THIS ABOVE ALL
This is not
was my home for nine
years. Though I was too old to learn how to speak Marathi or
Gujarati, I did not feel like an outsider and managed to adjust
with Mumbai type of Hindi—ayenga, jayenga, thamba, khalas.
No one ever made me feel unwelcome because I did not belong to
the city. There were millions of others like me who came from
different parts of India. We had unflattering names for
different communities which we only used when they were not
listening: ‘Gujjus’ for Gujaratis, ‘Ghatis’ for
Maharashtrians, ‘Bawajis’ for Parsis, ‘Makapaons’ for
Goan Christians and ‘Mianbhais’ for Muslims. I was a ‘Sikhra’,
‘Surd’ or ‘Surdy’.
There were also
Sindhis, Armenians, Jews and Europeans. We got on very well with
each other. All communities had contributed to making Bombay
India's first city. The largest contribution was made by the
British; the second largest was by the Parsis, Gujaratis and
Bal Thackeray, founding-father of the Shiv Sena, is an admirer of Adolf Hitler
I am not being
unfair in my assessment that the smallest contribution was that
of the Maharashtrians, who formed the predominant majority. The
combination of resentment and envy was of combustible material
for some Maharashtrian to exploit to his political advantage.
That Maharashtrian was Bal Thackeray, founding-father of the
Shiv Sena. I met him once at his sresidence. He was as different
looking from my idea of a Maratha warrior as any Maratha I had
met—frail, bearded, bespectacled, dressed in saffron kurta
with a necklace round his neck.
surrounded himself with emblems of militancy—pictures of
snarling tigers, busts of Chatrapati Shivaji and armed guards.
He was a man of little learning, a second-rate cartoonist, an
admirer of Adolf Hitler and his belief was that Aryans were
God's chosen race. Thackeray's chosen race were Marathas. So he
exploited Maratha pride. Hitler's victims were Jews and Gypsies.
Thackeray's first victims were South Indians, mainly those who
ran idli-dosa eateries all over the city. He had his
hoodlums beat them up and wreck their restaurants. There was
nothing to stop Maharashtrians from opening eateries of their
own, but that would not have served his purpose. He got his
lumpen followers to do what they knew best. They roughed up
Tamilians, Kannadigas and Malayalees and vandalised their
properties. He became a hero amongst his people.
ill-will against Muslims and boasted that his sainiks had
played the leading role in bringing down the Babri Masjid. No
action was taken against him. On the contrary, non-Marathi
Mumbaikars, notably those with political ambitions like the Dutt
family, kow-towed before him. His demagoguery helped him to
become a formidable figure in all of Maharashtra. Contenders for
Bal Thackeray's legacy of hate are his son Udhav and nephew Raj.
They have gone a step further than Bala Saheb. Udhav took the
easier route to notoriety—he insulted India's number one icon
Amitabh Bachchan and attacked his residence. Raj went a step
further. His goons attacked their own countrymen from the North
and made thousands flee from their homes.
He should have
been handcuffed the day he committed the crime. But neither the
state nor the Central Government had the nerve to do so till
well after a week. He was immediately released on bail. Neither
the Prime Minister nor Sonia Gandhi condemned his actions. L.K.
Advani took his time to describe his doings
"unconstitutional". That was a euphemism for
anti-national and communal. They should have known that the only
way to deal with bullies is to call their bluff and hit them
back as hard as possible.
No one can deny
that when it comes to jobs, all things being the same, locals
must be given preference to outsiders; it does not create
housing problems or any ill-will against outsiders. That is
plain common sense. Indulging in abuse and violence is
unpardonable. No one is entitled to question another of his
Indian identity. It is unpatriotic and must be condemned in the
strongest of terms.
First War of
Was the rising
of 1857 really India's First War of Independence? Our
politicians say yes. They have political reasons for doing so.
Our historians are sharply divided in their views. Most of them
say yes and no in the same breath. They have good reasons to be
confused. The rebellion was limited to northern India, extending
from Ambala to Barrackpur (Calcutta) down to Madhya Pradesh. It
did not spread in Punjab, Kashmir, NWFP, Sindh, Rajasthan,
Gujarat, Maharashtra or the Deccan. Most of India remained
indifferent and much of it sided with the British. Indians who
rose against the British had different motives for doing so.
Hindu and Muslims—who first opened fire felt their religions
were in danger as they were made to bite bullets greased with
cow and pig fat. Indian rulers who joined them were aggrieved
that their estates had been grabbed by outsiders and fought to
restore dynastic rule. They included the Muslim ruling family of
Avadh, the exiled Peshwa and the Rani of Jhansi. The 80-year-old
Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar was bullied into becoming the
figure-head of anti-British elements. Muslims wanted restoration
of Mughal rule; Hindus did not. For some it was more property
than patriotism; for a few it was desire for freedom from alien
There has been a flood of books
on the subject. The latest is Dateline 1857: Revolt Against
the Raj by Rudrangshu Mukherjee and Pramod Kapoor (Roli
Books). Mukherjee has a formidable reputation as a historian. He
has spelt out the case for both sides in lucid prose. Kapoor has
specialised in getting illustrated material of the times from
archives in England and India. He is a master-craftsman of
re-packaging old stories and presenting them afresh. The only
problem with his latest product is its size. It is too large to
hold in one's hands to read and too out of proportion to be put
in a bookshelf or on a coffee table.