(Mumbai from the 12th floor of India Bulls)
I physically miss Mumbai when i am away from it. There is something about the city – the sheer energy, the sheer buzz, the lack of pretense. that is missing elsewhere. Maybe people from other cities will express similar sentiments about their city. I suppose they would. Often, one hears the statement – the Mumbai you grew up in is very different from the Mumbai today – but so are you 🙂
In the last 15 years or so, Mumbai’s gloss has been losing its sheen. It is looking tired and tarnished. There are those who blame the transition from Bombay to Mumbai for the issues, there are others who blame ‘outsiders’. Maybe both these statements are right – afterall the people who are making them are highly regarded in their own circles. And, political correctness aside, these are comments that most of us have heard every day. Not just in Mumbai but elsewhere too – the nostalgic remembrance of days gone by – when people knew their place. Where people did not yet comprehend that they were equal citizens of a Republic. Where ‘outsiders’ were fewer and in their little enclaves (one could call them Ghettos, but they weren’t Ghettos, at least not then)
(Bandra Fishing Village, Mumbai)
Some of my classmates, when i was in school, lived in the slums. Some had mothers who worked in homes as maids, others had fathers who worked in the mills. I remember one whose dad was a taxi driver. At school we were told, don’t get expensive sweets on your birthday, to distribute. Others in your class cannot afford it. We used to take in those boiled orange sweets (Parle) – remember those?
We used to attend each other’s festivals. Haldi Kumkum, for example was a multi cultural, multi community event. Women would go to other people’s homes (with reluctant kids in tow) – communicate, chatter, complain about their husbands, exchange notes about their kids. This was not so long ago.
(Gudi Padwa – Girgaum, Mumbai)
Somehow, while we maybe right about other reasons, including corruption, bad policing, the dying mills, influx of outsiders, de-gentrification of Bombay, i wonder if the reason is even more basic – we have stopped forging deeper social bonds. Attending each other’s festivals, participating in little joys. Somehow we seem to have moved into our little ghettos – those ghettos might be gated towers where people of a single economic background live (as a friend pointed out – how do you see us little people from up there) , or they maybe sprawling chawls where Ambedkar Nagar is very clearly demarcated from Kumbharwaadi (who look up at the buildings and wonder about the life). There are separate schools, separate hospitals, separate colleges. It is almost as though we have said – so what if you can vote the same as us – you are not us. we don’t want you and we don’t want to intermingle. And they say to us, who the hell are you – you can’t even speak one Indian language properly, you can’t even pronounce your names correctly – what on earth do we want from you!
(Many strands, each separate – how do they come together? Kala Ghoda – Mumbai)
Even the Sarvajanik Ganpati – started by Tilak to both bypass British rules & to foster a sense of community are now little ghettos. There is a Ganpati every 500 metres, each organised by a separate entity. A festival that brought us so much joy has now become one more thing to be endured, as competing groups of strongmen & extortionists collect money with veiled threats, take over pavements and streets, and create general chaos and mayhem. As our maid pointed out “wasooli cha dhanda zaala hai”. She doesn’t send her daughters to the pandals. We no longer go. no longer pray together. I miss participating in the aarti – i used to know all the stanzas at one point in time, but i can no longer bear to go. The piety has gone. It is now about Hindi film music and Bollywood dancing. Not that i have anything against either, but religious events are about sharing and participating, a disco is about dancing.
The fabric of society is woven, thread by thread, event by event, occasion by occasion. We are just not creating enough threads that holds everything together. And somehow, in this city where women had a great say, where the first working women made their mark, where women brought their sons up to be good men – women have been edged out. That ability of women to reach across class, across community and talk to a sister under the skin, that has been severely dented. Maybe, that is what needs to be nurtured.
You can’t prevent people from making Mumbai their home. You cannot change the name back. There is no point crying for the past or even romanticizing it. The past was not perfect, nothing ever is. But we can forge a future – a future that is better. And, while there needs to be a fix on infrastructure, and corruption, and the builder’s lobby, and employment – there is also that little thing that we can do – reach out and form ties. Learn the language, learn multiple languages, attend each other’s festivals, reach out – or am i expecting too much?