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Of murder, drugs and dharma

Despite the media coverage of the Mahajan cases, questions remain unanswered, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2006 03:39 IST

Despite the media coverage given to the murder of Pramod Mahajan by his brother Pravin and the arrest of his son Rahul on charges of consuming drugs with champagne, three questions remain unanswered.

First, what was the motive for Pravin killing his brother? All we have so far is Mumbai gossip. Second, from where did the Mahajan family acquire the wealth for their offspring to splurge on champagne and drugs? Undoubtedly Pramod was the rising star of BJP and in charge of the party’s election funds. Had the Lakshman Rekha separating private and the party’s property been breached? A fair part of the BJP’s money comes from Hindu communal organisations abroad — as did funds for Sikh extremists. In both cases a good portion went into private pockets. This needs to be clarified.

And third, the BJP assumes the role of the defender of Hindu dharma. Its leaders, particularly Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, are up in arms against anyone they conceive as denigrating their faith. Sushma, normally a cool tempered and lucid exponent of creed, periodically flies off the handle and threatens to cut off her long hair, dashes to Tamil Nadu to defend the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram without bothering to find out that he had been charged of conniving at murder and improper behaviour towards women. As for Rahul Mahajan, carrying his father’s ashes to immerse in the Brahmaputra celebrating the occasion with champagne and cocaine! The less said, the better.

Mumbai rediscovered

I lived in Bombay for over nine years and thought I knew it like the back of my right hand. I lived in Churchgate, Cuffe Parade and Colaba. I walked to my office in Bori Bunder to get a feel of the city. I was aware of the slums through which I passed on my way to Juhu beach or Santa Cruz airport but never ventured to enter them. Some evenings on my way home I drove through Foros Road in Kamatipura to see prostitutes negotiating price with their clients. I never stopped there to find out who they were, where they came from or how long they expected to live that way.

From the day I arrived my social life was regulated by the Zakaria family. Since Mr Zakaria was a minister in the Maharashtra government, they only mixed with the elite: foreign counsel generals, Rajni-Bakul Patel, Palkhiwalas, Sorabjis, Currimbhoys, Doshis, Bir and Tarlochan Sahni and a few others, all very well-to-do and living in grand style. My only contact with the not-so-rich was Kehar Singh Gill and his friends in the transport business. My source of film gossip was Devyani Chaubal. I was vaguely aware of the underworld of dons but the only one I got to know well was Haji Mastan Mian who had risen from a dock worker to don number one and spent some time in jail. He was a dark, harmless looking man of courtesy and charm, the kind who would not hurt a fly.

After reading Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (Vintage), I realised how superficial my information was about the city. It is a brilliant piece of reportage covering the lives of the very rich as well as the starving, of film stars, bar girls and their patrons. Most of all he tells you of the underworld dons. Once they formed a criminal fraternity. After Babri Masjid fell and Muslim slum dwellers were murdered and many killed in bomb explosions that followed, gangsters split into Muslims and Hindus. Hindu hoodlums found their patron in Bal Thackerey. He is scared of his own shadow and sits in his palatial Matoshri, guarded by hundreds of armed police. He can rouse martial instincts of his Marathi followers who when assured they outnumber their Muslim adversaries 100 to one will go on the rampage burning jhuggis with their inmates. Muslim goondas give them as good as they get by targeting lesser leaders of the Shiv Sena.

Mehta packs in scores of stories of Bombayites in his book. Next to underworld characters, his favourite characters are from the world of Hindi films. He writes: “The Hindi film industry has always had the secularism of a brothel.” In a long interview with Bal Thackerey he got a measure of the Shiv Sena supremo’s intelligence, the power he wielded and his prejudices. He saw no books in Matoshri. But he learnt how film stars including Sunil and Sanjay Dutt came to touch his feet when they wanted help. He was the Hindu samrat (Emperor) fighting Islami forces of evil. Among the predictions the great Sena leader made was that as soon as Vajpayee went out of power, a bloody civil war between Hindus and Muslims would break out. They’ve been out of power for two years now and there is no sign of a civil strife. Instead we have the most unmartial, scholarly, mild-mannered and soft-spoken sardar as prime minister.

Suketu Mehta writes with an insider’s knowledge and insight. It is a pity he was more fascinated by lives of slum-dwellers, brothels and the corrupt of Mumbai and largely ignored the educated and sophisticated elite of the city who made Bombay the most cosmopolitan and pleasant metropolis of our country.

Matter of numbers

A couple filed an application for divorce.

The judge asked: “How’ll you divide you’re three children?”

The man replied: “Ok! We’ll apply next year.”