I hail from the Silicon Valley of India and have been an ardent fan of the way of life in the biggest metropolis in the country, Mumbai. I simply love that city, for its sheer magnitude, pace of life, accommodative nature, range of opportunites(land of dreams, as they say) and immense will to steam ahead irrespective of whether there is a crash on Dalal Street or a bomb blast in the suburban train.
A lot has been said and written about the recent bomb blasts on 7/11(India's own version of 9/11?), but I don't think Mumbaiites have the time or the inclination to fall prey to this dastardly act.I remember seeing the BBC news on 9/11 back in 2001, when the twin towers came crashing down.None of the footage there showed any jumping bodies, or blood-stained images, lest it dents the psyche of the American race,more than it already had.But Indian television channels had a great story on 7/11/2006.After all,they don't get such juicy stories everyday!My God!The lifeline of Mumbai,indeed the lifeline that transports the people who run the financial capital of the country, had been hit.One of the television channels even had their own journalist on the same train,but on a different bogie to the one that was reduced to ash.And that made for terrific soundbytes and TRP ratings,to have given a "first-hand" account of the events.
But,yesterday evening,I was witness to a couple of showpiece events on television, across two leading channels.One was in CNN-IBN,with the effervescent Rajdeep Sardesai getting tough with a bunch of 6 panelists from Mumbai,while the other was in NDTV.Predictably,it was the famous Barkha Dutt,again with a bunch of famous Mumbaikars on the panel and an angry audience to boot.As I was watching these two programmes that deliberated on whether Mumbai is a soft target and beyond repair,I found the same cliched answers by both panels on both channels.Topics ranged from anger of the average Mumbaikar,how there is no political will, how there is a collapse of the infrastructure in the big city,how there is no leader who can inspire the city,how gangsters,mafia,powerful honchos,bollywood threats,13 blasts in the last 13 years had made Mumbai city vulnerable.It was amazing to see the cross-section of society in these two television studios voicing their concerns, saying that they do not have the resources to run the city and its the job of the adminstrators.The famous 26/7(why have we reduced journalism to dates?!)rains that destroyed the streets of Mumbai and paralysed normal life,was discussed threadbare.The point that 13 years have passed since 1993 and we still have not convicted the key accused in the Mumbai blasts was loudly echoed.And the city has been hit again and again since that dark day in 1993 - Ghatkopar,Gateway of India,Zaveri Bazar,Mulund blasts are as fresh in the average Mumbaikars mind as the the 7/11 bomb blasts in the local trains.
Looking at all these detailed analysis,I got the feeling that all of us STILL love the city of Mumbai,but are unable to come up with a solution to manage its scale and size.I also got the sinking feeling that we are scared deep down that the face of India in the international economic map,is slowly weeding away at its firm exterior.While we may romanticise the famed Mumbai spirit and rightly so,I strongly felt that this time,we are sincerely and genuinely concerned that our own version of New York city is incrementally getting eroded in its own value.Sadly,the terrorists seem to have understood this gradual erosion and are hitting harder each time.
Yes,there is corruption,there is are traffic bottlenecks,there is a sensitive stock exchange,there are major conglomerates in India and abroad with headoffices or some presence in Mumbai.Corporate honchos live in Mumbai,Bollywood stars and sports stars are based out of Mumbai.Many influential people have made Mumbai their home.Some of the most famous journalists are from Mumbai.Why,even the great Pramod Mahajan,had the formative years of his enterprising spirit in Mumbai/Maharashtra.We have rags to riches stories aplenty in Mumbai,most notable amongst them being that of Dhirubai Ambani and the Reliance behemoth.The great Mumbai marathon exemplifies the Mumbai spirit.Leander Paes has made Mumbai his hometown for the last 6 years and has promised to host the Davis Cup again in Mumbai,and for as long as he can manage it,till he is the captain.The last Davis Cup was won on the adrenalin that Leander received from the Bombay crowd.Financial analysts,investment bankers,lawyers,bankers,policy makers,central banks,commercial banks,dance bars,taxiwalas,hotel chains,upmarket socialites and a cross-section of the Indian populace are all based out of Mumbai.That is the fantastic accommodative nature of this great city.This very diversity is becoming Mumbai's problem and possibly weakness.
The resolve of the city never to bicker down can negate the sternest of terror attacks.BUT,beneath all this,there is another Mumbai.One of chawls,roadside vendors,vada-pav stalls,mafia,underworld dons,extortion threats,black money,blackmail to the high and mighty,floating population that comes into the city in the morning and goes to neighbouring towns and cities at night.All sorts of people live in Mumbai.And it is in the greater cause of the growing city that we seriously need to look closely at this scare,inherent soul-searching that we have been doing in the last week.We seriously need to pay heed to this feeling that this time,maybe,just maybe,the surface of the Mumbai wall in its essence has been hit.And that is something, we cannot choose to ignore.
I do not know what the solution is.All I do know is that,I simply love the city of Mumbai.Everytime I go there from Bangalore,I feel like extending my stay by a day or two.I feel like seeing more of that city.I have gone in those local trains myself, from New Bombay to VT and even Churchgate.I love the sandwiches that are sold outside Churchgate station;there have been days when I have had them for breakfast and lunch.I love the speed of the city.There is something enigmatic that captures me everytime I touchdown at Santa Cruz.That look out of the aircraft window down into the Arabian Sea and over Marine Drive is something I adore!
Please don't kill this pulse in Mumbai,both for the Mumbaikars, and for millions of others like me,who truly LOVE Mumbai!Its AMCHI MUMBAI for all of us!