Standing at Marine Drive, wit the sea breeze altering my well-set hair do, an upsurge of strange serene exhilaration fills my mind as I take it all in: the expansive ocean, with the hint of a setting sun, the clean, wide refurbished footpath, vehicles disappearing amidst a maze of structures, and five-star hotels housing designer boutiques. My Mumbai is a work of art. And surveying it, I begin to consider
the origins of this historic city, and the various artists who contributed to creating this cultural mosaic.
The Portuguese territory named ‘Bom Baia’ (Portuguese for ‘good bay’); the city of ‘Bombay’ that came into its own under the British Raj; the contemporary avatar of ‘Mumbai’. This city is a mosa ic created with such a myriad of colours, it makes the thought of living anywhere else a scary one.
In fact, my infatuation with Mumbai – particularly the grandeur of South Mumbai -seems to be deepening every day. So it’s no wonder I savoured every one of my student days at St. Xavier’s College. Each time I stare at the intricately carved 1869 establishment, a sense of pride wells within me. And there’s nothing I enjoy doing more than gazing at the gothic collage of structures that serve as landmarks in the vicinity – the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Rajabai Tower, Mumbai University, Elphinstone College. Then there’s the majestic backdrop of the Gateway of India; I love that entire neighbourhood. I love the cobblestone pathways resounding with the clip-clop of horseshoes. I love the elegance of the old Taj Mahal hotel wing. And I love the convenience of the new wing’s loo, a popular stop even with the more impoverished tourist!
However, born and bred in the eastern suburb of Chembur and member of a social service organisation that takes me through the length and breadth of this city, I have experienced its paradoxical nature. There’s old world charm and state-of-the-art redevelopment. There are wholesome roadside vada-pau stalls and gourmet cuisine at exclusive restaurants. There are single screen classic theatres like Eros and hip multiplexes like PVR. There’s the squalor of Dharavi and the glamour of Bollywood. There is the nexus of the underworld, politicians and police force, and the network of scholars, activists and students. I’ve experienced the city in all its facets: visiting the red light areas, working with shelter homes, chilling at the garden oases; bumping into international popstars.
Mumbai evolved through the years, from a city of seven islands to a city securing the seventh position in the world (at least in terms of the largest billionaire population). But be it through the eyes of an Anglo-Indian, a Chemburite, a Xavierite or a social activist, to me, Mumbai is just home.
This article appeared in Outlook Mumbai in 2008.
For the record, I will always refer to my city as Bombay!!