Recently Shobhaa De made an appearance on Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate and had a few answers to questions from Karan about the MNS, Raj Thackeray, Mumbai vs Bombay etc etc. I did not catch the interview on TV, but came across the transcript on the Cnn-IBN website.
This article is critical of Shobhaa De. But that does mean that I am against Maharashtrians. If your brain is so small, you should not be on this site anyway. I personally believe that Maharashtrians’ economic status, jobs and culture – all are important issues under threat. And I would write about my suggestions for them too. But this is specific to the interview.
Karan Thapar was, as usual, banal. Perhaps the medium demands it, but I can’t believe these silly, black or white questions are the best that he can come up with.
Shobhaa De disappointed me, though. She had stuff to say, sure, but not much of that would stand up to scrutiny in my opinion.
I say this as a Malayali who landed in Mumbai in 1994, slowly moved up in life, had to deal with a lot of Maharashtrians and made friends with quite a few of them.
Still her understanding of the issues seem peripheral to me; with or without MNS and Raj Thackeray.
First, let me go through the interview and try to intersperse my comments wherever I think she has got it wrong.
Karan Thapar: … Today, when people come from outside Maharashtra to live in Mumbai, do they have as much a claim on the city as Maharashtrians or is it Maharashtrians first and everyone afterwards?
Shobhaa De: In fact it’s quite to the contrary – it’s Maharashtrians’ last and everyone else’s first. I don’t blame the ‘everybody else’ and I don’t look at them as outsiders. I think Maharashtrians need to do a great deal of inward thinking and inward looking to figure out for themselves as to why the city’s complexion has changed the way it has and why it has been hijacked – in their minds – by outsiders who are laying claim to it.
I have a problem with that first line. That is typical defeatist thinking. Everybody else is not first, and Maharashtrians are surely not last in Mumbai. If you are poor or lower-middle class like how I was when I landed in Mumbai, the Maharashtrians you meet are often rude, impolite, make sarcastic remarks about your Hindi (or the lack of it, and Marathi too).
I have seen several taxi drivers and security guards complaining of bad behaviour from Maharashtrians. Things change the higher up you go. At the socially and financially higher levels of society, there are no Maharashtrians in any significant number to be rude to you. As I earned more money, I could divorce myself from the Maharashtrian-dominated lower classes and move to the upper middle class levels in society where interaction with Maharashtrians was lesser. So, if we are talking about the North Indians and their life in Mumbai, they deal with Maharashtrians – hotel waiters, peons, labourers, cops – and they are definitely have a bad time.
Shobhaa De also says, ‘It has been hijacked in their minds.” She means Mumbai. She is right, and she is wrong. How so?
If you look at Mumbai, the population of Mumbai is largely non-Maharashtrian. So population-wise, Mumbai has been hijacked. In what other sense? Culturally? But when was culturally Mumbai a city of Maharashtrians? It never was. Despite being the capital, it was never the cultural capital of Maharashtra. That was Pune. This was a British city, where a lot of people moved into, including Maharashtrians. But outsiders who came were more dynamic – as most Maharashtrians would admit – and took over business and enterprise, while the less enterprising, culturally oriented Maharashtrians could not afford to live in a more and more extensive city and slowly started moving out to the suburbs.
Later, Shobaa De says this,” I am definitely saying that Maharashtrians are getting a raw deal in Mumbai.”
In some ways, this might be true. Especially in the case of Railways. But I am yet to make up my mind on it. Maharashtrians say Railways conspire to ensure Maharashtrians do not enter railways, and do not advertise job openings and tests in local newspapers. I have heard that that it is just propaganda. I do not know the truth, but this has to be investigated. The latest exams, where MNS activists beat up Bihari and UP students, were advertised in Lokmat and Loksatta. So that particular protest was just an excuse. But it is possible, and preference to locals in unskilled jobs should be given. Why not? I think there are existing laws for that anyway. But then, it also depends on whether a lot of Maharashtrians are available to fill those jobs. The average Maharashtrian is not interested in low level jobs, while the poor Maharashtrian is in the villages.
Shobhaa De: They are too laid back and also there’s a certain intellectual arrogance which means Maharashtrians will not do the kind of jobs like dhobis (washermen), darbans (attendants), bhel-puri waala (street-food shop owner), taxi driver – which they consider, may be, a little demeaning and beneath themselves. But there are articulate, intelligent, educated Maharashtrians who are also not getting a shot at jobs. I can really understand their peeve too.
