Why Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey is a must-read for the Mumbaikar (and indeed for anyone interested in post independence Indian history)

On eating beef

And a time also arrived when Gustad himself shopped no more at Crawford Market, settling instead for whatever stringy bits of goat, cow or buffalo that the door-to-door goaswalla of Khodadad Building brought. By this time, he had lost touch with Malcolm and was spared embarrassing explanations about the tenuous, tangled connection between his desertion of Crawford Market and the sadhus’ nationwide protest against cow slaughter. It was easier to remain the silent, unknown apostate of beef.

On the subject of beef and cow slaughter, in case you haven’t read it till now, here’s Vikram Doctor’s fantastic piece.

On the Marathi Manoos agitation of the 60s and 70s

One day I had to take the train around eleven o’clock. You ever did that?

You know I never take the train

It’s the time of the dabbawallas. They are supposed to use only the luggage van, but some got in the passenger compartments. Jam-packed, and what a smell of sweat. Toba, toba! I began to feel something wet on my shirt. And guess what it was. A dabbawalla. Standing over me, holding the railing. It was falling from his naked armpit: tapuck-tapuck-tapuck, his sweat. I said nicely, “Please move a little, my shirt is wetting, meherbani.” But no kothaa, as if I was not there. Then my brain really went, I shouted, “You! Are you animal or human, look what you are doing!” I got up to show him the shirt and guess what he did. Just take a guess.


Just turned and slipped into my seat! Insult to injury! What to do with such low class people? No manners, no sense, nothing. And you know who is responsible for this attitude – that bastard Shiv Sena leader who worships Hitler and Mussolini. He and his “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” nonsense. They won’t stop till they have complete Maratha Raj.

Wait till the Marathas take over, then we will have real Gandoo Raj

On Nehru

But everyone knew that the war with China froze Jawaharlal Nehru’s heart, then broke it. He never recovered from what he perceived to be Chou-en Lai’s betrayal. The country’s beloved Panditji, everyone’s Chacha Nehru, the unflinching humanist, the great visionary, turned bitter and rancorous. From now on, he would brook no criticism, take no advice.

On bank nationalisation:

“Parsis were the kings of banking in those days. Such respect we used to get. Now the whole atmosphere only has been spoiled. Ever since that Indira nationalised the banks.”

Gustad topped up Dinshawji’s glas. “Nowhere in the world has nationalisation worked. What can you say to idiots?”

But all these quotations are the sidelights. They provide a large context. The real story is that of a Parsi community which once was a key stakeholder in the Bombay economy but is slowly seeing much of its influence and status wean away.

The women in the House of Cages peered outside to see if there was any sign of customers. To their dismay, nowadays the men preferred to listen to Peerbhoy Paanwalla and go home, rather than come inside.


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