Manjiri Gokhale Joshi | February 15, 2010
It was probably our Pune generation’s first exposure to governance of the demonstrative kind. The year was 1989 and the Christian school we studied in had punished a few schoolgirls for turning up with mehendi on their palms. The Christian school is over 100 years old and despite the changing diktats of the fashion world, had managed to uphold the simplicity that education requires. The list of don’ts was endless – only black ribbons to tie your hair, no strand out of place, no dangling ear-rings, only small, simple gold tops, no bangles, no chains around the neck, no bindis on the forehead, no anklets etc etc. As fashion conscious adolescents of course we would crib at this forced stark attire, but laugh it off and enjoy the fantastic education that this school offered.
Until one day, much to our horror, our school was in the local newspaper, in the news for the most shocking reasons – karya kartaas had barged in through the school gates, smeared the school walls and the principal’s car with mehendi to protest against the punishment meted out to the students wearing mehendi. The claim – mehendi is part of Indian culture and as a school running in Maharashtra, it should be allowed. The fact is mehendi is not a part of Maharashtrian culture or weddings (the only reason Maharashtrian brides wear Mehendi is because of the predominant north Indian influence courtesy Bollywood). It was a newsworthy incident back then. Today, with the rapid proliferation of the scale, volume and variety of such protest demos, this little nugget of news may be fortunate to end up as a brief item lost somewhere among other important achievements like banning movies, burning down theatres and the like.
I am as Maharashtrian as they come. Born and brought up in aapla Pune and worked the length and breadth of aapli Mumbai. I spent a few years in New Delhi – Gurgaon in Haryana, to be precise, where nobody tried to kick me out because I was not born Haryanvi. Even today if I am away from home in India or abroad (and home will always be Pune), the sound of chaste Marathi emanating from anywhere makes my head turn. The excitement of meeting a battalion of nine-yard saree clad visitors to the Qut'b Minar animatedly chatting in Marathi or chatting up a family from Thane in the heart of the Bharatpur sanctuary or listening to favourite Marathi authors V P Kale or P L Deshpande CDs while in England...there is no end to how Maharashtrian I can get. There is rarely a good Marathi play or Marathi movie I would miss. Maharashtrian food, music, dances, songs, clothes...but that is culture and each community is rich in its own.
And much to drawing the wrath of other communities, I would like to believe that the love for education, sincerity, responsibility and a certain straightforwardness are an inherent part of the Maharashtrian human being’s DNA. The hoards of IT professionals emerging from Maharashtra bears testimony to this. Be it a local festival, a neighbour in need of medical help or the reaction to a natural disaster, I have seen pockets of Maharashtrian communities garner support in droves.
My deep love for Maharashtra and the people who come from here is also the reason why I am deeply pained by the humungous waste of person-hours and mental power in the strategising and execution of destructive activities. What if these boys and men of immense strength were provided job-oriented training and their energies channelized into activities that our state, and then our nation, requires so badly? These are strong, receptive, impressionable young men..would they not form a battalion of impressive primary school teachers who would force children to be in school? Would these passionate young men be able to transform the pot-hole ridden roads with their might? Would their deep sense of loyalty for the state be best leveraged in donning the uniform of law-enforcing agencies? Will the right training, knowledge of weapons and of course, some course correction in philosophy, not build a formidable defence force out of these talented young men? Imagine how gainful employment would change the course of life for each of their families. Imagine a chawl full of families secure in the knowledge that their son holds a secure job and will bring home a paycheque every month. Imagine the peace and the pride in every home when the family knows for certain that their son will come home and not fear for his well-being during the next spurt of building destruction, flag-waving or rioting.
But then, if this latent formidable force in my State is gainfully employed, who would be at the beck and call of the masterminds? Who would fill the trucks that arrived in the heart of Dadar to hear the emerging leader utter his war-cry? Who would rush at the PR man’s signal and burn the theatres screening a movie latest on their party’s hit list? Actually, if three lakh Maharashtrians were to really start plying the taxis on Mumbai’s streets, would they abandon their source of income and flock to the rallies even for a day?
This is not for a moment to indicate that there is preference for any one ruling party or the opposition or any other, but a lament that the Janta, on the brink of progress and constructive development, is being taken for a ride.
Naive and eternally hopeful for the future of my State and nation, I am still hoping that someday, the potential of these promising young men will be harnessed, if there is someone willing to teach, they will come forward to learn. Someday, my state will break free— from the demons within.
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