An unnecessary link

The fracas over Amitabh Bachchan’s presence at the Bandra-Worli sealink opening is silly, writes Namita Bhandare.

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Who owns the Bandra-Worli sealink in Mumbai? We know who constructed it. We know who inaugurated the first phase. We know who it is named after. But who owns it? Who can legitimately claim that this sea link belongs to them? The guys who built it and collect toll? The governmentwalas for clearing permissions? The labourers who built it? Can we dare to say that this piece of architecture belongs to the people of Mumbai, those who can afford to travel on it to save commute time as well as to those who cannot; who have to be content to just look?

Now that that question is out of the way, here’s the next one. Who owns Amitabh Bachchan? Clearly, his immediate family has an interest. Clearly his friends, political and otherwise, have an interest. But could you stretch it and say he belongs to lakhs of his fans, not just in Mumbai or Allahabad but all over the world?

When Raj Thackeray huffs and puffs and calls for a boycott of Amitabh Bachchan films in response to Jaya Bachchan’s insistence at a film function to speak in Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh, we denounce him as a thug. Bachchan points out that the Indian Constitution has granted him the right to live in whichever part of the country he chooses to. But, he also clarifies, his wife meant no disrespect at all.

Raj’s uncle, Bal Thackeray, writes in Saamna that Amitabh Bachchan belongs to the entire nation. So, that should settle the question of ownership. But then he moves his sights onto another national figure, Shah Rukh Khan. Bachchan belongs to India. Shah Rukh is a ‘Dilliwala’ who should pack his bags and go home, decrees senior Thackeray. Let’s just say that logic doesn’t run deep in the Thackeray genes.

But — question three — what does one make of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who is fast turning out to be a doppelganger for the Thackeray parivar?

First comes Chavan’s astounding statement that taxi- drivers (routinely bashed up by Raj and his goons for coming from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) must speak in Marathi — a statement that he later tries to clarify is a requirement of some law in some statute book.

Now, saying it was a mistake to invite Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India’s biggest film star, to the opening of the Worli-Bandra sealink is — what? — plain stupid.

Chavan who shared the dais with Bachchan at the inauguration says in hindsight that it was a mistake to have invited Bachchan because he is the ‘brand ambassador’ of Gujarat. Had he known that he would be sharing the dais with Bachchan, he would have stayed home, he says. Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh, meanwhile, sparks off a whodunit by saying he was not consulted about the invitation.

So, was it the NCP, the Congress party’s uneasy allies in the state? Is there truth in the claim that the NCP wanted to inject a bit of ‘glamour’ into what would have undoubtedly been a dreary inauguration? Sachin Tendulkar, another national icon who also happens to be a son of the soil, was not available, so Amitabh Bachchan was sent a card.

What remains really now that the coconuts have been broken and the sealink extension officially opened is the unedifying smallness of the Maharashtra Congress. Bachchan is a national icon, he belongs to the people who have a rightful claim to the sealink.

Inviting a man of the people, whoever invited him, was appropriate and correct. Bickering about it after the event is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is Ashok Chavan’s attempts to claim the loony space so far occupied by the Thackerays.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer

The views expressed by the author are personal

When life offers you lemons…

In 2005, the euphoria surrounding the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi had already set in. The media couldn’t seem to get enough stories on how the capital was on its way to becoming a ‘world-class city’. There was hope everywhere of new beginnings.

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In 2005, the euphoria surrounding the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi had already set in. The media couldn’t seem to get enough stories on how the capital was on its way to becoming a ‘world-class city’. There was hope everywhere of new beginnings.

But Delhi is nothing if not a collection of neighbourhoods, many of which never intersect. Away from the world of gin drinkers and djinn seekers is the world of LNJP Colony, Dakshinpuri and Sawda-Ghevra. Which Delhi is the real Delhi? And which experience constitutes the deeper experience?

In May 2005, a group of eight writers from that ‘other’ Delhi got together to look for answers. Many of these writers — Shamsher Ali, Neelofar and Yashoda Singh — had dropped out of school. Some like Azra Tabassum and Suraj Rai managed to complete their schooling through open school. Others like Lakhmi Chand Kohli and Rakesh Khairalia had already launched creative ventures, setting up a studio where poets, writers, singers and dancers from the neighbourhood could meet and interact. All of them were in their 20s and lived in LNJP and Dakshinpuri. As the group of writers grew, one thread remained in common: all wanted to document their lives from the inside; not as adventures in a megacity but as lives lived through demolitions, evictions and resettlement and as negotiations through vulnerable relationships with neighbours, shopkeepers, butchers, maulvis and, most dangerous of all, those in authority.

Trickster City: Writings from the Belly of the Metropolis is a translation by Shveta Sarda of those stories, written originally in Hindi (Bahurupiya Shahar). This is a world where, “the moment someone buys a refrigerator, a long queue of people requesting a drink of cold water forms outside his door.” This is a world of unuttered relationships, where love can’t be anything more than anticipation at the sound of approaching anklets. This is a world so fragile that parents cling to their grown-up children’s first grade report cards as proofs of how long they’ve settled in that particular neighbourhood. Because, above all, this is a world that’s liable to be uprooted and demolished.

At the heart of this collection lies the demolition of Nangla Maanchi, on the Yamuna’s eastern bank. Watching a house that’s been painstakingly built brings with it utter heartbreak because, “demolitions snatch away from people this role they play in each other’s lives — the role of witnessing one another slowly mould time.”

Trickster City is part reportage, part travelogue and all heart. Written with a robustness that can come only from direct experience, this collection of tales, of lives lived is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand Delhi fully.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer