Our guest today is Monica Bhide, a fine writer and an expert on Indian food. Her latest work is Modern Spice. Monica wrote a moving essay on her blog which was posted at Facebook after the terrorism attack on Mumbai. I knew that she might have some different ideas than those I came away with from Slumdog Millionaire.
I was not born in Mumbai nor did I grow up there. I have never lived there for longer than a few months at a time. And yet, as a writer, it is the destination that I have written about the most.
I have written love stories in yearning for the city’s seafood, I have written essays on my Mumbai-based idols, I have written pieces on how to shop in Chor-Bazaar, the Thieves Market, what to order at the Taj and the craziness of the fish markets. Mumbai has given me inspiration, it has given me dreams, life-long friends, a zest for learning the local language so I could understand all the bad words being hurled around by street kids, and it gave me the love of my life – my husband.
What is it about this city that makes everyone who lives there call it “Amchi Mumbai” (My Mumbai) and what is it about this city that makes people like me lose their hearts somewhere between the street food vendors and the glamorous shopping arcade at the Oberoi? The short answer is the people. They have a spirit and a love of life unlike I have ever seen. They have a determination to make their city thrive, no matter what. And I think this is what was central to Slumdog Millionaire.. the spirit of the people, it is why the movie succeeded, I believe.
To your question of not wanting to visit after you saw the movie, well, I can understand why. But if you feel that Mumbai is only about those slums, you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, there are slums in Mumbai, but that is just one part of the city. There are also glorious monuments, fantastic eateries, and places where the real estate is more expensive than in Tokyo. That is also Mumbai. Mumbai is India’s nerve center, much like New York City is to the US.
There have often been comparisons made between the two major metros: they are the financial capitals – NYC has Wall Street, Mumbai has Dalal Street; they have major populations – Mumbai was 14 million at last count; they are melting pots of cultures and languages; they are home to major food establishments and businesses; they are cities where dreams come to build a life; they are places where even wanderers can find a home.
There are differences: Mumbai is also the host for India’s movie industry, has strong religious undercurrents, and yet Mumbaikars are equal opportunity devotees and the Lord Ganesh offers his blessings to one and all, religion not withstanding; and monsoons still define the way of life. I have seen movies about gangs in NYC, about the people who live under the city.. that does not stop me from wanting to visit what I consider to be an absolutely glorious city – I just stay away from the areas that I feel l don’t belong in or want to see particularly.
Next Monica tells us about her encounter with one of those areas of Mumbai that deeply affected her.