He’s not made of gold. He’s a plaster statue painted with gold paint and I’m not even sure how we acquired him. I think it might have been on the trip to India just after we we married, when the young men of my Grandmother’s village took the OH to an illicit beer shop whilst I stayed making conversation with my aunts.
The village was, even then, very strongly BJP, (Bharatiya Janata Party,) and, although at the time I did not detect much of the stirring Hindu chauvinism and nationalism, the fact that the young men of the village were coalescing around a youth representative was indicative of what was to come.
So this bust of Shivaji, the Maratha hero and scourge of thew Mughals and British, was presented to my English OH, and has sat on one of our Billy bookcases for more than 20 years.
At first I was quite proud to have him up there watching over us as a reminder of the power of intellectual strength and courage and sheer bloodymindedness. Now, though, I’m not so sure.
A few years ago, a second cousin of mine who is quite famous as an educational standup was giving one of his lectures at the diamond wedding anniversary party of my aunt and uncle, who lived in an historic castle in the countryside. I didn’t catch all that he was saying, but even then, translating for my English speaking cousins, I was quite disturbed by the jingoism of the sentiment he was stirring up. People lapped it up, of course, which is one reason why he is so popular, but I was really shocked.
As you know I visit India regularly and every time I go I see more nationalism and chauvinism and the strengthening of Hindu first policies which don’t chime well with atheist, liberal, feminist me. Of course India is by no means unique in this tendency to blame The Other for anything that goes wrong, but I am witnessing and hearing about the increased marginalisation of minorities and I’m really disturbed by it.
To my dismay, Maharashtra voted for ever more right wing parties in the elections last year. To say one could compare it to a UKIP/BNP coalition is probably an exaggeration, but at the time the rhetoric made it feel a bit like that. One manifestation of this in Maharashtra is the increase in BJP flags everywhere and that major rail termini and airports are renamed after this Maratha nationalist hero, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
We have taken all our stuff out of storage and we’re starting to arrange the objects d’art around our new space, and Shivaji glares at me from my sideboard. MsDD often complains that his gaze follows us imperiously around the room, and it would appear that he is watching our every move like some sort of gimlet-eyed raptor.
I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I am daily more uneasy at the prominence of this symbol of Hindu nationalist ascendency in my new kitchen but I’m not quite comfortable with chucking him in a skip, partly because he makes a good story.
A disclaimer here: I don’t pretend in any way to be an expert in Indian and Marathi politics and I am fully aware of how sensitive a subject this can be, especially when discussed by an outsider with the reviled “Western Values.” All I’m doing is saying how I feel, how uneasy it makes me, how alarmed I am at the chauvinist retrenchment I witness, and I’m trying to do it with a bit of honesty and lack of hubris. Which might not go amiss elsewhere.
Incidentally, that village, that I first visited when I was about three years old (my mum had won some money on the football pools which had enabled her to visit her family for the first time in about four years) was really rural and unremarkable. It is currently proposed as the site for Pune’s next international airport. Progress.