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India’s only metropolis

There is only one metropolitan city in India. That one city is Delhi. The rest are all provincial towns. Mumbai’s identity is behenji-turned-mod, with the behenji element as core, writes Samrat.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2010 23:32 IST

There is only one metropolitan city in India. That one city is Delhi. The rest are all provincial towns.

Mumbai’s identity is behenji-turned-mod, with the behenji element as core. That shows through, repeatedly, in the actions of its various Senas. It has, for years.

The south Bombay and Bandra elites will, of course, protest that Mumbai doesn’t belong to the Thackerays, etc. Those are pointless protests, because the city belongs far less to them than it does to the two Senas. The very fact that for decades there have been significant political forces that claim the city for the ‘sons of the soil’ and treat migrants as outsiders is problematic.

Of course, the elites who live their lives between apartments in ‘towers’ and evenings at pubs might not feel this very strongly on a daily basis. They surround themselves with others like them, and live in their bubble.

But then, in Bombay — sorry, Mumbai — almost everyone lives in their own bubble. It’s a huge collection of ghettoes. There are Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi ghettoes, and a few general rich people and poor people ghettoes. Even within these ghettoes there are further stratifications, strictly observed in most cases. For example, there are Gujarati buildings, Sindhi buildings, Jain buildings. There are buildings where only vegetarians are allowed and others where alcohol is banned. Of course, there are rich people buildings where everything goes. But in those, there is usually a separate ‘staff lift’ for the maids, cooks and drivers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mumbai for many things. But these are the things I don’t like about it. And the traffic, the absence of space, and the year-long heat.

Bangalore’s climate cannot be faulted, and it is still a less insular place than Mumbai. The part of Bangalore — sorry, Bengaluru — that wants to be a global city, like Thomas Friedman imagines it is, is always in conflict with the part that wants to be a Kannadiga town. In the Kannadiga corner are two powerful forces: the Kannada language chauvinists, represented by groups like the Kannada Rakshana Vedike, and the Hindu right-wing, represented by groups such as the BJP, the RSS, the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and Ram Sene.

Most readers will remember the attack on women in a pub in Mangalore. Few of them would have heard that similar attacks happened to women on the streets of Bengaluru through 2008 and 2009. Those were passed off as ‘stray incidents’ and no one claimed ‘credit’ for them. Karnataka, including Bengaluru, in some measure, seems to accept that it is okay to attack women who dress in Western style and don’t speak the local language. It is also a place where dancing was banned, and pubs shut at 11 pm.

The town holds the same sense of resentment towards outsiders that Mumbai does. It also has the same class of ‘outsiders’ living their lives between office, MG Road, Brigade Road, some of the new IT ghettoes, and the airport. Some of these folks may believe they ‘belong’. Get real. Even the local Tamil population, after all the centuries they’ve been there, don’t ‘belong’.

Kolkata is, of course, undeniably Bengali in character, though it doesn’t have any overt politics of exclusion. It used to be a great city called Calcutta. But now it’s a city of those left behind, not in the same league as Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru in any field, including ‘culture’. Less said of Chennai, the city formerly known as Madras, the better. If you are a rich liberal from another town you are better off going to New York, where you probably have more friends anyway. In any case, you will never ‘belong’ in Chennai.

Which brings me to Delhi. It is the only city in India where anyone from anywhere in India or the world can come and set up home. No one, not even the Punjabis and the Jats, own the city. There is no organised group trying to stake claim to the city for ‘real Delhiites’. There are no mobs trying to throw immigrants out. If you are from North-east India or South India, you will face difficulties. But eventually, the city will accept you. Contrast this to the politics of insider and outsider that the North-east has seen for decades. Think back to how many thousands in the North-east have been killed or rendered homeless merely because they were not ethnically ‘locals’.

That doesn’t happen in Delhi. This place may seem coarse, but it doesn’t have the real barbarians: the Senas and unions that attack ‘outsiders’. Anyone from anywhere can claim to be a true Delhiite. That is why Delhi is the only metropolis in India.