It's a bit scary to write about the great Maratha king, Shivaji. Those who do normally make it to TV. With news of their being stoned and beaten up.
But the fact remains that Shivaji is, what one would could these days, a 'rockstar'. And this is not just in his native state of Maharashtra. I remember that we were big fans of Shivaji in school in the last century. We'd often play Shivaji and the Mughals those days instead of cops and robbers. Everyone wanted to be Shivaji. And this was in Calcutta at the other end of the country.
The Government has recently sanctioned plans to build a statue of Shivaji in the sea. The aim is to make this taller than the Statue of Liberty. Reports peg the cost of the project at Rs 350. The aim is to honour his memory and make a tourist attraction too.
Rs 350 crores is a lot of money. Especially for a state which is going through tough times and where there is a high incidence of farmer suicides due to economic depravity.
Could this money have been used better?
In fact there is a lot which can be done even in the tourism front.
The other day I had wandered into the old by lanes of Kalbadevi, Mumbadevi and Gamdevi near South Mumbai by mistake. There is so much vibrancy and life there. Each lane has its own character. You could be walking by imposing Muslim mosques and minarets in one with dry fruit shops beside you. And then by ornate Hindu temples in the next lane with hardware shops around you. I was so tempted to jump out of the car and hit the streets with my camera to capture the riot of colours. These lanes are a treasure trove in a world where many are trying to hold on to the liveliness of the past as we move on to a mechanised robotic future.
And India is the new black with the world looking to India to see how we have held our ground in the times of recession.
Yet Singapore sells 'Little India' to tourists while we have not thought of making tourist attractions of our heritage.
Once you have had your fill of the India in the crowded lanes, you can head South to areas such as Colaba, Fort and Fountain to feast on a well preserved slice of 19th century England. These areas have some astonishingly beautiful Gothic buildings from the times of the British Raj. Walking down these lanes take you to another era where life was slower, the world was still being discovered and the air was unpolluted. A world where aesthetics, style and grace counted for something.
If you have had enough of history and want to clear your mind and let new ideas come in then you can head to the Marine Drive nearby. You can sit by the sea and let your thoughts wander as you unwind the way nature wanted you to.
Go down North and you hit the grimier mill districts of Parel and Dadar with its flower, vegetable and clothes bazars. The squishy markets make you cringe? A lot of Far Eastern countries sell walks through these markets to sanitised Westerners. Just check Bobby Chi walk the markets of Malacca and Bangkok in his programme on Asian food. And Istanbul's Istiklal Cadesi has a very fancy food dome with well heeled restaurants serving Turkish food inside. The dome is decorated with flowers and chandeliers. It used to be a squishy wholesale flower market earlier!
And if you need a breather from this pre-modern Indian stuff then you can head to Bandra and celebrate the free spiritedness of modern India. This is the youngest, liveliest, trendiest and most welcoming suburb of Mumbai. And within its hip and happening spots you will find idyllic lanes which smacks of a village in the most modern spot of Mumbai.
My heart bleeds when I see cities like Singapore and KL making tourist attractions out of a thirty year old heritage. When I see the transformation that Istanbul has had since the times of Orhan Pamuk's post Ottoman melancholy to its post Euro Cup glory.
There is so much which can be done at Mumbai to harvest our potential for tourism. You will rarely get a city so rich in its past and so open in its thinking. But this needs good airports, clean roads, proper taxis and public transports, maps, affordable hotel rooms, facelifts and restorations and most importantly a desire to welcome guests. Something which made Turkey so wonderful for us.
Does anyone have the will to do this?
Coming back to the statue ... that is relatively easy to do. But how about restoring Shivaji's forts. Building trails, train rides along the hills where Shivaji used to charge down at the Mughals could be an idea. Entire tours could be built around siginificant events in his life. This would grow the legend of Shivaji. AND develop the economy through business and employment opportunities across the state.
There are icons in modern history such as Shakespeare, Tagore, Marx, Einstein, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and Emperor Akbar to name a few who don't need statues to be remembered and revered.
I would dare say that Chhatrapati Shivaji would be part of that August group.
Interestingly the Statue of Liberty was gifted to the US by France.