How the Entitled in Mumbai are finally waking up

We were primary schoolers in the 80s, unfortunately unaware of how precious Bombay’s long-held, strong, secular credentials were. It was a city where you lived, and you let live. Cultures coexisted seamlessly even as stray riots and protests dotted the city’s gloriously metropolitan nature. It was so organic that we had no idea how to live a life otherwise.

Those of us in our late 30s/ early 40s today in Mumbai have been generally well-ensconced in our special brand of apathy, where the attitude that “life goes on, come what may” has come to define our existence. We’ve also been raised with the generous diet of “what’s in it for me?” So, unless trouble literally brought down our doors and yanked us out, we just focused on getting our jobs done. Who has time for causes when there’s money to be made?

We’re the ones who were still in school when Bombay became Mumbai and the “saffronization” of the city in the 90s hardly affected us. We remember where we were when the Babri Masjid was demolished and were frightened when the country’s first serial blasts ripped through our city.

Once the dust over that settled, we were more put off by how downmarket it is to be called a “Mumbaikar” than the erstwhile “Bombayite”.

We scoffed at the Shiv Sena for putting our innate pluralistic nature through the funnel of Hindutva politics. And we remained nostalgic for a time when our religious identity did not define our national identity. Yet, we did precious little apart from the random conversations over hors d’oeuvres. In fact, friends who spoke about politics and current affairs were frowned upon as party poopers, and we developed new social skills to minimise the mood damage these friends seemed to create wherever they went.

We had no relatives in the Army, so our access to Indian patriotism the military way has been through Bollywood films. While we had friends who were more politically involved, we politely looked the other way when it came to taking a stance. Geographically, we had no simmering tension with neighbouring states or countries, so we never entirely understood what really is at stake while defending our borders. Gujarat, Karnataka and the other bordering states were busy with their own issues and the Arabian Sea continued to picturesquely lash us at high tide on Marine Drive.

Our colleges were fun spaces, so unless we chose political science or media studies, our knowledge of international politics (restricted to US or UK only, because Middle East was too complex) far outweighed our awareness of what’s going on in India. Those dabbling in the arts were looked at with wonder but were instantly branded as activists when they made their opinions known.

We were definitely not like those “Delhiites”. Our colleges were not “political”, we didn’t have loud opinions, so we presumed we were “better off” and simultaneously mastered the art of maintaining status quo. As long as it didn’t affect me directly, why should I be involved? Those who protested were often from other cities and towns, and we stereotyped them as rabble-rousers from small towns.

Our goal in life was to make enough money to be as comfortable as our parents made us. And boy, those parents certainly did their part in shielding us for the world around us. They bailed us out when our studies tanked, they bailed us out when jobs were few, they protected us from those “activist types” since discussions over current affairs were largely non-existent. They themselves may have participated in rallies or taken a definite stance during the Emergency, but how they ended up raising such apathetic children should be a sociological study in itself!

Even the generation that immediately preceded us has had a role to play in protests in favour or against Naxals. They took up causes close to them and in their own way made their opinions known. They all contributed to the fibre of pluralistic Mumbai.

But what about us freeloaders who have done nothing to maintain it and yet complain about it being threatened?

We were born here yet have never found the need to break a sweat because “politics isn’t for me”. We have never understood that even having that opinion is a privilege.

We were ready to go on candle-lit vigils at Gateway of India because it’s in South Bombay and it doesn’t require us to wear our politics on our sleeves. In fact, most of us didn’t even do that because finding parking is such a nightmare. And how is participating in such protests going to make a difference, we wondered… Such a waste of time to be in rallies because the government will continue to do what it pleases. Only status quo-ists can have such conviction.

We never understood that everything is political. Everything need not align with the political parties of the day, but every choice we make is a nod towards a political belief system. It’s like those people who say they’re “not feminists” because the only brand of feminism they have chosen to be educated in, has involved burning lingerie at protests. So, the usual suspects will be at demonstrations, we will demand that movie stars have an opinion even when there’s no climate to accept a differing viewpoint. We blame them for being opportunistic even when we ourselves are worried about political retribution via Income Tax raids and violence.

This generation of 80s-born Mumbaikars first had their parents do their work for them, then they had these “troublesome activists” raise voices on their behalf, then they targeted celebrities for not taking public stances, all this while doing nothing at all! How convenient.

They’d socialise, they’d work, they’d live like there is no tomorrow because they were never taught to value what was freely available. They were shielded by family, by communities, by schools and by their own city, to keep their heads low and not cause “trouble”.

Today, many of them are taxpayers with families to feed and devoid of any idealism that ought to have marked their college years. For them Kashmir was always a tinderbox so even the threat of revoking Internet privileges was distant. And Assam? Those Northeast states are all alike. Who knows what’s the capital of Assam? They complained about traffic snarls that the Anna Hazare agitation caused and vehemently discussed corruption in the previous governments as an excuse to justify tolerating a candidate who never hid his autocratic nature.

These very people have finally joined in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, the violent attacks at Jamia Milia Islamia, JNU and more. These protests are led by students across the country who have decided that enough is enough. Those born in the 90s Mumbaikars are leading the way, showing the generation before them that buying real estate can wait, but speaking up cannot. That if we can passionately discuss sports and movies, we are capable of an ounce of selfless humanity. The protests at August Kranti Maidan in December and at Gateway of India have been peaceful, yet powerful. News outlets had headlines that sounded surprised that Mumbai was capable of peacefully protesting despite a large congregation of people.

We may deride the Millennials all we want, but it is their relentless idealism that is giving us hope today. We may roll our eyes at their “wokeness” but their conviction to demand what is rightfully theirs has given us the encouragement we need to speak up. They have brought us the closest we can get to what it means to be born in a city so all-embracing in its nature. Ironically the very party that painted the town saffron is at the helm of affairs in the state. This time, speaking out against the religious discrimination that the Centre is repeatedly dolling out.

Today, these youngsters are giving us a chance to do our bit beyond posting on social media. They are calling out the bigots in their family and amongst their friends. They have made us recognize that the time to politely grimace at their radical views has passed. It isn’t just about taking on the government. It is about the ideals of this country that we took for granted. Our religion never defined our idea of Indianness. And it shouldn’t today either.

So even if you’ve never protested in your life, you find yourself in despair because you finally feel the need to do something. You no longer feel that protesting will serve no purpose. You finally realise what Kashmir has been going through for six months. You finally realise that you can make a difference.

That epiphany has been the most invaluable contribution that the duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have made to this country.

The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

Cogito Ergo Sum

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