December 04, 2006

Before the left turn

MidDay carries my Monday column today, some thoughts after a walkabout last week.

I called it "Before the Left Turn", they changed it to "The Day After", haven't found it on the Web yet, so here it is.


Before the Left Turn

Finding myself in Worli on Friday morning with time on my hands, I decide to stroll through an area that had figured in news reports from the previous day. Lots of violence across the city and state, and describing some of its perpetrators, the "Hindustan Times" wrote: "Jobless young boys stand around in groups by the road. They are often easily provoked [and] roused into angry responses."

The "young boys" the report refers to live down the road from Worli Naka, the sprawling collection of dark buildings with compounds in between that's known as BDD Chawl. Yes, any time there's an expression in this city of what's referred to as Dalit anger, you can be sure you'll see articles -- like this one -- about BDD, usually referring to it as "decrepit". They will also refer -- as this one does -- to "dusty" Jamboree Maidan, on the same street, the scene of storied city political battles.

I've been here before to talk to residents. Today, I just want to stroll. To get a sense of the place, the climate, maybe even the dust.

Several police vehicles are parked at the Worli Naka end of the street, uniformed cops spilling out. Several are women, a line sitting on a bench. I walk behind them and in from the Naka along GM Bhosle Marg, wondering idly if I'm going to see stones fly through the air, or carpeting the ground beneath my feet, or some other signs of violence, yesterday and today.

No signs, at least not in the time I'm in the area.

Oh yes, I do see plenty of young men. Two brush past me, adjust their wraparound dark glasses, get on a motorbike and are gone. Another clump surrounds a lone NDTV van and a reporter who is adjusting his cables and microphone in anticipation of hitting the air soon. More step in and out of mitra mandals, a profusion of those (Bhogadevi, Neelamber and more) in BDD Chawl. Still others are drinking chai, or reading the paper, or getting themselves shaved, or wolfing down a breakfast snack. Women heft bags of vegetables. People in every direction, this morning. Yet nobody looks obviously "angry and embittered" (as still another news report says the young men here are). Nobody looks ready to be "provoked into angry responses".

Though admittedly, I would hardly know about anger and bitterness from simply looking at faces.

Lots of Shiv Sena flags and posters, including large images of the Thackerays, father and son. Also prominent are portraits of the nephew Thackeray, a few of his blue, orange and green flags here and there.

Jamboree Maidan is, yes, dusty. Kids play cricket on it, dodging between the poles that hold up Sena posters as they run about. Just past is an establishment with the utterly incongruous name of "Rosemary and Thyme Food and Hospitality Services." Soon after that are two bus stops named for the junction just ahead, where Bhosle Marg meets Pandurang Budhkar Marg: Comrade Pra. Kri. Kurne Chowk.

Put that "Comrade" together with the various Thackeray posters and we have a reminder of who once dominated politics in this solidly working class neighbourhood -- the left -- and who are jockeying to dominate today.

And oddly, that reminder takes my thoughts back a few years, to the evening I spent with a college Hindi teacher in his one-room home somewhere in the vastness of BDD chawl. (So vast, I wouldn't know how to begin locating him now that we've lost touch with each other). As his wife brewed three cups of aromatic tea, we talked of many things: politics, his career, his UP hometown ... But I remember most clearly his quiet, yet startling passion when he said: "They send bricks from all over the world to build that temple in Ayodhya. But will they ever send bricks to build houses for us dalits?"

He looked at me sternly as he said this, as if I was a brick-dispatcher too. But I don't know that he really expected me to answer. There in his dingy BDD chawl room, over tea and biscuits, this teacher made sure I got a lesson in the reality of caste in his life, every day of his life. No, for him in the anonymity of this great city, it wasn't about entering temples, nor drinking water from wells. "When we see these bricks arriving," he said, "that's when we know what caste still means in our lives."

Not that this has much to do with what happened yesterday. But I'm lost in these memories as I walk past the bus stops. Which is why a bus coming to a stop there nearly bumps me; the driver honks to get me to skip out of the way. I look up to see that it has wiremesh grills tied with bright yellow string to all its windows and the windscreen.

Now there's a reminder of the violence this city suffered yesterday. No violence today, at least not here.

At Kurne Chowk I turn left. No political symbolism in saying that, believe me. Just a few yards up the road is a Siemens plant. Struck by the modern Siemens building, I stop and stare for a few seconds, then retrace a few steps to look again at the soaring rafters of Mahindra Towers on Bhosle Marg itself. These and other such around me, a stunning contrast to BDD that's only a stone's throw away.

India circa 2006 in microcosm, evident from right here on this intersection named for a forgotten Comrade: the teeming decrepitude of BDD, the mute glassy elegance of plush commercial complexes.

Several extremely stylishly-dressed young women sashay down Budhkar Marg and into Siemens. And it occurs to me that like the building they work in, these women too are unlike any others I've seen this morning.

Before the left turn, that is.


Anonymous said...

Maybe if somebody sent 2 bricks to a Dalit housing project for every brick they contributed to RamJanmabhoomi, it would have been OK ? :-(

If Ambedkar had okayed violent protests as response to statue desecration that would have been OK too? :-(


Anonymous said...

"They send bricks from all over the world to build that temple in Ayodhya. But will they ever send bricks to build houses for us dalits?"

They destroy property and kill people when Dr.Ambedkar's statue is descrated in Kanpur.But will they march to Kherlanji and get hold of the buthers of the Bhotmange family and skin them alive(I hope and pray they do)?

I fail to understand the liberal logic and their tendency to push every blame into the Hindu right's lap.Was there no caste in India before the Ram Janmabhoomi ?movement?Why should the bricks for the temple remind somebody of his caste?Beats me !!

Anonymous said...

Dilip, great post ! loved the subtle way you touched at the sea change in the city's politics and people. think its not really about Dalit violence but something more than that. Answer to which would one day perhaps change this country. Nicely done !!

Anonymous said...

Someone has copied your post verbatim

Sidhusaaheb said...

Bricks...temple...destroying Mosques...Secular, Socialist, Democratic Republic of India (as per the Constitution of India) or The Hindu Republic of India...

Incidentally, there have been no 'mass movements' to tear down places of worship or mass murder in the form of communal riots in any of the 'Islamic Republics' (including Pakistan...and yes, there are minorities including Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in Pakistan) as there have been in India.

Mera Bharat mahaan!

India shining!

As for the Dalits, the last thing they need is job reservations and the 'anger' and 'reaction' on account of a statue being 'desecrated' sounds like a lot of bulls***, quite like the stories we've heard earlier in the cases of mass-murder in the form of communal riots (all stories fed to us by the political parties that organised these riots and reaped rich dividends thereafter, of course, in the form of huge election victories).