Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Conflict, gender parity, conmen and revenge partying

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In the Cauldron of War

Ever since CNN’s 24X7 coverage of the ‘90-‘91 Gulf War, when for the first time, viewers across the world were afforded live clips of missiles hitting their targets and shrapnel exploding in people’s faces, the full impact of the hideousness of military conflict has been brought home.

Before that, for most people, wars were something fought on remote borders and in hidden bunkers and the casualties and collateral damage, was presented in the next day’s news as cold statistics, like the rumblings of a distant storm. Now, the sight of tanks and troops wreaking havoc on the everyday constructs on which our urban lives are predicated, of visuals of residential apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and city squares crumpling like cardboard representations and the dead and wounded lying untended on streets, delivers a blow to our psyche which has an ineffable impact.

After all, miles away from any borders and war zones, memories of Mumbai’s brief trysts with conflict during the ‘65 and ‘71 wars still haunt those of us who’d lived through those days as children:

The urgency with which we followed advisories to paper our window-panes so that they wouldn’t shatter in case of shelling; the ominous air raid sirens that would wail, signalling the arrival of enemy presence; the collective scramble in neighbourhoods and colonies for safe bunkers; the accounting for loved ones in an age of no mobile phones; the interminably long and tense black out nights -and that vivid unforgettable sight, of luminous orange anti-aircraft flares that suddenly bloomed across the Mumbai’s skyline following sightings of Pakistani fighter planes, are etched in our memory.

For Ukraine and its people, besides the loss of life, limb, loved ones, land and livelihoods, dealing with the collective PTSD from a war fought by ordinary citizens in their ordinary, everyday homes and ubiquitous suburbs, will be a further challenge- along with the survivor’s guilt of those who pull through this tragedy.

For the rest of us, among the horrors of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is the realisation of how fragile the life we construct for ourselves really is. And how we should take nothing for granted, not even the chaotic, messy, disastrous, disorganised cities we inhabit..

Enter, Female Star Power

Film buffs (and oh boy, there are many) could enlighten us further, but it appears that we have just witnessed an unprecedented showing of female star power in the past month, with the release of Madhuri Dixit’s The Fame Game, Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi and Deepika Padukone Gehraiyaan, which popped up in February like a particularly sparkling string of Diwali lights.

Of course, the ventures have elicited varying degrees of critical and commercial success, but what they have in common is that they have been helmed emphatically and unequivocally by their three female stars, for their marketing, promotion, publicity etc.

What a welcome relief this is from the hype and hoopla that surrounded the alpha male Kapoor- Khan -Kumar brotherhood until now, when a film’s fate rested on the brawny shoulders of the male lead alone and their female counterparts played second fiddle. Indeed, February’s parade of female star power might just herald some long-awaited gender parity in the film industry. And if it becomes a trend, then how long before a ‘Beta Bachao’ campaign hits Bollywood?

Jus’ Sayin…

Con Banega Crorepati?

It appears as if suddenly the curse of fraudsters, confidence tricksters and cheats is upon us. From Israel’s Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev, who pretended to be the heir to a diamond fortune in order to gyp vulnerable, besotted women; to America’s Anna Sorokin who impersonated a wealthy German heiress to defraud financial institutions and banks; to India’s Sukesh Chandrashekhar who from his squalid jail cell managed to con wives of industrialists and Bollywood actresses for money or favours; to Anand Subramanian who manipulated the CEO of the NSE for personal aggrandisement and career advancements, by impersonating an enigmatic Yogi –it appears that the world is rife with those out to dupe the gullible and naïve.

Mumbai of course being the financial capital has attracted many such scamsters. Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi devised an elaborate scheme to defraud the PNB of 11,400 Crore. Harshad Mehta took advantage of the loopholes in the banking system and diverted funds to the tune of 5,000 crore- and these are just two instances amongst many.

But besides these monumental cons, the city has a few smaller, relatively sweeter, more endearing ones , that are quintessentially Mumbai and have almost become a way of life here.

Like the old Parsi gent who in his Sunday best would drop in at various café and restaurants in Kala Ghoda frequently in the same year announcing it was his birthday whenever he was in need of a free meal and attention (most of the establishments had indulged him); or the professional gate- crasher couple who show up in all their finery to random wedding receptions to partake in the glamour, lights and delicacies on the table; or like the big, fat conveyor belt of second hand gifts, such as bottles of wine and spirits, mithai, chocolates , candles, vases and sundry bric a brac, that travels several concentric circles around the city, especially during festive season, often ending up in their original sender’s home eventually.

Indeed, in a city of gargantuan frauds and colossal chicanery, I call these Mumbai’s ‘Hum Aapke Hain Con?’ variety of transgressions and misdeeds…

The Unexpected Consequences of Confinement

Now that the Maharashtra government has further eased pandemic-related restrictions in in the wake of a significant fall in coronavirus cases and shopping complexes, cinema halls, restaurants and bars, sports complexes, gyms, spas, swimming pools and theatres are allowed to operate with 100% capacity in stipulated areas, reports are coming in of much merrymaking whooping it up and revenge partying. “Restaurants, bars, clubs and malls are packed to the gills, as people return to their pre- pandemic lives with a vengeance” informs a leading city party -hearty pal. “The other night at my club, the conversation at every table had to do with ‘killing it on the stock exchange, living it up, conspicuous consumption and extra marital affairs.’” He exulted.

Oh dear, so nothing’s changed, I said to the LCPHP; no wisdom, rethinks and insights after all those months of compulsory lockdown and introspection?

“Not really” he said, “Except, I guess in this case: there’s this married friend of mine who after having been confined at home in the company of his long-estranged wife and unable to meet his mistress for two years –has discovered the virtues of domestic bliss and monogamy- and refuses to go back to his mistress.”



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