Monday, October 09, 2006

Oh Bombay - II

One of the great myths about Mumbai is that it’s the most cosmopolitan city in India. Well, actually it’s not a myth. It is quite true, in case your reference point is Meerut or Ahmedabad. Ok, maybe even Chennai. But then, relative cosmopolitanism does not score highly in my scales.

My friends keep telling me that I do not recognize the greatness of the cosmopolitan Mumbai, because I have not worked for a living in any other city. “In which city would you get a place like Bandra, where the population is equally divided between Hindus, Christians and Muslims?” they say. “Where else are differences in cultures not only appreciated but celebrated?”

Looking at that kind of logic, you may tend to agree. However, I beg to differ. In my opinion, most of what is construed as cosmopolitanism in Mumbai is actually barely suppressed tolerance. By long practice, the different communities have built up invisible walls around themselves. The people outside the wall are rationalized generally through stereotyping. You must have heard the popular ones, “Bongs are football crazy, cultural snobs who can’t think beyond fish and sondesh”, “Gujjus are so money-minded that they would bargain even with their dads”, “Punjabis talk continuously without sense and believe in ostentatious celebrations”, “All Maharashtrians want their sons to become doctors / engineers because they are afraid of business”, “Parsis are congenitally mad in love with old family heirlooms” etc. etc.

This is not to say people in other cities do not suffer from this pigeon-holing syndrome. But nowhere is it as acute as it is in Mumbai. People of the city accept the differences, because they believe steadfastly that people are by nature so different from each other, that they cannot be understood. Comfort is found in labeling others as Bong / Mussal / Mallu / Ma ka Pao / Tam / Gujju / Sindhi / Marathi in trying to explain their reactions to situations, rather than finding out other, more truthful explanations.

The next question of course, is why? Why people in Mumbai are so indifferent, so impersonal that they could only see each other with this blinkered vision. The answer I think lies in Mumbaikars’ obsession with running the daily marathon which passes for life. Everyone here is always running for their lives or more precisely their next bundle of cash. This relentless mind-numbing chase leads to a situation, where the mind is simply incapable of the effort required to understand another person deeply. Stereotyping and rationalizing on the basis of that paradigm is a much easier option.

Sad, but true. Cosmopolitan Mumbai is just an illusion. The ghettos here are not apparent, because they are deeply etched in our minds.


Anonymous said...

Another awesomely written hard hitting truth about my city... it truly is my city and yes... what you say about it is true... the apathy has gotta end sometime... until then, its every man for himself... and i like that status quo just fine...


Anonymous said...

Nıce to see a serıous note from u - really lıked ur wrıttıng style .. but sort of dısagree wıth u -- ıts just not a Bombay scenarıo but an Indıan way of typecastıng people as marathı. gujuratı etc -- ıts prevalent anywhere ın Indıa but maybe more promınent ın Mumbaı as there more dıfferent type of people ın bombay (beıng a mıgrant cıty) than ın any other Indıan cıty..


Prometheus_Unbound said...

Yes, Mumbai is not cosmopolitan in the true sense. Look at how ghettoish its becoming. Goregaon (for Marus), Jogeshwari (for Mussals), Bandra (for the nouveua rich and the Anglos), Vashi (for the Bongs), Southern Mumbai (originally cosmo, maybe Parsi, slowly transforming into a Jain ghetto), Chembur and Dadar (for the Marathis). Its sad to see how slowly the city is changing. Try getting an appartment in any of these suburbs and the first question from the broker on the phone is, 'But Sir you are ----, that area may not be to your taste.'

Prometheus_Unbound said...

BM-04. Nice to stumble upon another Bummer on blogspot. Would love to catch up with you once I am back in Mumbai.