“If you grow up in Bombay and learn to thrive on its noise and fumes and crowds, if you can coexist with the rich biodiversity in its water and survive its homicidal traffic and killer trains, then trust me, you will have lots to write about should you ever become an author. Look at me: leaving the city when I was 20, and still beholden to it 33 years later.
Certainly, I’ve tried to work my way free. The nostalgia of growing up in one room of a flat shared with three Muslim families? All expended in my first book, The Death of Vishnu. My parents’ memories of migrating there after partition? Purloined, with gratitude, for The Age of Shiva. A snapshot of the present, followed by a picture of the past – which meant that for the last panel in this triptych, I had to invent the city’s future. A very dystopian, wartorn future, it turns out. Could my latest book, The City of Devi, be an attempt not to write about Mumbai any more by blowing the city up?
Except Mumbai is indestructible – its patron goddess Mumbadevi will surely swoop in to save it. The city has such vast reserves of energy that long after the earth has cooled, it will still be churning out Bollywood films. Like most of the other mesmerised (or should I say infected?) authors listed below, I am destined to keep writing about it.
The quintessential Bombay book by Rushdie is, of course, Midnight’s Children. I’m not listing it here because of the greedy way it chewed up the city’s scenery, unmindful of the generations of subsequent Bombay writers (like me) to come. Got a great idea about monkeys on Elephanta Island? Too bad, Rushdie’s been there. Tetrapods at Marine Drive? Think again, Salman Uncle’s already put his stamp on them.
So let me choose The Moor’s Last Sigh, his other Bombay book. Rushdie’s caricature of local rightwing leader Bal Thackeray (recently deceased) earned the book a temporary ban in India when it was released – even now, you’ll have trouble finding one in a Mumbai bookstore.
A tribute to the millions of inhabitants of the city, chronicling their lives with acuity and empathy, mining wit and humanity from every strata of society. The author uncovers a Bombay that even long-term residents may never have seen: dancing girls, thuggish powerbrokers, mafia hangouts.
A storyteller relates mesmerising tales that describe Bombay in different moods, both dark and bright. My favourite story, “Shakti”, deliciously mocks the cut-throat aspirations of the city’s “club culture” class. Meanwhile, “Artha” is a haunting look at the doomed relationship between a gay Muslim computer programmer and a Hindu postal clerk who might be mixed up with the mafia. Sartaj Singh, first seen here as the police officer in “Kama”, later reappeared as one of the two central characters in Chandra’s epic novel Sacred Games.
A plot that weaves together life in Mumbai’s communal “chawl” apartment blocks with proselytising nuns and supposed scientific research into extraterrestrials might seem a dubious proposition. But Joseph manages to skilfully keep all balls in the air with sharp, biting prose and deep insight into the motivations of his protagonists. Joseph’s characters illustrate the grandiose self-image of a country that hasn’t quite been successful in backing up its lofty aspirations with actions yet.
The longest and best entry in this collection of three novellas takes the reader through a Bombay that is almost surreal in its decay: “a great expanse of tainted shoreline – dirty sand, sodden litter, scummy water, beached plastic – where it was always low tide”. Theroux lures his American characters (or rather, victims) into “a new level of the Indian experience – the lowlife of the truly desperate”.
This anthology is filled with wonderful, quirky essays – a look at the little-known Jewish community in the city, a harrowing account of life in the distant “wild west” suburbs, an account of the day a ship carrying 600 tonnes of explosives blew up in the dock, throwing all of Bombay into panic. VS Naipaul makes a cameo appearance with a hilarious contribution about his attempts to overcome the city bureaucracy to bring in a couple of bottles of alcohol.
Thayil was predictably punished for his brilliant departure from standard dictums of “the Indian novel” – his agent told me it received scathing reviews when it was first released. Thayil’s exploration of opium dens and its denizens penetrates through the lowest strata of Mumbai society to find a space of surprising clarity.
The author actually names Bombay here, unlike the “city by the sea” he referred to in A Fine Balance. Primarily a meditation on life and ageing in the Parsi community, this engaging narrative has a broad enough canvas to include a swipe at Mumbai’s rightwing Shiv Sena party. In 2002 the extremist party retaliated to jibes in the author’s first novel, Such a Long Journey, by demanding it be removed from the reading syllabus of Mumbai University. Shamefully, the vice-chancellor capitulated at once, illustrating that the city most canonised in Indian writing is sadly not the best upholder of free speech.
This first novel is packed with riveting characters, incisive humour and relentless energy. The author’s true interest, however, lies in the exploration of form: the novel consists of stories that telescope into each other to create a fascinating narrative chain, one which snakes through the city in search of its own tail, to link full circle.
Combining historical sketches, maps and photographs with a spectrum of essays, this volume traces the history of the city from the time it was a collection of seven islands. There is special emphasis placed on the architecture, with a wonderful chapter on the city’s art deco theatres (including some nostalgia-inducing photographs of the Metro of my childhood, now sadly a multiplex). This is a generous book, the kind that might adorn a coffee table, but one whose well-researched chapters still manage to provide deep insight into the evolution of the city.”
Thought I’d make something nice for my 5000th post on this blog! I love how vibrant my culture is and I love how this ad showcases that. :)
The other Malabar Gold “Brides of India” advertisement showing all the diversity in brides across India! I have to admit that I like this one better because it showcases Bengali brides as well (she’s the one in the middle of the video with the white tiara around her head, being carried around the groom)
So I’m writing a novel about a roadtrip through India, and all I want in my life right now is a road atlas of India’s highways (like the Rand Mcnally kind). But whenever I search on Amazon all I can find is children’s books like the “World Atlas of India” or whatever that just have little blurbs about Holi and Hinduism and Castes and whatnot and none of the information I actually need. Barnes and Noble is not much better, their travel section is extremely eurocentric. I even went on the National Highways site and all they had were giant PNGs of some of the highways and none of them would print out right.
Does what I’m looking for just not exist? Or am I just looking in the wrong places?? Any help would be GREATLY appreciated! ♥
Happy birthday Lord Krishna, the original superhero, born one dark stormy night
At midnight, an idol of the baby Krishna is bathed, dressed in new clothes and jewellery, and placed in a cradle and surrounded by his favourite homemade sweets and fruits. At dawn, the women draw little children’s footprints outside the house with rice-flour paste, walking in the direction of the house to symbolise the arrival of the infant Krishna into their homes.
More on Janamashtami festival by Somewhere in the world today…
Picture:Sahri krishan janamashtami by ankur photo journalist, on Flickr
In Maharashtra, India on Janamashtami (the birthday of Lord Krishna) teams of young men form human pyramids to reach a Handi (clay pot) of buttermilk hanging up high in order to break it spilling the sticky liquid all over themselves!
More on Janamashtami festival by Somewhere in the world today…
Picture: Dahi handi (by anupama kinagi)