Flavours of Bombay

(Above photo by Shabnam Sirur – http://shabnamphoto.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/london-street-photography-festival-whats-your-vote/ ) 

It’s a fact universally known that a man cherishes his childhood all his life. Being born in the city of Mumbai, my childhood revolves around it- beholding its sights and being captivated by the grandeur of an age gone by. It is not only a city, something more, a spirit that inherently envelopes you setting foot here. As the sea breeze brushes past your face, it induces a tranquility that elevates you. Filled with vibrant hues of action and drama, its story is no less than a Bollywood movie.

By Kaustubh Sarkar

F. Y. B. Chem

The name Bombay is an anglicized version of the Portuguese name ‘Bom Baim’ literally meaning good little bay. The Portuguese ruled Bombay in the 15th century.  It was first inhabited by the ancient Hindu communities who left their marks in temples. The Sultanate still reflects in the several mosques and the Haji Ali Dargah. The British era truly brought the English sense of lifestyle and from then, Bombay grew as a city of international status. Unlike their predecessors, the British didn’t coerce the locals to convert, resulting in the fusion of three religions giving the city its characteristic cosmopolitan flavour.  Opening of the Suez Canal made Bombay the premier trade city in India attracting both the skilled and semi-skilled artisans from far off places. The textile industry boomed and so did the economy. The seven islands were connected by land reclamation from the sea. In the new city, rose the Gateway of India, the Victoria Terminus, the Taj Hotel and others which are still India’s pride. Arts and culture took a centre stage as art galleries, theatres, writers and artists abounded. Truly, it was a Golden era.

During the Independence struggle, Bombay remained a key revolutionary centre.  After independence, the cry for separating the Marathi and Guajarati speaking regions of the Bombay State led to the formation of Maharashtra and Gujarat. The troubles did not end as large scale migrations started causing problems culminating in the assertion of the local Maharashtrian identity which was being marginalised in the social sphere. As a result, Bombay, reminiscent of the British days, was renamed ‘Mumbai’, derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbra Devi.

Aptly called ‘sapnon ki nagri’, it holds a million aspirations being host to the glamour world with its heart throbbing to the songs and movies churned out by ‘Bollywood’ , the largest film industry in the world.  Now an international city with foreign brands lining the city shop-line, it is no surprise to find most youth sitting in malls wearing the latest Armani, happily digging into pizzas with a bottle of Coke. Mumbai changes every day yet retaining its past. The occasional ‘Aamchi Mumbai’ moments like the Parsi cafes, the age old misl pav or driving around Queen’s Necklace at night makes us nostalgic.

Like a double-edged claymore, our advancement is also causing problems.  The population time bomb is ticking with the city bursting at seams, putting a huge strain on environment destroying the marshes and mangroves making the winter visitors vanish. Pollution is slowly destroying the biodiversity of the city. The public services are of mediocre standards which leave much to be desired and our ‘chalta hai’ attitude doesn’t help. Lack of open spaces and cut-throat competition is killing childhood. Sanitation and safe drinking water are priced commodities and millions are living in dire conditions on the streets. The increasing crime rates and corruption are eating away the moral fabric of society. The arts are thriving as libraries and reading spaces vanish.  In a bid to copy others, we are increasingly adopting even the bad aspects of western societies, a situation paradoxical to what the city aimed to be in the 1990’s.

The indomitable spirit of Mumbaikars is what really sets us apart. We have been shaken, bombed and even faced the nature’s wrath but life returns and the human spirit remains invincible.

In spite of all its shortcomings, Mumbai will always remain special.  Its soil and air remind me of who I am and what I aspire to be. And as all Mumbaikars sometimes hear in their conscience, the song plays on:

“Ai dil mushkil hai jeena yahaan, Zara hatke, zara bachke

Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan”

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