With the Shiv Sena you never get what you see. Years ago, all of a sudden, they began to oppose Valentine’sday celebrations for no rhyme or reason. For years, celebrating couples were beaten up but, more importantly, shops displaying Valentine’s day cards were vandalised and what very few of us noticed was that their target was one particular card and gifts company which had popularised this festival in India.

It was years later that I realised what had been behind those demonstrations – and never as simple as it had seemed. When the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s relationship with a tamasha dancer had been exposed, Bal Thackeray had quipped `pyaar kiya toh darna kya!’ Then what had suddenly happened to this man who was not ashamed of declaring love, I wondered, for was he not, at the same time allowing his favourite daughter-in-law to hold Valentine’s dinners at her numerous restaurants across the city?

It was only when Thackeray’s son Uddhav had a major falling out with his sister-in-law Smita Thackeray (Balasaheb’s favourite ) that I got it from the horse’s mouth. It was all about money.

Smita Thackeray at the height of the Shiv Sena rule in Maharashtra had set up a foundation to support AIDS victims. One year she decided to organise a show by Bollywood artists which was sponsored by a leading card company. Bur as is the norm with the Shiv Sena, neither Smita nor Bal Thackeray felt it prudent to repay the company fpr expenses incurred or keep part of their deal for a share in the profits.

Next year, when Smita approached them again they refused, citing losses from the previous year and yet unpaid dues. By then word had spread among potential sponsors and no one came forward to lift the bill for the show by the Mukti Foundation (we don’t hear of the foundation any more). Thackeray tried everything to cajole, persuade or threaten the company but they did not budge. But then they had reckoned without the annual damage they would have to put up with as a consequence. However, they stoically bore the loss through the years – until Smita’s divorce with her husband came through and Uddhav and Raj then had no interest in pursuing an agitation that Thackeray had started in the name of his favourite daughter-in-law. Have people noticed that these celebrations are disturbed no longer and the only groups still taking it up are the fringe elements of the BJP like the Bajrang Sena’s support even their opposition is rather half-hearted and generally ignored by all concerned.

So when it comes to Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali I suspect I know what is afoot. I am convinced there is something similarly fishy in the background. For this is not the first time that the Sena and, in particular, Uddhav Thackeray has opposed his singing in Bombay – they had done the same several years ago and the excuse of him being afrom an enemy nation even then did not go down too well. Of course, Shiv Sainiks had once torn up the cricket pitch at the Wankhede stadium to prevent an India-Pakistan match in 1991 but that now is much water under the bridge. At the time they first targeted Ghulam Ali there were a lot of Pakistani actors in India working actively in Indian films as they are now, including on various television shows and it is doubtful if any Sena leaders even know who they are.

The one time that Pakistani artistes were targeted and thrown out of India for their country’s role in the 26/11 attacks was when Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had rounded them up and put them on planes at the Bombay airport. But many of them are now back and India Pakistan matches too are being played without harassment. And, most importantly, a few months ago, Ghulam Ali had even sung bhajans at the Sankatmochan Mandir in Varanasi, Narendra Modi’s constituency.

So why not in Bombay? Cut to the Michael Jackson show of the mid-1990s. The Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray had similarly raised objections to the MJ show though they could not bring an enemy nation into the picture. Here they had sought to stop the organisers by raising the bogey of the corruption of Indian culture but then MJ paid a visit to Thackeray at Matoshree and flattered the Sena tiger by even using his personal toilet – Thackeray could not stop dining on that story for years. But, I suspect, the organisers also cut a deal with the Thackerays for all members of the family got prime seats at the show, never mind that Michael Jackson was corrupting Indian culture with his songs and dances that night.

But I have heard Ghulam Ali is uncompromising in these matters – he will not pee in other people’s toilet and he will notn cut a deal to entertain the audiences with his mellifluous music. That must bug the Thackerays because even Javed Miandad, former captain of the Pakistani cricket team and Dawood Ibrahim’s samadhi had paid a visit to Thackeray and smoothened his ruffled feathers. It must come as a shock to the Thackerays that there is someone not willing to kowtow to them (actually Shahrukh Khan was another but then he is Indian and he had the government backing him up all the way). So what better than to stall the show at the last minute – waiing for Ali to turn up and use the toilet at Matoshree. When that did not happen it was clear it would be a no show.

So this is no simple political play between two allies, considering chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had offered complete security to the show against its ally. It is much beyond petty power play and cuts closer to the bone in how the Shiv Sena has always conducted its business.

