Friday, November 22, 2013

Bombay: A Great City And A Terrible Place

By John Cheeran
Biographies are easy to write. There is a beginning and an end, and even if it is not an end in itself, you can keep all irksome questions out. But how about writing a biography of a city, a city that is many things to many people? It is a hugely challenging task and renowned journalist Naresh Fernandes has written a brilliant, short biography of Bombay, titled City Adrift (Aleph, 157p, Rs 275).
This is a political biography of Bombay, without Bollywood and cricket (read, Sachin Tendulkar). What a relief, it is. It is evident from the author’s decision to write the biography of Bombay and not Mumbai. He writes rechristening of the city is still remembered as a refutation of Bombay’s inclusive history.
Even for a reader who has never been to Bombay, the big picture that Fernandes draws with an admirable economy of words, conveys the stench of corruption and compromises of both politicians and those vegetarians in Malabar Hills.
With a honesty that is rare among Indian journalists, Fernandes quotes architect Charles Correa that “Bombay is a great city and a terrible place.” And if you have been to Bombay even once, I’m sure, you would agree with Correa. And the consequence, as the author notes, is that no matter how burdensome life in Bombay seems to become, it’s almost impossible to leave.
Being a Bombayite, Fernandes is worried at the re-islanding of Mumbai. The growing distance between the middleclass Bombay and its poor neighbours is growing. There is no common ground between the two “as the middleclass Bombay shops in access-restricted malls, exercises in parks operated by private developers, trades public transport for air-conditioned cars and aspires to live in gated communities.”
And who is to be blames for the city’s drift?
The author excoriates the middleclass for its inability to understand the source of Bombay’s problems. Its failure to engage with the system and taking recourse in slacktivism comes in for sharp criticism. 
In a biography of Bombay, it is not surprising that you come across the Spirit of Bombay. You don’t come across the Spirit of Delhi in Delhi or the Spirit of Chennai in Chennai. The author, who reported the twin wave of riots in Bombay in the wake of Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 for The Times of India, and the serial bomb blasts in 1993 March, says it was an episode of The World This Week that first paid a tribute to the Spirit of Bombay. Then others followed suit. 
Fernandes writes: “Bombay’s indomitable will has been hailed by its politicians and socialites with such regularity it has become obvious that they’ve used this resilience as an excuse to absolve themselves of the need to take the difficult decisions necessary to actually make the city more liveable. The incessant invocation of Bombay’s spirit is just an attempt to ignore the numbing of another little bit of its soul.”
Changes in Bomaby’s demographics, have enlarged the city’s vocabulary (for eg, Joeshwari is now mini Pakistan). The author says prejudice against Muslims has become so ingrained in Bombay life, the most vitriolic anti-Islamic sentiments can be expressed in polite drawing rooms without an eyebrow being raised. May be everyone knows this part.
All that apart, it is not easy to kill Bombay. Save Bombay cries have been there as early as 1974. It has survived so long. Bombay is now home to nine of the 15 richest Indians and has the world’s seventh highest concentration of high-net-worth individuals. Don’t they want to improve the quality of life in a city that they share with 12 million others? Or cheering Mumbai Indians is enough to prove their commitment to Bombay?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dhoni, is there a conspiracy? End the Master’s agony, please.

By John Cheeran
What’s happening, guys? I thought today, and the next four days, was all about Sachin Tendulkar’s tryst with exit from the game. But a moron of a cricketer, who happens to lead Indian team now, has taken a strange decision after winning the toss at the Wankhede. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has put the West Indies to bat first.
Come on, on all counts, the second Test against the West Indies is inconsequential in the grand narrative of Indian cricket. It is just another Test. The series can’t be lost with the innings win in the first Test at Kolkata.
Make no mistake, this Test is all about Tendulkar. And his 200th Test. His final Test.
The most sensible and charitable decision on the part of the Indian captain should have been choosing to bat first. In Tests, the accepted wisdom is to bat first in any case. And you don’t have to dream up a strategy against this bunch of West Indians, who are hardly up for the challenge of playing through five days, quite clearly demonstrated at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
So what’s the reason behind putting Tendulkar on the field to chew his nails, waiting for his turn to bat, who knows when? Is there a conspiracy to deny Tendulkar his final run?
Yes, of course, India will have its first innings sooner or later. But, Dhoni, why this pretence that all of a sudden you are interested in the game than its illustrious servant? And, of all times, now?
The West Indies will crumble in any case. And it would have been a more practical decision for India to bat first and put up a huge score, giving all its batsmen a chance to build their innings with care and conviction, including Tendulkar?
Did Tendulkar have any say in this decision? I doubt. Wouldn’t he have been interested in stepping out to play his last innings without being hurried, recalling some of his best knocks, while Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay soften up the friendly West Indian bowlers? With Cheteshwar Pujara stepping in between, Tendulkar could have been perfectly primed for his parting shot.
For all that, Dhoni should have remembered that cricket fans have flocked to the Wankhede not to see him or his bunch of cricket enthusiasts in the XI. They have come to see Sachin Tendulkar and see him hold the bat, man.
Or has someone, a marketing wizard, advised Dhoni that this is the best way to keep fans at the stadium and across living rooms in India in suspense? To keep them watching a few more commercials?
You don’t believe me, right? Believe.

John Cheeran at Blogged