I had long stopped reading the newspapers. But Friday afternoon while trying to dodge sleep in office after a heavy lunch, my eyes fell on the headlines on a newspaper, which stated that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was now targetting Indian National Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. I couldn't help exclaim, "Why can't MNS let people just be? Why doesn't it understand that Mumbai cannot do without the mix of people from different places?"
I had assumed that my muttering would go ignored, but that wasn't the case. My Gujarati-speaking colleague, who is as much a Mumbaikar as I am, said, "But what Shah Rukh Khan said was also wrong."
I honestly did not know what SRK had said. I was least bothered about what a man in an independent country could have said. Nor should it bother anyone else. My Marathi-Tamil speaking colleague said, "SRK said that Raj Thackeray was equivalent to Ajmal Kasab." Her eyes almost popped out, indicating her understanding of blasphemy in the words of SRK.
I replied, "What wrong did he say? Isn't Raj equivalent to Kasab, in the way he is going about annihilating the non-Marathis here?"
Marathi-Tamil speaking colleague replied, "How could you say that? Kasab killed so many innocents! Raj is only fighting for the Marathi manoos."
Gujarati speaking colleague: "See, if you look at it historically, Raj hasn't done anything wrong. It is only politics."
Marathi-Tamil speaking colleague: "Raj is slogging and fighting for the working class, those have been deprived on their jobs."
Me: "How different is Raj from Kasab? Kasab killed many innocents. Raj has managed to disrupt the kiln of several people residing here, who are trying to eke out a living. They are being targetted simply because they are non-Marathis. Hasn't he burnt taxis and buses?"
Both girls vehemently nod their head in denial. By now, my Marathi-Tamil colleague has turned her back towards me. I say nothing. I turn towards my Gujarati speaking colleague, and she cannot ignore me either as I am too close to her face.
Me: "The problem is that we choose to let him continue his non-sense. Do you think Mumbai can ever be the Mumbai it is, without the non-Marathi people?"
Gujarati speaking colleague: "If u go to Bihar, you will have to speak in their dialect. That's what he is asking here too - that non-Marathi speaking people should abide by the culture of the Marathis. That's all he wants, which is legitimate."
Me: "Why should I abide by justifications laid down by Raj? Ain't I a free citizen? And Mumbai is not rest of Maharashtra, where only Marathi is spoken or Marathi culture is observed. This is a cosmopolitan place. People come here because it is cosmopolitan, because it offers them opportunities."
Gujarati speaking colleague: "But the Marathi manoos doesn't get jobs because the Biharis have taken them! There are apparently no jobs left for the original inhabitants of Mumbai!"
Me: "The key word here is 'apparently'. And why wouldn't others take up the jobs? Why should anyone stop them? And Mumbai has enough resources and jobs for all. Why doesn't the Marathi manoos take them up?"
Another Tamil speaking colleague interjects. "The Marathi manoos didn't get jobs because people from other places were ready to come and do the same job for lesser pay. It is the same everywhere. The Marathi manoos is at fault. They lost opportunities due to their own laziness."
Gujarati speaking colleague agrees, but adds, "But that doesn't mean others take the jobs."
Me: "Why not? The job has to be done. This is Mumbai, the city of dreams - dreams for all. Why couldn't the Marathi manoos come forward and take up the jobs?"
Gujarati speaking colleague: "But Raj is aware of all this. This is all politics. When he broke away from Shiv Sena, he took up this cause. He needed the support of the people..."
Me: "It is exactly this same people and their support which will help topple him down, if they open their eyes and see it for themselves. This is democracy and the government is supposed to fear its people. Not the other way round."
She disagrees, shakes her head wildly. "We cannot correct it. Nobody can. It is all politics."
Me: "When democracy is faulty, then you have dirty politics. It is we who need to go and tell Raj that we all coexist and continue to do so without him or his intervention. We need to go and tell him that Mumbai is what it is because people from different places are here together."
Gujarati speaking colleague: "You cannot say that to him! You think he doesn't know it?"
Me: "Of course he knows it. Of course everyone knows it too. Just that Raj chooses to reinforce selective truths such that others are blinded by his words. Everyone can see it all, but they choose not to see."
Gujarati speaking colleague: "Yes, it may be true. But only the Marathi manoos, who bears the brunt of it all, can see it and feel what Raj is doing what he is doing. For them it is justified."
By now our voices are quite loud.
My boss walks in, looks at me, smiles, and says, "Please don't corrupt the employees of this office."
I tell her, "Everyone else is corrupt in their own small ways. Even I have that liberty....."
She has already walked past me by the time I complete my sentence. And so has my Gujarati speaking colleague. I walk over to my seat as my Tamil speaking colleague tells me, "If you want to continue this debate, please go to the other room. Do not disturb me."
Moment later, the Gujarati speaking colleague reads aloud from the newspaper, "BJP is now accusing MNS of raising this SRK issue because apparently, MNS does not want to talk about inflation." She then exclaims, "What politics yaar!"
I say, "Yes.. all politics in a democracy. And the middle class chooses not to see anything."
A longer silence. And the conversation ends. We are back to ordering coffee for ourselves.
And I still don't know what SRK really said.