It was just another cosmopolitan Sunday in this city by the sea.
Tie-clad men and women in floral hats, dressed like English gentry at Ascot, streamed into the race course in Mumbai for the Indian Derby. They air-kissed. They sipped Champagne. They ogled visiting Brazilian samba dancers. Then they settled into their seats to watch a colt named Hotstepper gallop to victory and a $200,000 prize.
But as many of them returned to the suburbs on the afternoon of Feb. 3, they bumped into a traffic jam whose origins could not have been more remote from the glamorous, globalized Mumbai they inhabit. The roads had clogged because squads of local political cadres were beating migrants from northern India in the latest explosion of nativist violence in this city, inspired on this occasion by a rightist politician named Raj Thackeray.
Mumbai is a city of open arms. More than any other South Asian city, it has lured Muslims, Jews, Christians, Parsees and Hindus, aspiring taxi drivers and wannabe actresses, and melted them into an industrious whole. In a certain elite realm, freedom reigns; women dance on tables in nightclubs, and gays and lesbians flock once a month to a rather uncloseted party called Gay Bombay.
But Mumbai is also, today, teetering between its tradition of liberality and new tendencies toward intolerance.
In recent years, activists have driven into exile famous artists who offend them, closed down museum exhibitions and agitated to have movies banned. A minority of upper-caste Hindus has lobbied to cordon off whole sections of Mumbai as vegetarian zones, effectively excluding Muslims. And now politicians have revived a perennial cause: ridding Mumbai of migrants.
"There is increasing evidence that the pluralist foundations of this country, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, are being subverted by narrow-minded, sectarian zealots," Jug Suraiya, one of the most widely read columnists in India, wrote last week.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan
When I see pictures like this coming from India, I feel angry at the atavistic nature of our politics in my motherland. So much progress, yet regressive ideas like provincialism (and casteism and communalism...) are still potent enough to move some elements of the society to hooliganism. Anand Giridharadas reports: