But if there is one thing that we can be certain about Aaditya [Thackeray] is that he seems to know exactly what he is doing and the direction he wants to take his party and political career towards. Tony Blair and Thackeray seem to have much in common and after the initial shock of finding out about his fondness towards left-leaning socialist policies, it made sense to me why out of all the leaders in the world, Blair is who the young Thackeray draws inspiration from.
Blair came into politics much early in his life after spending his younger years promoting rock music, doing a few stand-up gigs, playing guitar and being a part of a rock band called Ugly Rumours, ironically. While politics was not a major part of his life till he met his wife Cherie Booth but, soon after, he found himself in Labour politics in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where he aligned himself with the “soft left” of the party. In a letter written to leader Michael Foot in July 1982 (published in 2006) he wrote “came to socialism through Marxism”, but critics have denounced him for bringing the Labour Party towards the perceived centre ground of British politics, abandoning “genuine” socialism and being too amenable to capitalism.
Thackeray seems to be dealing with something similar within the Indian sphere of politics. The twenty-eight-year-old urban Bandra boy educated at St Xavier’s constantly finds himself defending his new-age political ideas.
One which particularly raised eyebrows within the party’s consistent voter base was that of revamping the nightlife in Mumbai.
“What my idea was that if you travel to London and if you travel to Paris or even if you’re in Delhi or Mumbai and if you’re up until late night...are you a late night person?” I get asked and my mind goes back to the many nights I spent awake last year, hunched over my laptop screen, eyes bloodshot from crying and re-reading drafts of Small Acts of Freedom while my LSR roommates walked in with their sling bags hung across their bodycon dresses and high heels after a particularly adventurous night of trying to find a club or a bar in Hauz Khas Village that wasn’t filled with creepy, lecherous men staring at them or offering to buy them drinks – a standard night out routine which was then followed by all the girls huddling together in a group on the dance floor, forming a circle of protection, as they tried to enjoy the few years of freedom college life gives you before work consumes you and ties you into a routine. Finding a cab and getting home also becomes a task and week after week, I would find myself sitting in the same spot on my tiny bed having one of them come and fall at the foot of my bed and break into a story of “the dude that just won’t back off “.
“I’m kind of boring that way,” I admitted. “3 o’clock? I would stay up maybe reading a book. I’m very awkward at clubs.”
“Exactly the same. Even I don’t know what to do. I’m just standing and people are like, you’re promoting nightlife but you don’t know what to do with it.” We burst into laughter about this shared emotion of being the loners in a party.
“Basically the whole idea was that if I’m hungry at night or if I’m watching a football game and I want to step out with friends, here we go to these small places – Ayub’s or Bachelors. have you been to Bachelors?” I tell him I haven’t but I have been to Ganga Dhaba in JNU when I was a first year student after a particularly long session of sitting on the lawns, debating and throwing ideas at each other, a conversation that went on late into the night as many such conversations do.
The current dispensation has put a deadline on the iconic Ganga Dhaba that quite literally housed and fed students while they discussed the world around them. I understood how important that culture in JNU was and why the students are striving to resist the government trying to put a stop to it. I shift in my seat and move forward to listen to why he wants nightlife when the right in Delhi has done everything to stop it.
“So Ayub’s and Bachelors are on Marine Drive and they are open all night. The thing with these places is that they are nice and clean, but not everything is clean like them. There are many other places where girls and boys go, which are in dingy areas. They are not clean, they don’t follow hygiene standards and you have random things like epidemics and safety issues.
“I was like, okay, we are a city that never sleeps and if you travel in Mumbai on a Saturday night, you’ll find traffic at Worli Seaface, you’ll find traffic in Juhu, you’ll find traffic in Marine Drive at 1 - 1.30 at night. You have women driving around safely on their own and it is a great city to be in. It’s very safe. If people are out then, it’s the government’s responsibility to provide them with services, to provide them with utilities.
“And if the government cannot afford that, then we have the private sector, at least. Let the private sector do so.
“Cities like London or new York, they faced terrorist attacks but they did not shut down. In fact, London started the tube on Saturday nights. So here if you start off, the idea is simple. We have malls and pubs, and we have great places coming up. So we can have a bowling alley or a nice Cafe Coffee Day or a Barista or a Starbucks or a movie theatre or a gym.
“I said, why not have areas in these zones called special entertainment zones and give them a twenty-four hour permit. Be it a shop, be it a milk vending outlet, be it a gummy bear shop. If it is in that zone, where you have no residence nearby, where you have ample parking, where you have CCTV and security and you’ve given them a licence – something that’s legal in the day cannot become illegal in the night, that is the basic argument. Let people breathe, let people live.
“Mumbai is a city where you start off at 8.30 in the morning, you reach your work around 9 - 10 because of traffic and you come back by 10. So you shower, you come out and it’s 11 o’clock and where do you step out with your family or friends or with anyone else? You need a place to chill at that time, and that was the whole idea behind it.”
“How much of this has been implemented”’ I wanted to know. My weekend in Mumbai was a long one with work lined up till 11 every night; if my twenty-one-year-old self had any life left in her body, maybe I could go visit someplace, I thought.
“So there was a lot of debate over it; there was a lot of, you know, politics over it and they thought I was just going for a crazy culture change. So I had a conversation with the then police commissioner, Mr Maria. He said, listen, it’s not our job to go around shutting bars and what you’re doing is right. Crime rate will reduce.”
I understood this concept well. The first protest that I joined in my initial months in Delhi university was one organised by this organisation called the Pinjra Tod, at that time headed by one of my senior presidents from LSR. The protests occurred to push forth the demand to revoke curfew for girls’ hostels and garnered a lot of media attention. I would sit with my roommate watching video after video of my president asking for a twenty-four-hour access to the outdoors so women could occupy the streets, hence making them safe. The more women there are on the streets, the safer they become for other women.
“Think of this, the hospitality sector is the biggest employer in the country today. And especially because our people want time to chill. The revenues might just double or triple. We are a tourist city. Delhi’s identity is tourism in terms of landmarks. We don’t have landmarks. We have businesses, we have nightlife and we have the sea. Imagine the promenade, and imagine the carts going around and things like that in non-residential areas.
“These areas could be up all night and as per international norms, you employ one person for eight hours. Twenty-four hours demand employment of three people. The revenue goes up for the state businesses. tourism increases, more employment is generated and people have time to chill in safer places, better places.”
Excerpted with permission from The Young and the Restless: Youth and Politics in India, Gurmehar Kaur, Penguin India.