Statues were tools of English repression in India. We were subdued by bronze dummies of Lord Thingummy & Sir Who-What in full military regalia.
When the Brits withdrew to a backyard in Byculla, a number of wonderful sites were vacated for Indians to install their own effigies. But we didn’t seem too keen on exposing our spindly legs to smirking passers-by. Instead, we concentrated on changing street names with appellations often longer than the street.
The nation had to wait for Mayawati and the fine art of monument-making in stone, marble, bronze, copper, silver and (God forbid) platinum. Jayalalitha, given the chance, would overrun Tamil Nadu, and parts of Sri Lanka, with dozens more Jayalalithas.
Maharastra has, at last, caught on; it’s planning one of earth’s largest statues, of one of India’s renowned heroes who, till now, has only had an airport and a railway station tossed his way. This world’s eighth wonder will display the great military patriot on a horse soaring hundreds of feet high, visible from outer space. Constructed on land reclaimed from Backbay waters, it will be a spectacle to gape at.
But all Mumbaiites don’t see it that way. NGOs and other bleeding hearts dub it a callous waste of money, better devoted to building rural hospitals etc.
Another dissenting camp is the Marine Drive Romance Society whose members are horrified at the thought of being robbed of their beautiful sunsets.
The government has tried to explain that it has been forced offshore since the best land locations have gone to garbage dumps, hawkers and traffic jams.
All concerned citizens were invited to a seminar. The opening session was held by the new-age urban planner Rustom Looniboy (Loony to his friends), famous for proposing to transform the zoological gardens into Disneyland. “There appear to be two objecting groups”, he said. “One feels the money would be better spent on rural hospitals and such-like. The second doesn’t want to say bye-bye-ta-ta to their beautiful sunsets.
“I can please both. My King-on-Horse will accommodate a top hospital.
“How? It will be placed inside the horse. The ghoda is bigger than the Mahalaxmi Race Course; we will keep it hollow, with ample space for a 5-star rural luxury resort providing poor villagers basic health care — nose jobs, tummy trucks, kidney transplants, heart grafts, etc.
“You feel it may get too stuffy inside a horse? The whole place will be air-conditioned, with fresh air blowing in and out from all the escape routes that Nature has provided.
“Now to the second objection from romantic couples. We’ll mount the monument on a gigantic float. Just before sunset it will slip out of view, to return at night when everybody has finished romancing. (He waited for the applause. When none came, he clapped for himself.) I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll all be awarded Bharat Bhushans.”
Sylvester da Cunha is one of India’s pioneering admen and chairs the agency that created one of the country’s best-known campaigns — the Amul ads.