All they know is that you’re trying to get to the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust." — Suketu Mehta (Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found)
Bombay or “Mumbai” as it is now called is a city that a lot of us love with a passion and hate with a vengeance. There is something about its very nature that brings out these very intense feelings in anyone who has ever been there or calls it home. “A City Adrift – A short biography of Bombay” by Naresh Fernandes the editor of @scroll.in, is a lovely and engaging read on the city that runs in my blood.
In the history lessons in school, we were taught how the island of Bombay was given to Charles II as a lucrative dowry for him marrying the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Apparently, Charles II was not impressed with her looks and exclaimed “My God! They have brought me a bat’ to marry”. While the dowry couldn’t sweeten the life of the poor princess the East India company who paid an annual rent of 10 pounds per annum, ensured that Bombay changed the fortune of the British Empire.
From historical facts to the empires dreams of reclaiming Bombay, the author moves to how the city became a magnet for people from all walks of society, trade, religion, and culture coexisting together in the same space giving it a distinctive buzz. There were some fascinating tidbits about the opium trade that flourished in Bombay in the 1800’s and the major players behind it who then took on the social responsibility to ensure that the city and its residents benefited from their philanthropical work, which is almost unheard of now.
The book packs a punch in the 155 pages full of historical, political and industrial facts about Bombay, which were hitherto unknown to me. The author laments on the point about the city’s alacrity on getting back to work after every significant calamity it goes through. It doesn’t matter what the issue is Riots, Bomb Blasts, Floods, constant traffic jams, terrible infrastructure and public transport woes nothing and I mean nothing seems to faze the ordinary Mumbaikar who has learned to live in apathy and take it all in his stride. It looks like the soul of Mumbai is dying every single day.
As the city planner Charles Correa said “Bombay is a great city and a terrible place,” beautifully summed up in this book.