In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land.
In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.
The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.Continue reading the main story
Economic hub of India
Mumbai isn’t just the wealthiest city in the country, but among the wealthiest globally. It is where the headquarters of multiple financial institutions are located – from the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India, National Stock Exchange, and the Mint, to Indian business giants such as the Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, Essel Group and Reliance Industries.
Attractive to migrants
As the commercial capital of the country, Mumbai has much appeal to anyone in search of work and better career prospects. Migrants from every part of the country move to the city every day in search of a better life, hence the name ‘City of Dreams’ was coined. In spite of its many slums and alarming extremes in wealth distribution, it is seen as a city that will reward anyone who is willing to work hard.
Bollywood, India’s largest and one of the world’s largest film industries is synonymous with Mumbai. The city has accordingly established itself as the film capital of India. It is where many Bollywood storylines are based, where top studios are located and where the most famous directors, producers, actors and crew members live. And so, to the rest of India the charm and appeal of Bollywood holds true for Mumbai as well.
From the stunning Bandra-Worli Sea link to the pristine white Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai’s architecture is complex, rich and exceptional. Marine Drive whose lights form an arc resembling a string of pearls dubbed as Queen’s Necklace, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus whose Victorian architecture has resiliently stood through more than a century of events from terror attacks to freedom struggles – are all symbolic of Mumbai’s charm to the rest of the subcontinent.
Past and future
Mumbai’s dream-like quality has as much to do with its rich past as it has with its promising future. While the city’s global importance and position grows by the day as India re-positions its economy globally, it was a hub of civilization and exchange with other great civilizations even 2000 years ago. The stunning Kanheri Caves, Elephanta Caves are remnants of a rich past where Mumbai fared as a commercial and ideological hotspot. Even Mumbai’s journey from a scattered group of seven historic islands to its current form is nothing short of dream-like for onlookers from elsewhere in the country.
City of firsts
From India’s first five star hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace, to the country’s first movie screening – by the Lumiere Brothers in 1896 – Mumbai has been home to many ‘firsts’ and ‘premieres’ in the country. The subcontinent’s first passenger train ran in Mumbai from the now defunct Bori Bunder station to Thane in 1853, and the country’s first civil aviation airport opened at Juhu in 1928 – showing how Mumbai holds promise of innovation beyond that of any other Indian city.
Arts and entertainment capital
Mumbai isn’t just the film capital of the country. A majority of the city’s leading ad agencies, media companies, television studios, music production companies and cultural movements are concentrated here. Some of the city’s premier art institutions including the legendary Jehangir Arts Gallery which has played an important role in the country’s modern art movement, are all located here.