Sadly Bombay and Jagjit Singh – for the show was in his honour – is the loser.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

There is a bulbul on the clothesline in my window. She sings, or rather whistles, me awake every morning at 6.03 by my digital clock. Not a minute before, not a minute later. How does she know the exact time? I haven’t been able to work that out for the month that she has been nestling on my socks and Turkish towel that I leave out on the line each night – they do not dry indoors during the monsoon, which comes and goes on and off eventoday, and by early morning enclosed between an iron grill and a glass pane, they are probably warmer than the fresh cold mountain air outside.

Yes. I can see the Parsik hills in the distance beyond which are the Western Ghats. Opposite, the power house of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board has been planted with a dense jungle of trees of all varieties, and all types of birds, predatory or otherwise, screeching parrots, mynahs among them fly in between those trees with squirrels racing up and down and cats perching themselves up those trees quite frequently. The bulbul probably finds safety in the angle between the window ledge and a pipe where she has laid a nest – I soon discover the reason for her happiness: she has hatched three chicks and she is bringing up a family. She is wiser than the poor pigeon who laid a single egg on the extension outside the kitchen window and then had to guard it from all sorts of predators, We fobbed them, including cats, off with a stick every time one tried to steal her egg but then one crow proved too much even for the stick. Just for a second, when we were not looking and she had gone out for food perhaps, he swooped before we could shoo him off and was gone with the egg. The pigeon sat for days looking sadly inside the kitchen window and accusingly at us every time we came in and that has made us feel awful. We have not allowed her or another pigeon to nest there again but this bulbul quite escaped our attention until she began to call me awake. Her chicks are growing, she is teaching them to fly and they will all soon be gone.

No, this is not about a farmhouse.This is in the middle of a growing city where my sister has a small studio apartment which I have been sharing with her for a few months. My own home is in the middle of the highly polluted Mumbai, in an upcoming posh area of the ever expanding city and I used to think my sister lived in the back of the beyond.

But I look at her environs now with new respect — ever since Navi Mumbai got certified as the third cleanest city in the country last month following the government of India’s Swachch Bharat campaign (the first is Mysore) and the bulbul has brought me a fresh appreciation of what this means.

Actually, it is not surprising that Navi Mumbai has come up cleaner than Mumbai or New Delhi. It is a satellite town of Mumbai which was first envisioned in the 1980s by legendary architect, the late Charles Correa and the government of then chief minister A R Antulay which was into reclaiming a lot of land from the sea, which was proving still not enough. Urban planners had wanted to relieve the pressure on south Mumbai and they had come up with the idea of setting up five commercial business districts (CBDs) across the city, including one in Bandra-Kurla, Kanjurmarg, Vasai-Virar and, of course, Navi Mumbai, apart from the then sole existing CBD in south Mumbai. Correa had planned a lot of open spaces and the first homes that came up here were row houses built by the City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO). In fact, CIDCO has been in charge of all the construction (and not the municipal corporation as usually happens with other towns and cities) and that is why Navi Mumbai is still clean and green with potentially corrupt politicians not allowed to grab all the open spaces and no unplanned development sanctioned. Roads are wider, green lungs are plenty even while industries and factories come up with ease and frequency. It already has one port (the Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Nhava Sheva) with another planned at Mansarovar were the CIDCO is building mostly housing and commercial spaces. Large areas of Navi Mumbai are still just overgrown villages.

Living in the midst of nature is a far cry from the years I spent living a few kilometres from a chemical zone with factories packed into dark, dank buildings and all I could see was a piece of dirty sky each morning – the chemical fumes from those factories would rise above my window and I was never urged to press my nose against the glass pane as I now do while the bulbul whistles on my clothes line.

In my salad days as a reporter, I had spoken to a lot of urban planners and the bureaucrat who had thought up the multiple CBDs had told me regretfully that they could not, unfortunately, achieve what they had envisioned when they decided to set up Navi Mumbai along with the other three CBDs. “We had wanted people to buy homes in Navi Mumbai and stay in. So we planned for schools, hospitals, factories all around the same housing complexes. But only people who could not afford homes in Mumbai bought there and still took the trains and buses to south Mumbai every morning. The idea was to facilitate amenities, like in other western countries – people move home along with jobs to make it easier for themselves and their families. But we did not reckon with the Indian mentality – our home is our universe and once we buy, we never sell unless compelled by circumstances to do so. The same with jobs — they prefer travelling miles and retiring in the same job than risking new ones. Thus living spaces do not get liberated unlike in London or New York and the pressure continues to build on public amenities.”

