Mumbai state of mind

Melting pot or salad bowl? Maximum City? Minimum City? City of dreams? Or city of nightmares? Mumbai never throws up clear answers.

Akshaya Mishra September 27, 2011 22:00:34 IST
Mumbai state of mind

Melting pot or salad bowl?

Maximum City? Minimum City?

City of dreams? Or city of nightmares?

Mumbai never throws up clear answers. Too many things about the city are in the realm of the abstract. Too many answers depend on where you stand in so many divides that define the city. The city is never in a hurry to explain itself.

But it confounds — by its sheer variety, by its cussedness, by its brilliance, by its ability to balance contradictions, by its energy and by its exuberance.

Demography does not take us beyond the obvious. There are too many intangibles that make the city bigger than the sum of its individuals. It does not explain which magic glue holds so many disparate people together. Watch the crowds everywhere closely. It could be a miniaturised India. Yes, there's a sprinkling of the global too. It's an agreeable co-existence of the dissimilar. Unique, yes. But this is Mumbai.

You never know whether you are an insider or an outsider. The question does not come naturally here as it does in other cities of the country in times of momentary confusion. The city never discriminates. One becomes an insider upon arriving here. But you realise you are an outsider when the politics of exclusion seeks to drill into you that you are not part of the herd. You look around, see so many herds. You laugh and then forget.

Mumbai state of mind

The city never discriminates. One becomes an insider upon arriving here. Reuters

Mumbai is much more than a city. It's a state of existence.

Beyond its everyday visuals, of the slum spreads and vertical villages, of glass-fronted structures and decrepit chawls, of the cheek-by-jowl existence of the rich and the wretched and of the chaos on trains and on roads, Mumbai is an experience without parallel. Every Mumbai experience frames a different definition of the city.

Speed. That in a way defines the city. Its daily rhythm is fast and furious. You are sucked into it even before you make sense of the skyline beyond after arriving in the city. Before you make sense of the faceless crowds at the railway platforms, you are a part of it, jostling, running, getting hauled into bogies, getting ejected out of them, getting badmouthed and badmouthing back.

Your delicate ego is crushed efficiently with that first experience. The city knows how to handle egos, flatten everybody to nothingness. You turn to that ubiquitous, aesthetically-challenged black and yellow taxi and sigh. You know you have been reduced to that within seconds, metaphorically at least.

Movement is the static reality in Mumbai as is speed. The city loses it cool at times. Bombs shatter its rhythm, the city goes under water, politicians pour some hate into the everyday existence and the auto guys go on strike for no reason. It rants and simmers in impotent fury. But it cannot stop. It is programmed to move. The city's a giant treadmill.

Is it a melting pot or salad bowl?

Maximum City?

City of dreams?

City of disasters?

Mumbai does not fit into any description.

It’s a state of existence — beautiful and wretched; beguiling and simple.

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