(IMAGE BY SEBASTIAN E., BRAZILIAN ARTIST)
There is nothing more and plenty more to say about the attacks in Bombay this November end.
Watching the news has been frustrating, both for the kind of news and for the kind of views being bandied about. The one thing instantaneous media seem to resolutely deny the need for is reflection. Reflection inherently requires time and thought. But the very next day people want to talk about Solutions. Anyway, more about that elsewhere...
But another thing that makes me marvel is the easy talk of the Taj's iconic status. I don't want to be callous about those who've suffered directly by indulging in reverse classism. But I do think that before Ratan Tata and others demand that the Taj should be protected as PUBLIC icon, it needs to do something about becoming one.
Terrorists understand what really divides our society - and they've hit out at the things that they know we really value. They understand that the temples of modern India, like of the US, are the icons of absolute self-interest and greed, such as five star hotels and the WTC. Apart from whatever warm and fuzzy things they represent, they also stand as symbols of the extreme class divide of this country, the absence of the working poor and the dying poor in our mainstream consciousness; the divide which is a daily terror we do unto our own. As long as we live in this culture of self-interest alone, I really don't know how we are going to have a changed world. I mean the world has to actually decide to change, not just demand something else does. This is the sort of culture that makes Ritesh (no I won't spell it numerologically, what's he going to do about it?) Deshmukh and Ram Gopal Varma go so openly to prey on the event and shows that there is no lag between an occurence and thinking of what it can do for you.
So anyway, here's something I think the Tatas could do, just symbolically so that maybe the cliche of indiscriminate openness that people bandy about without a thought can be a little more true. Because after all, why should only the cabbies, the dabbawalas, the train commuters and the other regular folk have to bear the onus of maintaing the spirit of Bambai?
I think when the Taj is fixed up and restored, its ground floor sea fronted rooms should be turned into a public tea-room where not only the rich, but all sorts of people, can come in and afford the price of the tea. A place they keep as clean and lovely, if not as plush, as the rest of the hotel. A place which says - this building is a Bombay icon because the wealth of this city which was generated as much by workers as by industrialists, has also made it so - and this tea-room is a token participation in that idea. I think this would be a simple gesture and a step towards erasing those hard lines that keep one type of Bombayite far away from another, indeed, indicating which type of Indian citizen benefits more from our supposed democracy. Those are the things we also have to work at changing besides holding governments responsible for their duties. That won't require much money from them. But it would require a bigger heart.