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Brave New World - Sutanu Guru - The Sunday Indian
An IIPM Initiative
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Maharashtra: The Best and Worst of India

Brave New World


The Bombay of the early 1990s opened a world hitherto unseen and the doors of perception had truly been opened, remembers Sutanu Guru
SUTANU GURU | Issue Dated: April 14, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Maharashtra | BIMARU states | Ayodhya movement |

My first encounter with Maharashtra was pristine, ivory tower, innocent and almost like a first love. A small town hick from one of the BIMARU states, I was dreaming of pursuing a Masters in Economics from the hallowed JNU after my graduation. But there was a strike in 1983 in JNU and we were not sure if they will admit students from BIMARU states (Yeah, I know there was no Internet in those days). I was advised to try my hand at Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics which was highly regarded. After some sniggers and snide suggestions about my pronunciation and conversation skills, I was given a place. Boy, how it opened a whole new world for me. And how.

The batch had just 32 students and the hostel where we stayed had just 32 single rooms. There was Fergusson College next door and a small hilltop called a "tekdi" right above the campus. And of course, Deccan Gymkhana, the area where it was located, was full of retired  Maharashtrians who loved taking long early morning walks. Greenery was a given. And the Film Institute was just about 2 kilometers away. Apart from falling in love with a classmate who taught me Marathi, I fell in love with the Servants of India Society library that reminded me of Thomas Hardy and The Bleak House. I also developed a lustful attraction towards one of our young teachers whose name I forget and began to admire a young professor called Bibek Debroy because he used to allow us to smoke in classroom (of course, he was a brilliant teacher too!). Half the batch was from outside Maharashtra and there were the usual vibes about being a local or not. And yet, all differences vanished when we debated the relevance of Baba Amte, the great anti-leprosy fighter and a man that Anna Hazare can never be. All differences vanished when we heard of V. M. Dandekar, the man who sort of started the poverty ratio debate in India. That short man with a white beard and sort of timid jumping steps was someone we held in awe. As we did Bhimsen Joshi who captivated us hicks all night with his magical voice in concerts. You may not believe it, but some of us actually read Marx and Keynes and animated debates over them through the night; sometimes helped by grass, Led Zep and Doors. Without realizing, I had realized I had started conversing in Marathi. But there was a darker side. Once, when me and my Konkan Marathi lady friend and some other friends were buying cigarettes, I was abused in Marathi by some young guys because I made a joke about Marathi. I wanted to respond in anger, but was dragged away by the friends saying it is not worth fighting with goons of some outfit if I recall was called Patitapavan Sena. My Marathi friends were deeply embarrassed because they knew I understood the abuses flung by those goons at me. We forgot all that soon when we started debating the ultimate what if about what would have been the fate of modern India had Baji Rao Peshwa had not been killed in the Third Battle of Panipat. Some of my Marathi friends were Brahmins, and some were from what we now should call the upwardly mobile castes. I used to sense a kind of anger amongst the later whenever there was any praise of Dada Kondke, Maharshi Karve, Bal Gangadhar Tilak or Gopal Krishna Gokhale. To tell you frankly, I was innocent but not a fool. And in 1983, I sensed that some intellectual morons like us were discussing Marx versus Keynes when Maharashtra actually was being ruled by what my then Marxist friends used to call Kulaks (Sharad Pawar might be a good example today). A small town hick like me who wanted to transcend all this could not fathom how educated guys discussing Marx suddenly became subtle caste foes. And then one day I think I lost my lady friend. When she questioned my status as a Brahmin and asserted how Konkan Brahmins were the purest of them, I could not help pointing out why so many Konkani Marathi ladies had blue eyes. And I laughed. And lost.

I visited Pune again in 2007 and in 2011. Before my 2007 trip in a taxi from Bombay (oh, Mumbai), I had nursed dreams of that old world sleepy charm of the city, despite media torts to the contrary. My colleague Devdas introduced me to some activists on the outskirts of Pune. This was the time when anti-North Indian agitations had already gathered momentum. One of the activists was very happy that a senior journalist from Delhi could speak even broken Marathi. He just opened up and said how the locals were being driven to poverty by this new culture of globalization. I was zapped. Later, I attended a prayer cum motivation session of a group that was responsible for destroying the library of the famous Bhandarkar Institute (close to the Gokhale campus). There, I heard so much vitriol against outsiders and so much hatred against Dada Kondke that I realized I am now in a new Maharashtra. I didn't even go to Gokhale. In 2011, one of my relatives who is studying in Pune, it remains a hot education destination, told me that their lives are made miserable by Marathi goons.

That got me thinking about my other major encounter with Maharashtra. I joined The Economic Times as a young hick in 1986 and actually struggled to find a roof. Thanks to a journalist in Maharashtra Times, the local language newspaper, I found shelter and eventually a paying guest accommodation that had six guys, 20 mice and about a 100 cockroaches in Maximum City. I survived. I loved Bombay of that time because it was so open and meritocratic, if you were willing to work hard. Bombay was exhilarating. I mean, I actually could go to the Taj and to attend a Press Conference and drink so called scotch and have chicken tikka. And then then there were those junkets where a bunch of journalists like me (wow I belonged) were flown to places in Indian Airlines flights to peddle a new public issue which is now called an IPO. But most importantly, Bombay of those times was dreams. I still remember my stint in Business World where Dilip Thakore was the editor. I wrote a story on garment exports and he seemed happy with it. I actually got to meet either Ajay or Dilip Piaramal with Dilip in the hallowed corridors of Bombay Gymkhana. I was so excited after that meeting that me and my friends went on a binge that ended in a place called Gokul in Colaba and then lots of food in what is now called Bhendi Bazaar. You know, the waiters who served us food were Muslims, as were the owners of those joints. They looked at you with a snigger. But they didn't give a damn about the nationality, caste, religion or gender of the person who paid the bill. It is not as if we hugged each other. The realization of "difference" was there even then. But it used to be a kind of live and let live. The live and let live dictum was visible even in that famous Anil Ambani-Tina Munim marriage where a huge media contingent from Delhi was invited. By then, I had shifted to Delhi and was part of that contingent. Even back then, in 1991, the fault lines were clearly visible. The Shiv Sena was no longer just a Bombay- centric party whose cadres used vocal and muscle power to do what they wanted to do. It had emerged as a strong political challenge to the Congress.

And of course, the Ayodhya movement had already ruptured the so-called secular fabric of the Maximum City. We all know that Mumbai and Maharashtra have gone downhill.

That Bombay and that Pune and that Maharashtra is gone. Perhaps gone forever. 


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017