July 22, 2016
A friend said to me, “Your London Diaries are far more entertaining than your Bombay Diaries.” She then added a smiley to show this was a light hearted comment – a diplomatic thing to do since I write approximately 50 of the latter and 2 of the former in a year. Smileys apart, my friend had a point: on re-reading, I too think the London Diaries are better. I know the answer why: London is better; far, far better, than Mumbai.
When I arrived and walked into the airport car park, I stepped into a big, muddy puddle. It said, ‘Welcome to Mumbai’. I no longer notice Mumbai`s very individual, all pervasive smell because I have lived here long enough. But I did notice the pot holes (how could I not, when the car went into one, then another, then another). I reached home and although it was almost 2 AM, my journalistic instincts led me to the large pile of newspapers waiting for me. Big mistake. Dalits lynched, either for skinning a dead cow or for marrying/looking at girls of a higher caste. Poor Rahul Gandhi nodding off in Parliament, and political parties shouting with so much glee that their comments were on the front pages. A government servant arrested for taking bribes, and his wife and daughter, unable to bear the disgrace, hanging themselves. Bombay Municipal Corporation engineers suspended for shielding debarred contractors. Unrest in Kashmir and violent morchas (again). Dalits in the lakhs coming out to protest in spite of the rain, not because their brethren were being killed but because a Babasaheb Ambedkar building was torn demolished overnight. Even the sports pages gave no cheer: there was the large picture of a smug Justice Lodha, laughing uproariously because he had wrecked cricket in India.
And, my friend who shall remain unnamed, you expect my Mumbai Diary to be entertaining?
Perhaps it can be if I stop reading the newspapers and concentrate only on their colour supplements with their paid contents. Perhaps it can be if I stopped watching the television screamers on the evening news and instead watched National Geographic which shows leopards tracking, running, pouncing, then killing their prey. Perhaps it can be if I stop going to my own events where India`s most talented writer, Amitav Ghosh sets the Doomsday Clock ticking.
I am referring to the Literature Live! Evening on Wednesday when I was in conversation with Amitav after releasing his latest book, the one with the cheerful title, The Great Derangement. He makes the point, in 250 pages of scintillating but densely packed prose, that the world is in for major natural disasters (Mumbai with its high rises, huge population in a small area and its two atomic plants is particularly vulnerable because the Arabian Sea shows increased activity of a rather nasty kind). He then asks the question why literature, which in the past has always mirrored the major concerns of the day, has looked the other way and ignored climate change as if it didn`t exist. He adds a mea culpa too.
Is it because Nature`s sudden eruptions are too catastrophic and terrible to contemplate? Is it because climate change and carbon footprints are phrases that don`t lend themselves easily to a novel? Or is it because tragedies and atrocities which happen all around us on a daily basis make us (and writers) look away from this crazy outside world, to find some peace and quiet within ourselves?