Years later I could not understand if I was a victim of the same mentality or if I had done what the bureaucrat had envisioned – I had the opportunity to buy an independent home in Navi Mumbai at the same price that I got a small poky flat in south Mumbai. I chose the latter because of proximity to my work place but now I see that is nothing to be happy about. I breathe in highly polluted air each morning, the stink from the garbage wafts into my home if I throw open the windows too early in the morning – I have to keep them shut until almost mid-day on the days I am home and open them only at night when I get home late from work. If I leave too early in the morning the garbage is spilling onto the roads because the municipal trucks haven’t yet found the time to collect. By contrast, practically every building in Navi Mumbai has huge wet and dry garbage bins neatly placed at the gates. They are shut tight against marauding cats ad crows and fumigation against mosquitoes is almost a weekly activity unlike Mumbai where they fumigate only when the insects reach epidemic threatening proportions.

Dinesh Waghmare, the city’s commissioner, is suitably proud about these measures and also about the 24 hour water supply and waste water management at Navi Mumbai’s state of the art sewage treatment plants and landfills, one of which (at Koparkhairne) has been scientifically closed and converted into a green space… one does not hear of such things in Mumbai or Pune or even other smaller, more manageable cities. Soon after the award was made pub[ic, he said at present levels Navi Mumbai has resources for the next 30 years which you cannot claim about Nagpur, Pune, Nasik and certainly not about Mumbai.

But it is not as though Navi Mumbai is perfect.

Nilesh Salunkhe is a driver by profession whose father bought a row house in Nerul in 1985 when no one was willing to move to New Bombay as it was then known. He has seen the city grow and highways and bridges come past his home raising a lot of dust and fumes from the tar and heavy traffic over the years. I have been complaining about long stretches of roads that are potholed and he tells me that this is a routine affair. “Even if it is the CIDCO, there are people who wish that there be no permanent job done because, he is blunt, “how else will they keep making money?” He is not so thrilled, either, about the clean green spaces and tells me rather cynically, ‘This Wonder Park you see? They will try it out for a few years. If they ae not able to turn it into a real tourist attraction and rake in enough money there will soon be high rises coming up here. You wait and watch. I have seen that happen all around my home.”

I hope not. And that hope may hold for some years because, as Samuel Verghese, a real estate agent from Kharghar tells me, the market is sluggish and no one has been buying here for months on end. “Each morning I come to my office and sit at my desk, hoping for a couple of rentals at least. For days even that does not happen.”

He does not know why that should be so. Distances from Navi Mumbai to Mumbai city have been cut short by the Eastern Freeway and you can reach south Mumbai in less than an hour now compared to the two hours it might have taken on a bad traffic day before the freeway came up But, Verghese thinks, the freeway which could be a precursor to the new airport proposed here, does not really help because most offices have now shifted to Bandra-Kurla or Lower Parel and negotiating the traffic to these CBDs is still a nightmare. “Who then wants to breathe in the fresh air of Navi Mumbai if they have to sit half a day in traffic jams or change trains and routes at least thrice to get to work?”

He hopes this new certificate of the city being the cleanest city for miles around will generate new interest and his sluggish business will pick But he will not begin to hope as yet. Why ever not, I ask. “Look at your own attitude,” he tells me, “You are here for rest and recuperation after your severe bout of illness. If you hadn’t almost died, you would still have been thinking of your sister’s home as the back of the beyond. And despite your love for the birds and the bees, you don’t want to buy here – you are moving back to Mumbai, aren’t you? Just like your bulbul will soon abandon that nest, you will fly away too.”

He is almost poetic in his hopelessness. But he is right.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Paris. My most favourite city in the world where I spent two years in the 1990s studying for a diploma in journalism and making many friends, among them a large number of Muslims mostly immigrants from the Maghreb – the former French colonies of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 3.33 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

Writing on Children’s day, I cannot help but recall a childhood/teenage wish that will never be fulfilled, at least not in this life – I wish I had been born old enough to romance Jawaharlal Nehru. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

Should history be rewritten? Well, you cannot mess with the facts can you? Mahatma Gandhi died on January 30, 1948 and nothing will change that. But was he assassinated or merely killed?

I have had many RSS ideologues describe the killing of Gandhi as `vadh’ (as in the killing of rakshasas) rather than `hatya’ as it really was but then it depends on who is writing that history.

Nowhere is this contradiction more apparent than in the historical accounts of the killing of Chhatrapati Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji Maharaj – seventeenth century Mughal historians believe he insulted both Islam and the Koran and so Aurangzeb put him to death in a most tortuous fashion. They do not deny that cruelty but justify the barbarism on grounds of religion. Maratha historians, on the other hand, held Sambhaji out to be a brave king standing firmly between Aurangzeb and the complete Islamisation of the Deccan. According to them, he was tortured to death because he – rightly – refused to compromise with his principles and all that he stood for by embracing Islam and Aurangzeb as his ruler.