Not all Maharashtrians are laid back. I know many who are doing well. While one can figure out they are not really comfortable with the cut-and-thrust and job-hopping of the new economy, they do it well enough to reap the benefits. Shiv Sena leaders themselves were reported in the media often saying that “our boys do not want to do service jobs” like a salesman’s job. But I object when she says that articulate, intelligent Maharashtrians are not getting jobs.
I came across the educated Maharashtrian only when I joined a company where the majority of employees were Maharashtrian. Now, this company was owned by a Punjabi – a lot of the senior guys were from across the country. But most jobs easily went to the local Marathi boys and girls. Why? These were the articulate, skilled, capable boys and girls – and it was easier to find them! You just had to ask one Maharashtrian employee if he knew anyone who was good enough for a specific job, and he would definitely bring you some good people.
When I made friends with Maharashtrian colleagues, I also noticed that if they were smart and articulate, the entire spectrum of jobs in Mumbai became open to them. They were as good as they wanted to be. I personally think these Marathi boys and girls were really good, and the younger ones would be even better. So they were slow in learning to exploit the financial capital of India, but that won’t last and they will be as deadly as any of the new generation in a few years from now.
Karan Thapar: … First, the people who live in Mumbai should speak Marathi. Do you agree with that?
Shobhaa De: Well, if you go to West Bengal, Karan, do you hear anything but Bengali being spoken? Does anyone mind? You go to Karnataka, do you hear anything but Kannada being spoken? If you go to Tamil Nadu, do you hear anything but Tamil being spoken? So in that sense, may be a disconnect is happening in Mumbai. People think Mumbai belongs to all of India and therefore not parochially bound.
Karan Thapar: They are forgetting it’s a Maharashtrian city?
Shobhaa De: In a way, yes. Also, it’s a Maharashtrian city, people who choose to live there should learn and speak Marathi. If I were to make West Bengal my home, I jolly well learn Bengali. If I choose to live in Punjab, I should learn to speak in Punjabi. All the signages, all over India, happen to be in two languages, sometimes in three. You go anywhere in India, the signages are in local script. Why is it that Mumbai is being picked on for insisting on both signages – Devnagiri, which is also Marathi, and English.
Ah. Now this is worth talking about.
Shobhaa De, MNS, Raj Thackeray, SHiv Sena and Maharashtrians are right when they say that in most big cities in India, the local language is the prevalent language. But it is not entirely right, too. Bangalore has a lot of outsiders, and they often speak in Hindi or English. But generally she is right when she talks about other cities and comapre them to Mumbai.
Mumbai is, like it or not, so far, India’s only real cosmopolitan city. There is no other city like that in India. Not even Delhi.
(Well, Maharashtrians may not want it that way if that means Marathi culture may be destroyed by that cosmopolitan city – but that’s another article I am going to write later.)
It is a city where money speaks. It is, or was, as capitalist as one could get in India. In an aggressive business-oriented city, people speak what works. If all the CEOs in Mumbai, all the stock brokers, all the factory owners, all the IT company management were moneyed Maharashtrians, all their employees would be speaking in Marathi too. I know I would be.
There is something I once told a Maharashtrian friend. While discussing the language issue, I said, “See, you are a Maharashtrian. But I am Mallu. I am slowly learning Hindi and speaking it, but not Marathi. Why? Because apart from you and my colleagues here, I hear Marathi spoken by cops, bais, coolies, bus drivers and conductors. I do not hear it being spoken by my CEO or any CEO. My interviews happen in English.”
This is not to insult the Marathi language. But it is the true state of affairs. It is a language with a rich cultural heritage, which I often suspect is superior than my mother-tongue. But I am here to make a life for myself, and I would choose the language which helps me do that. For me, in Mumbai, it was English and to a lesser extent, Hindi. Not Marathi, by a long stretch.
Mumbai, like all cosmopolitan cities, speaks what works. None of the other cities in Shobhaa’s list are cosmopolitan – and they are nowhere near Mumbai in anything. Sure, I can go to Thiruvananthapuram and speak all I want in Malayalam. But I am here because this is where I can make a life.
Respect is earned – not legislated.
Back to Shobhaa De now.
Shobhaa De: You don’t hear Marathi in Mumbai anymore. You just don’t hear it. You try and ask for directions – stop anyone on the road – and chances are they’ll say we have no idea because we’ve come from UP or Bihar or wherever
Karan Thapar: So this, in a sense, irks Maharashtrians – the fact that in their capital you don’t hear Marathi, that UP-ites, Biharis and Punjabis seem to dominate irritates them.
