the-south-asian Life & Times April - June 2010
By O P Dutta
In the year 1952, I made a movie titled ‘Malkin’ (Land Lady). It was all about a ‘Chawl’ (block of tenements) in Parel, Central Bombay, that accommodated more than twenty families that lived like one. Kindness and affection flowed all over.
Then entered the moneyed builder who came to the chawl with the intention of persuading its young lady owner, to sell the place to him. He would demolish the chawl, send the occupants fending for themselves and build a high rise building to house modern offices of big corporations. The struggle between money and humanity ended in victory for the human values. The message of the film was looked down upon by some as regressive.
Ever since, I have been watching the trail of so-called progress in Bombay (now Mumbai).
The chawls and bungalows have vanished from the Metro. The mangroves and the forests around the city have been replaced by a concrete jungle so dense that even the sun and moon cannot penetrate. A huge population lives in pigeon-holes called flats or tenements, while the pigeons have discreetly shifted to the ducts of air conditioners or windows sills, which too are rare.
I accosted a ten-year-old lad coming out from his concrete pigeon hole. His name was Praveen.
“Have you ever seen a sunrise?” I asked him. He searched for an answer then said “Why should it rise or fall, it is always there.”
“O.K.! What about sun set?”
“When the night falls” said Praveen. “And yes! My mom tells me it drowns itself in the ocean.”
“O.K. Praveen, what about the moon?”
“It is never there. The sky, if any is always grey and cloudy. But yes I have seen it on the Pakistani flag.”
Now it was my turn to smile. I asked him “Have you ever seen or heard of Pole star or Dhruva tara?”
“What is that?” he asked in turn.
“OK. Praveen. What about Sapta Rishi?”
He scratched his head and said ‘It must be an Ayurvedic medicine.”
This time I laughed and continued with my questions “When do trees exhale oxygen or carbon dioxide’?
Praveen smiled and told me that he had never heard of trees breathing.
My young friend Praveen is not alone. A whole generation has been alienated from nature in the name of progress.
Boys and girls belonging to the upper middle class or affluent families are alienated from the realities of life – living in a make-believe world created by T.V., mobile phones and laptops. We are actually being attacked from the skies. Machiavelli in his advice to the prince had said ‘if you want to conquer and annex a land, destroy its culture first.’
One can see the exorcism of values at every step.
Young Angelina going out on a date, when told by her mother ‘Have a good time and be good’ tells her mother “Mom! Make up your mind.”
Young Bhatt Keshwar, a rebel without a cause, is asked by his aunt to show more respect towards his mother and father and reminds him “… after all they are the parents who brought you into this world.” He quickly replies “I know. Actually they were out to have fun. My birth was just incidental.”
Mrs. Lamba is celebrating her son Pinku’s first birthday. The child, in the arms of his ayah (nanny) called Kaamna, is screaming to be at the bosom of his mother. But the poor mother has her hands full- one holding a glass of wine and the other a cigarette holder. Disturbed by the cries of her son, Mrs. Lamba shouts at the ayah “Take the brat away. He won’t allow me even to celebrate his birthday.”
All in the name of Progress.
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