Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Obsessed with Bom Bahia?

“The trouble with poetry is that it doesn’t call a spade a spade. Anthropomorphic language tends to confuse every issue. For instance, if you call a piece of real estate motherland or fatherland, you’re bound to confound the confusion by believing yourself in the role of her/his gallant son/daughter and transferring a host of human attributes and emotions to her/him.” http://digbig.com/5bamsx. This applies to a city, as well. No matter what anyone says, in the final analysis, it is no more than a swath of real estate. Like the city named Mumbai, the erstwhile Bombay, believed by some to be the Anglicization of the Portuguese name ‘Bom Bahia’ (= good bay or good harbour), when it changed hands from Portugal to Great Britain as a part of Catharine de Braganza’s trousseau when she married Charles II in 1662. The Portuguese first visited the good bay in 1509 and grabbed it from Bahadur Shah of Gujrat in 1530. Citing documents dated from 1525, a leading Portuguese etymological authority, José Pedro Machado, traced the origin of the name to the Marathi term ‘Mumba Devi’, the city deity. From it came the name Mombaim later modified to Bombaim and probably further to Bom Bahia, he argued. Be that as it may, when the British got their hands on Bombay, it was an archipelago of seven islands: Colaba. Little Colaba, Bombay, Mazgaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim from South to North. After Shivaji’s plunder of Surat in 1664, the East India Company shifted its operation to Bombay in 1668 paying an annual lease rent of £10 sterling to the Royal Family – an arrangement confirmed by William III in 1669. A securely fortified area for the British officials’ work and living spaces – known as ‘Fort’ even today – was built on the largest island, Bombay, with only three gates (Apollo Gate to the South, Bazaar Gate to the North and Church Gate to the West) as the sole access to it. Within the Fort, there were offices, shops, commercial establishments, warehouses and churches. The locals, among them quite a few Pathare Prabhu Sokajis http://digbig.com/5bamtc, used to enter the Fort in the morning and quit it in the evening using the North or the West Gates. A step in 1860 to consolidate the seven islands was the building of the Colaba Causeway (now Shahid Bhagatsingh Marg) from Sassoon Dock at the South end to Museum at the North. Around 1782, Lord William Hornby, Governor of Bombay, started the Hornby Vellard project as a first step to connect all the islands north of the Bombay island. Ramji Shivaji Parbhu, a Pathare Prabhu contractor, got the contract. The idea behind it was to construct a bund that would prevent sea water from flooding the areas neighbouring the Worli Creek at high tide. According to one legend, during the construction, the sea wall kept collapsing till a Laxmi idol was recovered from the sea and was consecrated in the specially built Mahalaxmi Temple close to Haji Ali. The second stage of the reclamation was to fill in the shallows between the islands of Parel, Worli, Bombay, Mazagaon and Mahim with a bund to stop sea water intruding into the nearby areas. The Governor went ahead with the project in spite of the Company Directors saying No to his proposal and was reportedly sacked for his insubordination.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Irony of ironies.

Cliché of clichés! What to do? Jawaharlal Nehru wrote on p.333 of his An Autobiography (London, 1953) that he was “attracted to the idea of losing the house [the ancestral Anand Bhavan in Allahabad]. I felt that would bring me nearer to the peasants who were being dispossessed…”. This was the state of his mind after his father Motilal’s death on 6 February 1931. Jawaharlal had been active in the cause of the peasantry since 1920. He had walked with them under the scorching sun, listened patiently to their tales of exploitation and dispossession and even managed to lessen their misery to some extent owing to the moral pressure exerted on the Goverment and the landlords by the agrarian movement of which he had become a part. In fact, his first glimpse of the UP peasantry had, according to his own admission (ibid., page 52), filled him “with shame and sorrow, shame at my own easy-going and comfortable life and our own petty politics of the city which ignored the vast multitude of semi-naked sons and daughters of India, and sorrow at degradation and overwhelming poverty of India.” Nonetheless, after independence, the same Jawaharlal thought nothing of dispossessing the Indian peasantry for building his temples of modern India (mega dams and mammoth public sector undertakings). He did nothing to stop the ruthless and venal Indian State from appropriating all the national resources with impunity and in the process dispossessing the already impoverished masses. http://digbig.com/5bamam.

Worse than yesterday and today.

I’m no futurologist. Neither am I a born pessimist. What I’m about to write is based on observation. I could be totally off the mark when I say that life will get worse and worse – never better hereafter. Ever after. That is going to happen because mankind has been profligate all along. What’s more, we refuse to learn from our mistakes. In Mumbai, for example, water will become scarcer and scarcer as high-rises keep rising all over the landscape and people callously insist on taking long showers, soaking in tubs and using high-end washing machines that waste water. Soon, power cuts may become pandemic even in South Bombay – oops, Mumbai. The recent Congress Party’s call for austerity should have been contextualized properly. They should have placed it squarely in the framework of the coming drought of resources which is likely to last for a long, long time in the absence of a miracle like a technological breakthrough or a major geological find. In the interim, we have to make the best we can of what is available. Greed (sorry, Mr Gordon Gekko http://digbig.com/5bakah) is no more good. It’s time we cease and desist outdoing the Americans in greed, profligacy and venality and learn to husband our scarce resources and share them with the less fortunate among us. This is not a sermon, mind you. It’s merely an opinion and a reminder.