Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Much ado about nothing

Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 26th October 2010)

We can never thank young Aditya Thackeray enough for helping Mumbai rediscover the joys of reading fiction – particularly Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey. A friend has been kind enough to lend me her copy, so I’ve been spared the trauma of fidgeting, sweating and fainting in serpentine queues outside bookshops. Let this be a lesson to all authors who want to hit the bestseller list – get rabble-rousing politicians to ban/burn your book, instead of begging glitzy filmstars to launch it.

I have to confess that I didn’t gasp loudly the way people do at the sight of a hairy cockroach floating lazily in their soup when I read some of the passages in Mistry’s book that the thin-skinned Shiv Sena violently objected to. Sure, his fictional character raved and ranted about things that annoyed him – everything from the Congress to the Shiv Sena to different communities, but so what? Everyone has the right to his opinion. And frankly, his ‘insulting’ remarks were mild compared to the vitriolic statements the Thackerays frequently (and loudly) dish out about people and communities – a lot of it is uncalled for personal remarks like ‘Rahul Gandhi is a frustrated bachelor’ and some very unsavoury things about prime minister Manmohan Singh which I do not choose to repeat here.

Honestly if you take that into account, Mistry has every right to burn copies of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna in return for the shabby treatment doled out to his book. Fortunately, Mistry is such a good hearted chap, really. Instead of criticising Aditya for not actually reading his book before burning it, he is being rather paternal about it by playing mentor to him. Mistry has warmly urged Aditya to read a couple of books to become a better political leader instead of following the same old fuddy duddy tactics as his grandfather: Joseph Conrad’s grim Heart of Darkness ‘in order to consider the options: step back from the abyss, or go over the edge’, and Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, particularly for the stirring lines of this verse, ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free.’ I doubt that knowledge will seep in however, since every time the young lad is given a book he excitedly fumbles in his pockets for a matchbox.

Incidentally, Aditya Thackeray is a writer himself – he’s got two volumes of poetry under his belt, one of which is set to music (by some of India’s finest musicians and singers, of course – they loved it so much they just couldn’t say no) and launched by Bollywood star and chief Shiv Sena aficionado Amitabh Bachchan a few years ago. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s because his loving family thoughtlessly did not ban/burn his book and album. Tsk. One would think that they’d have figured out marketing tactics by now, considering that almost everything they ban/burn turns to gold. Even that forgettable movie, My Name is Khan.

Do read Such A Long Journey. Not only for the sensational bits, which, like I’ve said before, aren’t remotely sensational at all. I recommend it because it truly is a warm, engrossing and well-written story. Such a pity that it had to be sacrificed to launch Aditya’s political career. Couldn’t the Shiv Sena have hired the chaps who put together the fantastic opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games to launch the Yuva Sena instead? That way, we may have appreciated the show and the grandson of (yawn) yet another political dynasty better. Spunky messages on T-shirts with a spin on the Shiv Sena’s tiger symbol (like ‘You bring out the tiger in me’) are not enough to prove that you’re cool and with it, dude! As the En Vogue song goes, ‘Free your mind, and the rest will follow.’

So what I’m wondering now is, what will Aditya Thackeray’s estranged uncle Raj Thackeray do? Raj (leader of the dreaded Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) is highly competitive and pretty much given to ‘me too’ tactics. Will he make his young son burn another book? Yippie, I’m dying to know which one so I can buy it before the bookshop queues begin! Also, since the MNS symbol is a railway engine, will his son sport T-shirts with the message, ‘You bring out the choo choo train in me’ or, ‘Let me take you for a ride’? Ooh, just can’t wait!

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