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A Thackeray clears the fog

It’s a happy coincidence that Raj Thackeray is telling non-Maharashtrians to vamoosh from Mumbai after the city has turned into a giant stale pav, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2008 22:16 IST
Indrajit Hazra

It’s a happy coincidence that Raj Thackeray is telling non-Maharashtrians to vamoosh from Mumbai after the city has turned into a giant stale pav. It would have been so unfortunate if his merry band of Thuggerays went about bashing in people’s heads when Mumbai was still a shiny disco ball — you know, a megalopolitan, aspirational town for many of us hoping to settle down there so that we could dangle our legs almost into the Arabian Sea, have girlfriends who looked like Sarika, and pretend that we’re oh-so-chic and Shanghaied.

Luckily, Raj’s rant — an intelligent brand-building exercise, if you ask me, from a man who has nothing else to sell to those who have nothing else to buy — comes at a time when to say that Mumbainagar is still India’s most cosmopolitan, funky, liberated, easy-to-handle big city is like saying Thakur from Sholay has a lovely pair of biceps. Because, to quote Rajiv Gandhi talking in 1985 about another city with a fabulous past and a crapola future, Mumbai is a dying city, and no amount of Flora Fountain water or shaking one’s tush at Zenzi can arrest that development.

Have I ever lived in Bombay, you ask? Nope. Nor do I intend to. Many moons before the Chandrayaan I mission, I had an outside chance of moving to Bombay. I had planned to slouch towards Bethlehem, knock the knockers off Pooja Bhatt and fix myself as part and parcel of an intelligent, cosmopolitan ha-ha jaw-jaw set. Shobhaa De was still spelt with a single ‘a’, the streetwalker’s charm of walking about the streets at 3 am still appealed to me, Ravi Kapoor a.k.a. Jeetendra was no longer a Bollywood star, Ekta Kapoor was a brat whom no one had yet heard of, and that embarrassingly self-styled Shakespearewalla Alyque Padamsee was yet to start wearing dead and red rodents on his head.

I was confident, like a million of other non-Bombay persons stepping off at Victoria Terminus (these were pre-Naresh Goyal days) before and after me, of plunging myself effortlessly, armed with my legendary lust for life, into Bombay like a fish in a sushi. But I never ended up living there. I never got the job.

But luckily — and schadenfreude is such a sweet thing — Bombay (turned into Mumbai to give its disrepair, decay and newfound parochialism a romanticised lipstick) started sinking even as life swirled merrily about inside it. It was a place, like Calcutta where I was running away from, where people had started talking of ‘the good old days’, a sure sign that the last drops of a used lemon were being squeezed.

My visits to Mumbai over the last three years confirm the good work that Raj Thackeray’s doing: telling us outsiders to stay away from this tottering beast with various kinds of fleas turning various kinds of tricks inside its luscious-at-parts, mangy-at-parts fur. Despite the lack of real public transport, despite the inability to pop across to a decent and affordable neighbourhood watering hole, despite film stars making a prettier gaggle than politicians or the Professional Page 3 crowd... and 97 other reasons why Delhi loses out to Mumbai, the ‘Punjoo town’, in the meantime, has broken open into something more immigrant-y, cosmopolitan and, dare I say, Bombay-like over the last decade.

And just to prove that my Delhiite’s view of Mumbai is unbiased, let me quote a third-party outsider, Frosty Wooldridge, a cranky journalist and author best noted for being a figure in the American anti-immigration movement: “The brown toxic cloud strangling Los Angeles never lifts and grows thicker with every immigrant added. One can’t help appreciate the streets of Paris will soon become the streets of LA. However, Paris’ streets erupted [referring to the race riots of November 2005] while LA’s shall sink into a Third World quagmire much like Bombay...”

Now do you know why I think Raj Thackeray is doing us non-Mumbaikars and non-Marathi manoos chaps a huge favour? He’s telling us to stay away from the mouldy Big Pav he plans to lord over.