Rohinton Mistry free to come to Mumbai

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Rohinton Mistry

Come back, Rohinton, all is forgiven.’ That was the assurance given by Aditya Thackeray, whose protest against the perceived ‘derogatory remarks’ about Maharashtrians in Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Such A Long Journey’ led to the prompt withdrawal of the acclaimed novel from the II Year BA syllabus of Mumbai University in September 2010.

The young Thackeray couldn’t have said otherwise for he was in heart of Dadar’s Parsi Colony at a meeting on Sunday evening to urge the community to vote for the Shiv Sena candidate Rahul Shewale. It’s another matter that the loud and clear message from the line-up of speakers was that the vote actually had to be for Narendra Modi.

Thackeray, who is clearly a more consummate politician than his father, had pulled his chair closer to the audience, spoken in Bombay Scottish/Xavier’s English; mentioned the fact of having ‘so many Parsi friends that I sometimes doubt that this is a minority’; pressed all the right buttons by evoking Dadabhoy Naoroji and Pherozeshah Mehta and the ‘unparalleled contribution’ to the building of the city; even pulled out the surefire ‘sugarin-milk’ cliche; was so happy that

‘Roshni Aunty (Damania) and my Mom had spoken about organising this encounter, and that he was ‘not here for a vote-bank, but a relationship bank.’

It was that earnestly-expressed assertion that prompted the first questioner to remind him that the Parsi community had been particularly disquieted over the withdrawal of the book by Rohinton Mistry, a contemporary great in whose glory it also basks. She asked Thackeray, “Do you have a rethink, would the book be reinstated on the syllabus, and could the Ontario-based Mistry revisit the city of his birth without fear of being attacked by zealous Sainiks?”

Copies of the book had been burnt at the University gates, and the leader of the mob had yelled into the television cameras, “The author is lucky he lives in Canada. If he were here, we would burn him as well.”

Young Thackeray replied that he had “acted only because several teachers came to me and protested about having to read out abusive words about communities”. He singled out Mumbai Mirror for ‘blowing up the issue’.

Specifically asked if Mistry would not be targeted should The Times of India Literary Carnival invite him for this year’s edition, Thackeray said, “He is free to come.” There was scattered applause from the audience, which did not quite fill the modest community hall attached to the serene Dadar Athornan Madressa that trains Parsi boys for priesthood.

The cheerleaders for Narendra Modi were Manek Davar, who informed the audience that he’d been an active Jan Sanghi since he was 14, and gave personal testimony to Modi’s speech and support for the ‘Iranshah’ at Udvada, the community’s most revered pilgrim spot that falls in Gujarat. Modi had indeed offered to set up an Information Centre, which the Parsi orthodoxy had opposed because it would defile the place’s sanctity by attracting ‘parjaat’ tourists.

The suave soft-spoken Davar delivered a rally-grade speech, ending by warning, “If you press the button on NOTA, it’s a waste of your vote; and if you vote for Congress, it’s a waste of your future.”

BJP cheerleader Shaina NC and Aditya Thackeray were the billed attractions, and when they arrived only 30 minutes late, the very polite Parsi audience stood up. Matrons twittered excitedly about seeing the celebrity Shaina in person. The BJP has not put up a candidate in this Mumbai South Central constituency.

Its ally Shiv Sena’s Rahul Shewale was there and in deference to the crowd started his speech in English, and switched to Hindi, both lacking the fire of his Marathi.

The community had been urged to attend by Dadar Parsi Colony celeb, Pervez Damania, who spoke highly of his good friends ‘Uddhav and Rashmi’, adding gratuitously that they ‘loved Parsi food’. His views on the Sena and Modi were endorsed by the builder and BPP Trustee Jimmy Mistry, who also lives here in a building dramatically lit and decorated with Zoroastrian iconography. Wellness expert Mickey Mehta was also passionate about the change that young and aspirational India hungered for and which only Modi could usher.

The audience was cautioned not to be swayed this time by the Feroze Gandhi connection: “Don’t say ‘Rahul (not Shewale) ketlo sweet chhey.’ If you feel that way, send him alover letter but don’t vote for him.”

Aditya and Shaina met Adi and Sherna, but on April 24 Dadar Parsi Colony may still be NOTA impressed.

THEN: “The author is lucky he lives in Canada. If he were here, we would burn him as well”
– The leader of the mob of Shiv Sainiks who burnt copies of the book at the gates of Mumbai University in 2010.

NOW: “I acted only because several teachers came to me and protested about having to read out abusive words about communities. He is free to come to Mumbai”
– Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray yesterday

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