I happened to go out for a stroll in Dadar last evening. That doesn't sound like news, does it? But hear this...I haven't had an off on a Saturday for the last six months. So I quite enjoyed it.
The Ganapati (Ganesha) festival is coming up and the predominantly Mahrashtrian Dadar is buzzing with activity. There are shoppers everywhere - those who come for clothes, shoes, torans, gifts, utensils, etc. There are festive shoppers, regular shoppers and shopaholics. Walking on the footpath is difficult during non-peak hours - thanks to the hundreds of hawkers (did anyone hear of the hawkers' plaza here?) and the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.
Yesterday, it was even more difficult. There were policemen everywhere. Nah, they didn't look active enough to make it look like there was a bomb hoax or a security threat (believe me...they do a fairly efficient job at spreading the word among people, in either case). I couldn't make out why they were there in the first place. Yes, the Sena Bhavan, Plaza theatre and the railway station do make for soft targets, but a sudden increase in the number of policemen is still questionable.
It didn't take me too long to figure out. I stopped at the new Waman Hari Pethe (a jewellery shop) at Gokhale Road (north), where a man was adjusting the shop's display board. It was a new one - in Devanagari, of course. Two blocks down, I almost bumped into a ladder. A man, precariously balanced on the top step, glared at me before getting back to painting the signboard in Devanagari. "Aah, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's diktat. No wonder, there are so many policemen," I chuckled to myself.
Later, a thought came to my mind. I have had the privilege of travelling around India. If stores and roadsigns in Chennai could be in Tamil, in Bangalore in Kannada, in Kolkata in Bengali, in Gujarat in Gujarati and in Delhi in Punjabi and Hindi, why can't Mumbai, which incidentally is the capital of Maharashtra, have Marathi signboards? Language signboards are meant to help the locals. After all, how many of our people can read English and even if they can, why shouldn't shops put up Marathi ones as well for the benefit of those who can't. You don't find too many English signboards in Beijing or Soul, which are world-class cities, so why do we crib about putting up Marathi signboards in Mumbai? Is it because Mumbai is cosmopolitan or is it because we think we are above the vernacular? The MNS has raised a valid point. Only, it should have debated it in the House instead of forcing people to implement it on the streets and thus creating a security issue.
Language is the most important part of a culture (after its people of course). It should be preserved so that it can evolve in the future, to be able to bring and bind people together. It should be a matter of pride, not fear. People shouldn't be forced to display their shop names in a language, they should want to do it because they are proud of it. I guess, we still need to understand that...