Thursday, November 27, 2008

Amchi Mumbai

Mumbai--or Bombay as we'd known it for years--was the city I made fun of. It was the city that rikshaw drivers and domestic servants ran away to, to become film stars. It was full of brash, opininated, self-important people, of models and actresses and suited financial types. The home of people who would say things like "Bombay is the best city in India," or "Bombay is India's NYC and LA rolled into one,' or " Bombay pays most the country's taxes and we get no benefits while states like Bihar and UP and Delhi reap the benefits."

Yes, Bombay was to me self-important, self-obsessed, and yet it always was India's city of dreams. For indeed, small town girls and boys could come here and become stars, where the lingo of the tea-boys was hip, and though gritty and urban, it became transformed at night when the glittering queen's necklace lit up.

Perhaps it was a reaction to Bombayites'--now known as Mumbaikars--dislike for my state's and Bihar's refugees who streamed into the city straining its resources to their breaking point. And yet the city stretched to accomodate them. Perhaps there was some admiration, maybe even envy woven into my psyche. Perhaps that pounding pulse of Bombay, that brash uncaring attitude, that touch of rudeness and the self-obsession was something I wished for myself and for my hometown and my state.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, across the street from the Arabian Sea was the hotel of aspirations. It was where we dreamed of going. No matter the new and amazing other hotels in Delhi or even Mumbai, I still remember my first time, at 12 when I had dinner at the Shamiana restaurant. Sure, I pretended to be blase, but still so many years later I remember that first time. The Taj was history and glamor and wheeling dealing and exotic, all at once. It was a gracious, grand hotel and despite my teenage refusal to find anything redeeming about Bombay and its sprawl, I found my evening at the Taj enchanting.

Today as I watch the splatters of blood, the look of shock on faces, the fires at the grand old Taj and the Oberoi and Trident hotels I remember my past dislike for Mumbai.

And I see Mumbai for what it is. India's economic engine, its repositor of dreams, the place that makes us believe all is possible. Despite its problems I see beneath its brashness is impatience, beneath its jostling, bustling heart, a desire to see things happen, to *make* them happen.

It is to this chaotic, teeming city of dreams that Islamic terrorists with rucksacks laid seige. They ran through the streets, shooting people, exploded bombs at Victoria (now Chhatrapati Shivaji)Terminus. They holed up in its finest hotels, targeted foreign visitors and the predominantly Jewish Nariman House. A city that sacrificed three of its top cops, and nine other policemen to the attacks, where over a 100 have died, while hundreds more have been injured. The terrorists may or may not be Pakistani but they certainly had some support from across the border. According to NDTV's coverage intercepted calls seem to suggest this. In fact, the terrorists were supposed to say they were from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, not Hyderabad in Pakistan. The full truth will come out some day I hope. Regardless, it is impossible to carry out these widespread attacks without local complicity and that saddens me and makes me very. very angry.


No matter how bad this is, and not much can be worse, Mumbai is the one city that can withstand this. Even after the simultaneous train station bombings in 2006, people went back to work the next day. Yes, Mumbai is a tough city. Its people are tough and they are resilient.

Today, I can say, with no reservations and no pity, but with admiration and support: I love Mumbai. Today, I too am a Mumbaikar. And today with all Indians, even those of us who live elsewhere, I too can declare: Amchi Mumbai, My Mumbai. Terror will not overwhelm us.

Amchi Mumbai, Our Mumbai, we are with you.


DL NELSON said...

Beautifully written, but no person living any place on this planet needs this violence whether imposed by a person, group or government.

Geets said...

i share your sentiments!