg. its just the pent up anger as maharashtrian being treated as second class citizen of their own state and today we say enough is enough… follow our ways or get lost..nothing can stop us and even if god tries to stop us he will be cut in two…jai shivaji jai maharashtra.

  3. […] Maharashtra and the financial capital of the country. But do we disrespect it if we utter the name Bombay or Mumbai , most likely not. It’s just that the name Mumbai might not have totally got entrenched in our […]

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