Shobhaa De: I would definitely say so because the educated may think it politically incorrect to state as much but the feeling lingers.
Karan Thapar: But not to the extent of dominate Maharashtrians in Maharashtra.
Shobhaa De: And pushing them out of their own capital.
Shobhaa De: When you have slogans written all over the walls in Mumbai saying, ‘UP hamari hai, ab Maharashtra ki baari hai’ (UP is ours, now for Maharahtra)
Marathi is very much heard in Mumbai. Maybe Shobhaa De moves in elite circles where are there are not too many Maharashtrians. It is not heard enough to satisfy everyone for sure. But like I said before, in Mumbai, people do what works. If Maharashtrians are only 35 %, chances are, conversations would be in Hindi, Marathi and English. I can say that I hear English in Mumbai much less than Marathi – and as a financial capital, English should be heard more. What you hear is irrelevant if it works.
And I have stopped people on the road and asked for directions. People do not know where many places are because it is often confusing. It is only in small towns of India that everyone knows where every place is. The same happens in Delhi and Bangalore.
Nobody ‘pushes’ Maharashtrians out of Mumbai. If I have a house to sell, and if a Mahrashtrian offers me more money than a South Indian or a Punjabi or a North Indian, I would sell it to him. If Maharashtrians are finding it difficult to stay in the city, that is because a lot of them are not doing financially as well as the newcomers.
But that is capitalism. You have to fight and compete. And competing is new for Maharashtrians, but they are learning it.
But the newcomers are definitely more driven than Maharashtrians, so it is natural. People who come from another place to make a life have more desire to really work hard and do it. People who were in a place for generations are not that aggressive in using every opportunity. It is pretty normal. Like I said, Maharashtrians are learning how to do that, and in another 10 or twenty years, a lot of Maharashtrians would be back as they can afford the cost of living. It is not great to hear, but again, thats how a growing city works. Blame capitalism if you want, but that’s all there is to it.
The slogans? I don’t think those slogans are everywhere – but it is obviously a response by SP to MNS. SP is obviously trying to fish in troubled waters. It is a challenge by SP to MNS. It is not a challenger to Maharashtrians. Unfortunately, if we think we are with MNS, it would affect us. The way to deal with it is to ignore it. That is the rational way.
Karan Thapar: So you are saying that intellectuals either support Raj Thackeray or oppose him but don’t stay silent.
Shobhaa De: I am saying speak up, whatever your point of view is. You agree or you don’t, it’s not Raj Thackeray who’s the issue, it’s the pride of Maharashtra that’s at stake.
It is because of the our goonda, your goonda mentality. Why do a lot of people support the Bajrang Dal even they are disgusted by their violence? They are our goondas. That’s why. Same goes for MNS. A lot of intellectuals understand the feelings of Maharashtrians, and they do not have a sensible Maharashtrian alternative to Raj Thackeray. Why are they not forming that alternative? Raj Thackeray’s (and Shiv Sena’s) reaction to public criticism of them would be to beat you up.
Street plays? Thrash them. Abuse them. Intellectuals are not used to dealing with things acording to the rules of the street – and that is where Thackerays excel. I would not want to be the intellectual who offers a criticism of Thackeray and then get beaten up when I walk out of the house. Kumar Ketkar, editor of leading Marathi daily Loksatta was attacked because he wrote what he thought was wasteful expenditure when there were bigger issues. MNS and Sena do not appreciate criticism, and you would not want to be at the receiving end. This is not a debating society – coherent arguments about pros and cons about Maharashtrian issues, and Sena-MNS tactics would be answered with a punch to the face.
My feeling is that Shobhaa De too has fallen prey to the us-or-them mentality. It is normal too. For those who think I am against her or Maharashtrians or MNS or Sena, I would like to clarify that this article is about the particular interview of Shobhaa De. It was written for the express purpose of debunking what she said.
My next article would be about the real problems of Maharashtrians. The way I see it, the jobs issue and the Marathi pride issue are not one issue, they are two. And I will tackle both of them soon.
A lot of Maharashtrians are making the mistake of identifying themselves with Sena or MNS. Just because someone says some things which appeal to you, that does not mean they are your representatives. Decent people can only be represented by other decent people.
There is no representative to the real Maharashtrian at this point, and there is a big market for one. A decent guy who understands and speaks to the Maharashtrians as well as others and who does not use violence as a means. It is only because such a personality is absent that Maharashtrians are forced to support the MNS or Sena. In my opinion, thats a mistake.