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Kumar Ketkar: Survival instinct, not spirit, defines Mumbai

Friday, 15 July 2011 - 10:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Everyone talks about Mumbai’s so-called resilience but no one really cares for the Mumbaikar’s survival

Mumbai has learnt over the years to take life and death in its stride. In that respect, Mumbai has achieved 'equality'. Death here does not discriminate between rich and poor, Hindu or Muslim, SC, OBC or Brahmin. It may seem cynical to say so, but it is not the much applauded 'courage' that defines the so-called 'spirit' of Mumbai. It is simply the 'survival instinct', which all organisms have.

What distinguishes Mumbai from other metros is that the average Mumbaikar is desensitised, not detached in the spiritual sense. Like Peter Sellers in the film Being There, the Mumbaikar has grown beyond human relationships.

That does not mean he does not come forward to help a person in distress. The Mumbaikar is often seen going out of his way, at any hour of the day or night, to rescue an unknown man or woman from an accident or fire. He will donate blood, call an ambulance, or gather neighbours for the funeral of a relatively unknown member of his housing society. He will also contribute money for noble causes and occasionally participate in a candlelight march to protest against an abstract enemy.

All this creates the impression of a noble, spirited, courageous, vibrant Mumbaikar. Private TV channels have promoted this brand image of the Mumbaikar, which is now imprinted in the national psyche. But the average Mumbaikar is not impressed by these paeans because he has imbibed the corporate culture, which has taught him that a 'brand image' is a hyped promotional campaign. His feet are on the ground and he knows the difference between his awful existential reality and the razzmatazz generated by the brand image.

After the bomb blasts killed 17 and injured 130 on Wednesday, nearly 31 months after the glorified tragedy of 26/11, Mumbai was back on the channels, with all the usual praise for its courage and spirit. But nobody cares for the Mumbaikar's daily survival. Nearly 4,000 people die every year on the rail tracks in Mumbai as they travel in mobile concentration camps. Most of these robotised Mumbaikars leave home early in the morning and reach home late at night, only to get up and leave again next morning. More than 65% live (they call it life) in slums or dilapidated chawls or on footpaths or railway platforms.

The death of a neighbour, colleague, co-passenger, family member or relative, or hospitalisation of someone in the family, is so common that 'Death' is the only reality. Life is a virtual manifestation. TV serials, Bollywood, Page 3 parties, celebrity events, as well as the Sensex and gold or silver prices are perfect reflections of that virtual world. The elite have fallen in love with this virtual manifestation and the non-elite have been chloroformed into accepting it.

So it was perfectly expected that the bomb blasts would generate media heat along with the blast dust. Now even the media is mentally trained to cover disasters and tragedies and keep their screens on 24x7. So nobody even realised that in just one fell stroke of the IED, the Lokpal debate and the Anna hype had disappeared in smoke.

The media had found yet another tragedy for its TRPs.

Mumbaikars took the miserable traffic jams, the rains, the depressing sights of the injured, the benumbing pictures of the fire and destruction in their stride. They also took the usual criticism of the government being indifferent to terrorism and opposition on its feet, having got yet another opportunity to be visible and audible, in the same 'spirit'.

The invisible hand of Dawood Ibrahim and the ISI, defining life or death of the Mumbaikar, surfaced again in conversations in trains, buses and groups. In Muslim ghettos, there was unspoken fright and silent preparation for any eventuality. Among the extremist saffron groups and individuals, there was private venom against 'them', as if all of 'them' are followers of Kasab.

The lie that the blasts took place on Kasab's birthday was so widespread that even the media believed and propagated it. Actually, the spread and acceptance of that lie also shows the unconscious reality of cosmopolitan Mumbai.

The wise talking heads on English channels will not even mention this unconscious reality because it is politically incorrect. The hyped language channels, on the other hand, will not only invoke Kasab but even Afzal Guru, because most of them do not even bother to protect social sanity and peace. Militant saffron netas appeared on some language channels reminding them of religion and patriotism, rolled into one. The blasts, the investigations, the arrests, the human tragedies will now dominate TV screens for a couple of weeks till there is some other 'story'.

Life in Mumbai will carry on out of compulsion of survival, and the talking heads will compliment them for their spirit, courage and glory of the Metro lifestyle!
The writer is editor-in-chief of Divya Marathi, a sister publication

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