The first name that emerges on the very idea of Marathi is Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj. No introduction needed. And the first name that emerges on the very thought of marathi ethnocentrism is Balasaheb Thackrey. And why not? He was the one who revived the subconscious Marathi mass back to life. Balasaheb has a huge following even now, years after his death.
There has been a difference between a devote and a normal Marathi man. This difference has so far helped maintain a secular environment. Some parts of Maharashtra are not really soaked in the ethnocentrism. I live in one such area. Hence I have never been an ardent admirer of this philosophy, never a fervent critic either. The reason being, no real exposure to any kind conflicts of non-Marathis and Marathis! There are all scales of business classes of non-Marathis in my vicinity too. Almost half or more among the riches are those families. But this never really affected the Marathi inside me. Not atleast as it once did in the thousands and thousands living in Mumbai.
Yes, Mumbai! The capital of Maharashtra, moreover, the financial capital of India, and the heart of Marathi ethnocentrism!
The Marathi Manoos
During my last visit to Mumbai, I happened to see the real Marathi Manoos (Marathi man). All the local trains were too occupied to find any place for conflicts. From CSTM however, I took this chance to feel the wind in a 2nd Class coach for a brief travel. The train was scheduled to leave in about 15-20 minutes. The scene inside was usual, filled to capacity. However, some passengers who had claimed their seats on the untold rule of a second class seating, “first come first serve” basis, were relaxing on the platforms, confident of their seats’ possession.
Sometime later, enters a middle aged man, probably a daily commuter, and places himself in the “vacant but occupied” berth. The occupants returned from the platform finding their seat occupied. All that followed was obvious, “quarrel”, the war for seats, common phenomena in a general class coach I guess.
“Humara Jagah hai na…”
“Jagah hain toh adjust karo, Kharida hain kya, general me adjust karna padta, tum toh reservation jaisi baat kartein”
And it continued. The argument rose to pushing and pulling. I had almost started cursing my decision to enter the coach, when came a dialogue, full of aggression,
“Maharashtra me aa ke dadagiri karta hai qa re?”
It was not really worth so much attention, but that one sentence had its own magic given the already ongoing brawl. The brawl for seats starring a Marathi and few Non-Marathi! They finally forced the Marathi man out. He threatened consequences in minutes,but never returned. The man took away with him the heat of the moment and everything settled as normal.
There’s a sequel!
In the very next compartment again the very same thing recurred. This time for the upper berth! The only difference, it ended wisely rather. When the previous occupant came back to claim his seat, the “trespasser”, after certain amount of denials, directly asked,
“Marathi aahe ka?”
The one who claimed, taken aback for a moment,“ Huh?”
Now the whole compartment had eyes and ears glued to this conflict. The “trespasser came again,
“Marathi aahe ka Marathi?”
Now that both were the witness to the earlier incident, shrewdly, the claimer advantaged, “Ho na!” his accent betraying him a bit.
“Marathi aahe tar ya na war!”
He says that twice and affirms that the berth now has an extra capacity and that he too is willing to adjust.
This very brief period of travel was influential enough to see Marathi ethnocentrism in its effect and need. In the earlier case, it was a helpless Marathi man, who even if came down to immediate identities could not win, while in the later, Marathi triumphed.
Neither of the cases were actually related to ethnic conflicts. A mere seating feud in Mumbai jumped to “Marathi or Non-Marathi” buffer. This may never have been the case in eastern regions of Maharashtra near Nagpur or so. In this short journey, I saw a helpless and a mighty Marathi manoos both in Aamchi Mumbai, two fairly simple examples enough to understand the need of this extremism.
Hi Mumbai Aapli aahe…
Before the incidents, I had two questions,
• Is this ethnocentrism needed?
• Is this ethnocentrism justified ?
Barely an hour after the incidents, the questions changed course.
• Isn’t this ethnocentrism needed?
• Isn’t Marathi ethnocentrism justified?
I recalled my whole stay in the city. As time passed, my head flooded with more and more doubts and questions. Films like “Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy” and “Balkadu” challenge our secular values and yet again force us to think deeply about the fading influence of our own culture in our own land.
Youngsters prefer English in schools and colleges, shops & malls, even taxis talk Hindi! Bungalows, and housing societies, big projects do not fancy Marathi surnames. Where is the Marathi Manoos?
All the riches are owned by some Hindi surnames, all the posh neighborhoods have mostly Non-Marathi people. Where does a Marathi Manoos live? Only in slums? All the rest out of Mumbai? Is Mumbai no longer affordable to a Marathi Manoos?
Also read “India today: Independent! Secular?“
With Marathi fading down the horizons of economy and development, Mumbai now is far better the financial capital of India than the capital of Maharashtra.
We no doubt live in a secular country. India is an excellent symbol of unity in diversity. Even thinking about any kind of discrimination of race, caste, language etc. should be a sin for a proud Indian. But what should one do when the existence of one’s own culture is threatened in the glow of integrity and economic development? What should one do when this integrity and development is slowly erasing his own native identity from his own native land?
Mumbai kharach aapli aahe?
In Mumbai, business wiped out Marathi first, and then the Marathi manoos!
As you move away from Mumbai, the degree of struggle of existence of a Marathi manoos too dies out. Seldom will you find this phenomenon in the other parts of Maharashtra. Neither in Nagpur, where again a good number are Hindi speakers! This is because speaking Hindi has been a level of standard lately. Its not that people here have less love for Marathi. There seems no strong ideological influence of Marathi extremism here. Not atleast as it does in Mumbai and the western areas of Maharashtra.
The migration of outsiders to Maharashtra may have helped raise the state’s economy but has further limited or reduced the chances for the natives here. From street vendors, taxi drivers, to managers and officers, they are almost everywhere. It sometimes hurt to find a Marathi man living in a small house and an outsider living in a big, well built house. But the conditions are vice versa too.
Liguistic equality and rational thinking, as such, does not give room to these partial views. And sure it shouldn’t. When you raise your head and look around, you see our own people; irrespective of what state they were born in, whatever language they speak, whatever culture they follow. The culture above all is being an Indian.
The Indian culture has a long beautiful history of absorbing all that comes to it. And that is what makes you an extremist less but a secular rationalist more. We see our own people, be it Biharis, Gujaratis, Rajasthanis, or Tamils or Keralites. Whatever their language is, in my Maharashtra, he may or may not be a marathi, one identity binds us together. As Dr. B.R Ambedkar put it,
“ We are INDIANS, firstly and lastly!”
Although, in Maharashtra, the dilemma between Mother tongue Marathi and the “National Tongue” Hindi remains unsolved, and for good!