If ever confirmation was needed that Mumbai’s psyche is wrapped in denial, and not in sync with that of India and the world, last fortnight provided it.
Three events, and the way Mumbai took part in them, are ample testimony. Bal Thackeray’s demise, Ajmal Kasab’s execution and ‘Uncle’ Sachin Tendulkar’s debacle at the Wankhede have exposed that Mumbai refuses to accept that times have changed, that it is no longer India’s pre-eminent metro.
I think it was media personality M J Akbar who delivered a sharp rebuke more than two decades ago that Bombay should establish “diplomatic relations with India”.
That was when Bombay’s reputation as the capital of everything – media discourse, fashion, culture, high society lifestyle, corporate games, market moves, prime property, art, films, fast-and-efficient city commutes and what not – was secure. That made Bombayites so full of themselves.
Bombay was the world. The world did not exist. India – what/where was that? Oh, wasn’t it incidental that, politically and geographically, Bombay was part of India?
Last fortnight has shown things have not improved much. Mumbaikars may still rise to the national anthem at cinemas, but deep down, they resent that all their ‘glory’ has been lost (or stolen by Delhi, Bangalore and other cities), I think.
But they wish to delude themselves, or make others believe, that they still matter more than others.
Although India and the world at large do not figure much in Mumbai’s collective consciousness, Mumbaikars seek them from time to time to show the metro still exists, that it matters. So events like Bal Thackeray’s funeral or 26/11-related hanging (even if it took place in Pune) are milked dry, to deflect national and international attention on to the metro.
After all, the annual monsoon mess, of late the only event that brings copious media attention to the city, had given a miss this time. When other cities skip Test cricket, Mumbaikars descend in thousands on the Wankhede as much to reinforce their fame as aficionados of the game as to root for their favourite but furiously failing ‘God’.
If ever faced with a ‘Mumbai or India?’ quandary, the choice would be easy for Mumbaikars. Witness the way they reacted to Pujara’s dismissal in India’s second innings. They welcomed the new batting sensation to the crease alright with almighty loud screams of “Pu-ja-ra, Pu-ja-ra...”, but the moment he got out, signalling a probable defeat, there was a louder, deafening applause! What gives?
Why, ‘God’ is in next; Mumbai is in, celebrate – never mind India could be out; never mind if this is an India-England match. (By the way, Hyderabad has thrashed Mumbai in Ranji; Mumbai is no longer the cradle of Indian cricket. Even films and books are set elsewhere.)
Thackeray, Tendulkar and the Terrorist – in a sense, all of them belong(ed) to the past, but Mumbaikars needed them to feel significant in the present. That begs the question: Why is Mumbai in denial?
I can only theorise that denial and the attendant make-believe help Mumbaikars to cope with the pain of having lost their
pre-eminence and the shame of now having to negotiate sub-human conditions and sub-optimal infrastructure in the metro every day. Both denial and make-believe, I suspect, are attempts by people to take others along with themselves from reality to fantasy. But, doesn’t that perpetuate the status quo and trap one in a rut?