So I could not agree more with HT Media advisor Vir Sanghvi at a live debate at the Tata Literature Live! Festival underway in Bombay this week, that, of course, history must be rewritten. For example do we go with the British interpretation of Indian history that Dravidians were all dark natives of the subcontinent who were pushed downward to the south by invading Aryans or do we update the historical facts in view of the discovery of Mohenjodaro and Harappa that proved we were a far civilised race long before the Brits and their fellow Europeans had climbed down the trees and come out of the caves they were living in when we already had advanced cities in India?

But when the likes of Dinanath Batra attempt to turn myth into history and the Prime Minister of a nation like India propagates that myth by stating that we had plastic surgery and test tube babies in the days of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are great epics but just that – epics – what does one say?

But for once in my life, I agreed with both sides of the debate – with Kumar Ketkar and Dileep Padgaonkar, both senior journalists, opposing the rewriting of history as a dangerous game. Can we really afford to contaminate the minds of young children who have no way of distinguishing myth from history and fact from fiction?

In the course of the debate Ketkar raised the issue of Pakistani history books which begin with the creation of Pakistan and have no mention of India and its freedom struggle. No wonder, while I was at a mid-career course in Paris, my Pakistani colleague was desperate that I secure for him CDs of the Bhisham Sahni-Govind Nihalani Doordarshan drama series Tamas which is as chilling an indictment of the politics of partition as any. The serial had been banned in Pakistan and as my colleague told me his family and friends were eager to know what really preceded partition in visual terms. Even then I felt bad for Pakistani children growing up without a proper grounding of their, well, background and got him the CDs – I hope Tamas corrected the perspective for many of that country’s citizens.

Of course, people like Batra would love to expunge large portions of Indian history, particularly those relating to Muslim invasion of the country. But like Amish Tripathi arguing on the side of Sanghvi said, why must we conflate Indian Muslims with the conquerors when we do not equate Indian Christians with invading British?

After all, when Krishnadevaraya defeated five Muslim kingdoms surrounding his Vijayanagaram, he described himself not as the conqueror of Muslims but the conqueror of Turks because that is what the Muslim invaders then were. But left to the Batra types all references by Krishnadevaraya to himself as the vanquisher of Turks, without any reference to their religion, itself would be expunged or misinterpreted or worse.

So while one cannot take a rigid position against the rewriting of history, such rewriting is best left to scholars who are put through the wringer for purposes of substantiation and evidence on which they base their interpretations rather than perpetrate fantastic myths of Lord Rama flying in aeroplanes long before even the Wright brothers had invented the flying machine or plastic surgery being so advanced in mythological times that even a severed head could be transplanted and rejoined without any consequences to the brains of that individual!

However, as the current dispensation weighs in on the side of such fantastic interpretation and rewriting, I noticed that a full house at the debate was mostly queasy about allowing such historians to get away with wrong rewriting and called for politicians and their cohorts to keep away from such activities.

But like Padgaonka said, in the writing of history one must be conscious that those who control the past control the future and those who control the present control the past. I guess we are doomed to go round in circles on this one!

And I can only repeat the famous warning: those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it – again and again!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 3 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

In recent years, Chhagan Bhujbal has been Maharahstra’s toughest Home Minister, even willing to take on Bal Thackeray and throw the Sena supremo into the slammer. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (14 votes, average: 3.14 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

My mother was the sister of the District Magistrate of Nagpur sometime in the 1950s, when the cops came looking for her. She had sort-of beaten up the mother of her brother’s landlord – or at least emptied a bucket of cold water over her when she discovered the landlady was not allowing her maid to draw water from the compound well. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 4.6 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

I am not a Hindu bigot nor am I a saffron supporter. And yet of late I have come under attack from certain groups who believe I have been unduly defensive of the Rashriya Swayamsevak Sangh in recent months. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (13 votes, average: 4.46 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

I have cut my milk teeth in journalism on disaster coverage – riots, massacres, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, plane crashes, bomb blasts – you name it, I’ve done it. Injured during some (the 1992-93 Bombay riots), traumatised by others (the Assam massacres, the serial Bombay blasts), simply sickened by human misery at others, like the Latur earthquake or the Orissa cyclone. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

While on the subject of Bal Thackeray and drinks last week, I recalled an interesting incident that happened days after the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power in Maharashtra in 1995. Readers of my column ‘Anandan on Wednesday’ in the Bombay edition of the Hindustan Times will remember this for I have written about it in a different context but I thought the story was too tickling pink not to share with a wider readership. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (12 votes, average: 4.25 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...