Salaam, Bombay

I finally realised my dream of visiting Bombay. I would still call it Bombay; screw Shiv Sena and its likes. The city is still Bombay to me. For one, I like the name Bombay more than Mumbai. Secondly, Bombay brings back the first images of the city that are deeply embedded in my memory.
I am not mortified to say my fascination for visiting the city stems from my love for Hindi films. And, last week when I made a hurried visit to the city, I was in awe. For, the city was exactly as I imagined it to be. A confluence of dreams and setbacks, hopes and despair, and a connect between the past and future.
As the plane touched down on Bombay, on a foggy and pleasant morning, I bravely (I suffer from severe air sickness) peered through the window to catch a glimpse of the city. Towering buildings that dotted the huge landscape seemed huge even from a higher altitude, I was surprised to see lanes of hutments just adjacent to those magnificent structures. That was Dharavi, the grandest example of Indian disparity, where palatial bungalows rubbed shoulders with one of the biggest slums in the world. Ah, this is the Bombay I have heard of, I told myself.
Since it was a day after Diwali, the city was still in a festive mood; the noise of crackers everywhere, house brightly lit with serial bulbs and a huge crowd at the markets.
In the evening, I took a stroll down Juhu beach. It was a Saturday, a holiday, a day for family outings. I am a bit disdainful when it comes to appreciating beaches, for I come from the city that boasts of the second longest beach in the world (that is debateable though). I sat on the wet sands, silently watching the most transient images, wondering if these were the sands Anand played by Rajesh Khanna walked on humming Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli haaye while Amitabh Bachchan watched him despondently.
An urban Indian would know at least ten places in Bombay, thanks to DD and other satellite channels that have their head offices in the city. I remember, as a child, I often wondered why all DD programmes had Worli postal addresses.
Each place conjured a flurry of celluloid images and I was fervently trying to place each image with the names of the places, much to the amusement of my friend, who volunteered to show me around.
Bombay is much more than just a large, thriving metro. The city attracts chagrin and admiration at the same time. Perhaps, this paradox is its greatest asset, giving each person a fair chance to survive. How else can you justify the city attracting both a labourer from Bihar and a working class Madrasi? For both, Bombay is an ideal destination and surviving in the city a litmus test, determined by one factor, perseverance. Here bombings and resilience are brothers in arms; stardom and religious fanaticism find the most random link; and struggle and success aren’t poles apart.
Even to those who reproach the city for its ruthlessness in filtering incompetence and complacency, it is a metaphor that stands tall among all odds. It is baffling how so many paradoxes can co-exist and amalgamate to become the epitome of agglomeration.
My stay in Bombay came to an end in a jiffy. And as I stood exploring the labyrinth of human existence, I heard a group of urchins fussing over a heap of crackers. Diwali celebrations were still on and in full swing. This is the city that doesn’t want to forego the excitement of bursting crackers, despite surviving deadly bomb attacks that has left a mark on every inch of its space.
Maybe that is what prompted Majrooh Sultanpuri to pen the famous lines: ‘Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Hai Jeena Yahaan. Zara Hatke, Zaara Bachke yeh hai Bombay, meri jaan’. Is there a more befitting tribute to the spirit of Bombay?


10 Responses to “Salaam, Bombay”

  1. Jan! Reading this post triggered a rush of memories and what began as a comment here morphed into a blog post here:

  2. The bollywoodish touch makes it a really good read, jas.. couldn’t agree more with it.. Felt like m reading my feelings for ‘Mumbai meri jaan’.. 🙂

  3. That this city has so many paradoxes also means that their is a chance, a chance to grow, to make it big.
    And this hope makes the spirit of Bombay what it is.

    PS- I too prefer calling it Bombay.

  4. Beautiful sunset, but, what a crowd!

  5. I thought i would comment
    ‘Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Hai Jeena Yahaan. Zara Hatke, Zaara Bachke yeh hai Bombay, meri jaan’
    But the last line said it all….you hit the nail in the head…and as far as bombay is concerned…Its fast..very fast…
    The only thing which makes bombay the way it is because the city has grown due to jobs and opportunities it gives and when a city does an organic growth and does it because of development, it reflects in the attitude of city.

  6. I enjoyed reading this blog, I have also felt this funny feeling about Mumbai as I had grown up with the idea of it being Bombay. do not stop writing and when you do have a moment view my link. Do take care a keep in touch. Your positive feedback on the link would be ver welcome.

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