There are some greetings that don’t work belatedly. The Bengali Bijoya (which is also North India’s Dussehra) is one of them. Of course, Bengalis, being the sort who can stretch out anything and everything, manage to make Bijoya continue for as long as two weeks (by which time, it’s generally Lakshmi Puja and everyone gets ready to go nuts for this new party, er, puja). Not so for the North Indians. Aside from the general Bengali aversion to punctuality, I think it has to do with the difference between the two days in religious terms. Bijoya is the tearful bye-bye that we bid the goddess Durga as she begins her trek back to her husband in Himalayan Kailas. That’s the melancholy that drags on over days and is being treated with the sweets that one must eat while visiting friends and relatives post-Bijoya. Because if a Bengali can’t stretch out weepiness, then what is the world coming to?
Dussehra, on the other hand, is a one-day event. It’s a day that celebrates good triumphing over evil and we all know that doesn’t happen everyday. The tendrils of my family that are in Uttar Pradesh have been waiting, goggle-eyed and flappy-eared, for Dussehra because they were all waiting to hear what the Hindu right-wingers will be screaming at the traditional Dussehra rallies. Me, I was waiting to hear what went down at Shivaji Park, where Shiv Sen had its annual Dussehra rally. This year’s has been a touch controversial because the party was instructed by the Supreme Court to ensure the noise level doesn’t rise above 50 decibels. In no time, that limit went poof! Supreme Court be damned, this was the Shiv Sena exhibition of the year. This year, Aditya Thackeray was on show. Having already done the party proud by his idiotic protest against the inclusion of Rohinton Mistry’s “Such A Long Journey” in the University of Mumbai syllabus, he received a sword from his grandfather and Shiv Sena patriarch, Bal Thackeray. Daddy Uddhav Thackeray also praised his son. Predictably enough, the tabloid-y papers have headlines this morning that say things like “Tigers and cub roared”.
Personally, I’m not sure whether one should be happy or sad at Aditya Thackeray being formally welcomed into the Shiv Sena. Having read some of his poetry and seen his campaign against “Such a Long Journey”, it seems like he’s an idiot, which could be dangerous given he’s supposed to head up a band of fanatics. But never mind the future. Let’s look at his present. Just what kind of mass sentiment was he looking to mobilise by attacking a novel in English that was written back in 1991 and has been part of the University of Mumbai syllabus since 2007? The only ones outraged by Aditya’s acts are those who have already read it and those who are about as likely to vote for Shiv Sena as they are to adopting hijab. Shiv Sena’s supporter base probably weren’t aware the novel existed until he kicked up a fuss and they’re unlikely to be mortally wounded by a novel in English. Actually, if reports are to be believed, Aditya has actually ended up causing a spike in the sales of “Such a Long Journey”, which is superb news. So really, young Thuggeray isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and from the look of things, Shiv Sena is aware of this because young Aditya didn’t say a word during the rally (although he did receive a sword). Interestingly, the one who really pumped up the volume and thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court ruling was the 83-year-old Bal Thackeray (a mere 93 decibels; it’s been one of the quietest Shiv Sena rallies ever). “Our roars cannot be contained by decibel levels,” said Thackeray, which is an odd thing to say because of course their roars are contained in decibel levels, given decibels are how roars are measured.
As lapses in logic go, however, I do think my favourite concerns Bal Thackeray’s stand on “Such a Long Journey”. According to the news reports, he agreed with Aditya that the novel was too full of abuses to be acceptable to the Marathi manoos (the Marathi man, and presumably women). Incidentally, here’s some of the vocabulary that appeared repeatedly in Thackeray’s speech at Shivaji Park yesterday: bhadve, namard, napunsak, chaatu, bootpushe and saale. All abuse and rarely spoken in polite society, regardless of whether one is Marathi or otherwise. The word Thackeray used for Muslims had to have asterisks inserted in it to be made fit for print. If the abuse in “Such a Long Journey” is a strong café americano, then Thackeray’s language is a triple shot espresso. Or perhaps that black, grainy Turkish coffee that can’t be sweetened, no matter how much sugar you put into it. But Thackeray’s invective, spoken in their Mother tongue, is ok for the genteel Marathi manoos. It’s when it comes to reading an award-winning novel, written in a less familiar, other tongue, that the Shiv Sena’s sensibilities turn delicate.