Use of the word ‘ghati’ in his book Breathless in Bombay has landed first-time author Murzban Shroff in trouble, with an activist claiming that it “lowers the reputation and image of Maharashtrians in the eyes of non-Maharashtrians”.
While 47-year-old Shroff, a Mumbai-born Parsi, maintains that the term is not aimed against any community, activist Vijay Mudras wants the government to seize all copies of the book, which he feels is a serious threat to communal harmony.
However, political parties like the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – who call themselves champions of Marathi pride – have not objected to the book.
“I don’t think the word ‘ghati’ is derogatory. To me, it means someone from the ghats and is not aimed against any community. Personally, I never use the word,” Shroff said.
On Friday, the Bombay High Court will hear Shroff’s plea for quashing of a case filed against him in February by Mudras. He is charged under Section 153 (b) of the Indian Penal Code for making statements prejudicial to national integration.
Mudras objected to certain dialogues that include the word ‘ghati’ in ‘This House of Mine’, one of the 14 stories in the book. The story revolves around occupants of a society who face an eviction notice from the housing board. One of the characters, named Olaf, repeatedly uses the word ‘ghatis’ to describe the Marathi-speaking people in the building.
In his complaint, Mudras alleged that the book could foment disharmony, feelings of hatred and ill will and demanded seizure of its copies. On the basis of his complaint, a metropolitan court had ordered a probe by NM Joshi Marg police, following which the case was registered against Shroff.
However, a police source said the charges are likely to be dropped.
Shroff pointed out that the book is over a year old, and there is no sign of communal disharmony so far. “It is ridiculous that I am being charged. If the police found me a threat to national security, they would have arrested me,” he said.
He added that the book deals with biases and the class-divide in society, and the views of the villain in a story can’t be taken to be the author’s.
“It is a compilation of short stories written over seven years, on the theme of migrant workers. The character Olaf suffers from a class bias and calls everybody a ‘ghati’. But the protagonist in the story tells him that his attitude is wrong,” he said.
Mudras’s lawyer R Satyanarayanan refused to comment on the issue.