Is Mumbai really as cosmopolitan as it is commonly perceived?
“Nah…how can this happen in Mumbai, that too with a Bollywood star?” I heard many people say when Emraan Hashmi reported that he was having difficulty in finding an apartment due to his faith. Then it was Shabana Azmi. “I wanted to buy a flat in Bombay and it wasn't given to me because I was a Muslim and I read the same about Saif (Ali Khan). Now, I mean, if Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi cannot get a flat in Bombay because they are Muslims, then what are we talking about?”
I've studied in Mumbai, stayed in a hostel and enjoyed the freedom to move about even in the late hours of night or wee hours of morning more or less safely. I come from the town of Udaipur, where everyone knows you and seems interested in your affairs. But, when need be, they would also go out of their way to help you. In Mumbai, I loved that people tended to mind their own business. Here, you could feel carefree and uncared for. But not discriminated. At least I thought so.
Years down the line, I've been sensitised towards professionals, students, families, strugglers and stars who have one tag in common — I am a Muslim. A couple of months back, my cousin, who is a pilot with Jet Airways, had his base assigned as Mumbai. He came, stayed at our place and I was sure he'd find a good flat on rent soon in the suburbs.
But it proved to be a much more trying task than we'd anticipated. Through various agents, he scanned Powai, Santacruz, Andheri Lokhandwala, Kandivali Lokhandwala, Thakur Complex (Kandivali), Thakur Village (Kandivali) and so on. The choice proved to be very limited for Muslims. Many more options were available in the same areas, through the same agents, for my sister-in-law (husband's sister), who is a Bengali Brahmin. Most of the agents are gracious enough to inform you at the start about the limited options. The more discreet ones politely shake their heads about the unavailability.
Post many agents and many rejections, my cousin finalised a flat in Kandivali Lokhandwala and gave the token amount. After much delay, it was returned as the society had refused to let a Muslim in, although the owner was ready.
Last week, we went to see a flat in a building complex in Thakur Complex, adjoining the highway, where the society didn't have a problem with a Muslim tenant. But the owner refused to lend it to a Muslim. Although my husband assured that he, a Marwadi, was his brother-in-law and our offices were located quite near that building, there was no convincing the owner.
More liberal place
I walked away from that building, thinking about my grandfather who was the only one to open his shop during the Partition riots in the majority-dominated locality. People from all communities loved him well enough to elect him the Vice Mayor and then Mayor of Udaipur. His wife, my grandma, was the one of the initiators of women's education in Rajasthan and served as the Vice President of the Rajasthan Branch of All India Women's Conference (AIWC), of which Maharani Gayatri Devi was the President, way back in 1952. Our family comprises Kayasth Hindus, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Punjabis, Marwadis Baniyas, Bohras…many of whom have considerable contribution in politics, social service, arts, wildlife, conservation, literature and education in India. We celebrate all festivals round the year. I was always told that the fabric of Indian society was rich with a profusion of languages, traditions and cultures woven over the ancient, medieval and modern ages. It was impossible to separate it thread by thread. Come to think of it, perhaps our little town of Udaipur is much more liberal at heart than many a cosmopolitan city. Perhaps the people of olden days were more liberal-minded than many a modern Indian.
Many societies in Mumbai, of which the majority flats are owned by business classes, have the unwritten rule of not allowing Muslims in. In the apartment complex where my in-laws live, one of the best in the Western Suburbs of Mumbai, there is not a single Muslim family. Even though initially the builders may sell flats to Muslims, once the society is formed, no more are allowed. This is not a general rule in all societies, of course, but a prevalent one.
Yes, there are Muslims, as well as other minority communities, who prefer to stay in ghettos. But I realise, with a heavy heart, that there are not many places for a liberal Muslim to go to. And aren't the majority communities making ghettoes for themselves by not letting the others in?
In Gokuldham society of the popular comedy serial “Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma”, there are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, but not a single Muslim family (except a token Muslim small store owner). Perhaps that reflects the reality of many other building complexes in Mumbai. No Muslims Please!