In Nana, Mumbai has lost one of its best friends
The first time I met Nana Chudasama was in early 1994. I was editing a city tabloid. He was one of Mumbai’s best-known denizens. The paper was doing a story on “What Makes Mumbai Tick?’’ and he looked like an apt respondent.
“Hard work,’’ Nana replied in his gravelly voice, adding “because the rest of the country hardly works,’’ before breaking into his trademark (as I got to know) gregarious laughter.
This was obviously said in jest, but there was a sense of pride in Mumbai that was ingrained in Nana, evident in the many projects and endeavours he undertook in his life, which earned him appreciation and renown.
From the mid-1990s till the first decade of this century, whenever newspapers I edited would compile lists about Mumbai’s most prominent citizens (or “institutions” as we grandiosely termed them), Nana’s name would figure somewhere at the top. This exercise was gimmicky no doubt and always great fun, but also laced with hard debate in the newsroom about the “worthiness’’ of the nominee. Obviously subjective, the selection criteria went beyond just success and achievement in vocation/business.
The crucial determinant for selection we decided was whether the nominees, through their work or persona, reflected the “Bombay mindset”, bringing out the myriad flavours that define this wonderful city and set an example for the rest of the country: robust spirit of enterprise, strong work ethic, high creative quotient, excellence in chosen field(s) of endeavour.
The choices would be drawn from across the spectrum – business, social work, politics, cinema, sports et al. Since journalists will usually pull in different directions because of knowledge/expertise acquired on their respective beats and their convictions, making up this roster was never easy.
Essentially the list was made up of stalwarts who dominated media space as well as public conversation. Among the regulars I recall from early lists were, not unpredictably, advertising guru Alyque Padamsee (recently deceased), politicians “paaniwali bai” Mrinal Gore and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, actors Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, business tycoons JRD Tata Dhirubhai Ambani, cricketers Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, numbers whiz Shakuntala Devi, columnist Behram Contractor (aka Busybee), cartoonist RK Laxman.
Added to this line-up -- which changed a fair bit over the years -- was also Nana Chudasama. Regularly. I found this most interesting because unlike the others, he couldn’t be typecast and fit into a sharp definition: rather, he was like an omnibus collection of passions and pursuits.
His most visible and popular calling card was the banner he put up at Marine Drive, (above the restaurant Pizzeria), for many decades. Through this, he would pronounce his take on the biggest talking point of the week, whatever the subject.
This would be sharp, usually acerbic, but delightfully pithy, capturing in a few words what others would need reams of pages to articulate, and found high resonance among the people of the city, making him immensely popular. Yet Nana’s influence was not restricted to just this banner. Over a quarter of a century of knowing him, his multi-faceted interests became evident.
He tracked politics, business, entertainment, glamour, sports, and media diligently, had friends in all these spheres, and in fact-stitched friendships between diverse groups. This gave him an insider’s perspective, which not only provided him regular grist for creating his popular banner, but also fortified his own understanding of national life, its trends, tugs and pulls. He was not a careerist in the formal sense of the word. He dabbled in business and politics to an extent with success. With his connections, he could have leveraged himself in one or both of these to advantage.
The danger was that he would have got straitjacketed and his other interests would have withered. My surmise is that Nana consciously took a step aside and pursued what he enjoyed the most – being a public spirited man with particular focus on Mumbai.
He founded the NGO Giants International, way back in 1972 and worked assiduously to fight the menace of drugs. Now largely forgotten, at one time he also owned Thackers Bookshop. As Sheriff, he coined the slogan “I Love Bombay” (subsequently Mumbai) not only to inspire the people of the city, but also as a constant reminder to himself of what was closest to his heart.
In Nana’s death, Mumbai has lost one of its best friends. RIP.
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- The 82-year-old activist, who was granted interim bail for six months on medical grounds by the Bombay high court on February 22, was discharged from the private hospital late Saturday night, they said.