I spent last weekend in that benevolent dictatorship called Singapore. Three ‘chaddi buddies’ have lived in the country of superhighways and shopping malls for some years now.
Shaikh Faiz, ex-Dongri resident, Ambar Swaroop, former Bandra Boy and Sunny Parekh, spoilt South Mumbaikar — all migrated in the ’90s. Ambar left when Narasimha Rao liberalised, the other two, post the Babri Masjid riots/bomb blasts. As our city burned, Shaikh had a valid point — “Bombay will never be the same again, our rose-tinted glasses have become blood-tainted. Let’s cremate cosmopolitanism.”
But being a die hard Bombayite, I was unable to comprehend people leaving. I’d first attempt gentle persuasion. “How can you forget the days when The Police played live at Rang Bhavan, or when we feasted on chicken rolls dripping with green mayonnaise at the majestic Eros Cinema, or when we tried to pass off as 18 at a matinee show of Summer of ’42? That is the real Bombay, nothing can change that.”
“Nostalgia doesn’t put food on the table,” Ambar would say, dryly.
I’d then resort to Plan B — guilt. “If citizens like you guys leave Mother India/ Mumbai, and become NRIs, what chance does the country have? You’ve sacrificed altruism at the altar of avarice,” I’d say, being dramatically alliterative.
Sunny would look at me, and I’d sense he was torn. “Yeah, you’re right, I have chosen the self over the city. But you can’t make that kind of money in India. Don’t worry, ultimately I want to settle back in the city.”
When nostalgia and guilt failed me as weapons, my final mode of artillery had always been attack. “How can you guys have left your ‘home’ and escaped to a cosmetic South East Asian country?” “Yaar, life here is deadly...no tension, the government takes care of you...look at people’s faces, smiling,” Ambar, would coo, defensively.
And I’d always come back from Singapore feeling a bit superior — not that Mumbai was a sinking ship, but while these ‘rats’ had deserted their city, I had hung in there. This was the city of my birth and no one dared criticise or mess with her. She was our Big Apple.
Today, I find my idealism fading, like a pair of blue denims. Last Sunday, over a bowl of Singaporean soup, I weakly tried my usual patriotic arguments, “What’s the point of living in a country where you can’t protest, what about legal rights, freedom of expression? You’re constantly being monitored. Big Brother is always watching you.”
Ambar looked at me, and this time he wasn’t defensive. “Please stop selling us this dream called Bombay. It has become a nightmare called Mumbai. In our so-called police state, Big Brother might be watching, but he’s also protecting us. In your so-called democracy, four Big Brothers pushed a man off a moving local train, because he refused them a bribe. We’re not coming back.” Nor is the city, I thought.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.