If you ask that given a chance which city in this country you will wish to visit at least once, the answer will be Mumbai most of the times. Mumbai or Bombay or बंबई has been “The City” from its inception. The Portuguese king, John IV, might have never thought that the seven islands that he was giving as dowry to his son-in-law, Charles II, the king of England, was going to be one of the grandest cities in the world.
Every city in this world has its own characteristics. Mumbai is not any different. What are different are her characteristics. I’ve always wondered why Mumbai progressed so much as compared to other cities. Geography text books will tell us about her excellent position in the trade routes leading to India (rightly called the Gateway of India), her excellent natural port (Bombay in Portuguese means good little bay), the productive hinterland in Gujarat and Maharashtra and the maritime climate. But taking all these facts to be important what I believe is the most important are the people and the attitude that they have developed. They are who define the city.
Whether you are in Colaba, Borivalli, Kurla, Ambernath or Kalyan, the clockwork punctuality of the Mumbaikars to be seen and appreciated. I’ve not seen trains being announced as “12:28 की CST जाने वाली Fast local” anywhere in this country. At every station the trains are announced as per the departure time of the train. In rest of the country it is the train number which is announced. Even if there is a train at 12:34 at the very same station, missing the 12:28 makes you 6 minutes late. Elsewhere, it’s not a problem at all. Everywhere the clock goes forward by 5 minutes and somewhere by 15 minutes as well. In Mumbai, every minute counts. 12:28 means 12:28 and not 12:30. This punctuality is embedded in the life of every Mumbaikar and it percolates and shows in their other activities as well. No doubt the ‘Dabbawalas’ of Mumbai are so punctual and accurate. Even Prince Charles met them.
They have a “Never say NEVER” attitude and accept happiness and success as easily as sadness and failure. They are neither afraid of bombs nor of riots. Every morning, after a bad evening, is a new morning to them. This attitude in their DNA has brought great success to them. I remember seeing a school boy waiting for the train to his school at 7 o’clock in the morning a day after the 2006 train bombings. When the reporter asked him that wasn’t he afraid due to the blast, he replied that he had a test and if he doesn’t give that his teacher will scold him. The reporter told that his school was closed due to the blasts. He again replied that he was not told so when he came home the last evening. The train came and he boarded it. The boy is just a representative of the positive attitude of the city. You throw stones at them; they will turn them into milestones. The city hence has seen a lot of success when it comes to money. The GDP of the city is more than quite a few countries!
The city is known for its films, cricket, business and underworld. And it must be remembered that apart from cricket, all three have been a bastion of migrants. The migrants along with the locals thrived and succeeded in these professions. Amitabh Bachchan, Jamsetji Tata or Abu Salem are not known for where they came from. They are known for what they achieved in Mumbai. This elastic cohesiveness of the city has made what it is today. The city gave equal opportunities to everyone. She took everyone in her lap. It was upto the individual to convert the support into success. If we write the success stories of migrants in Mumbai, the pages will be more than the population of few cities of this country.
If one tries to define the culture of Mumbai, he will surely fail. Western and Indian ethos exist side by side. These ethoses have never been a trouble. Every region in this country has a representative in the megacity. Once in a radio interview Johnny Lever said that people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Manipur to Jamnagar live in Dharavi. He jokingly said that there is a small Andaman & Nicobar as well. Dharavi is the microcosm of Mumbai and Mumbai is the microcosm of India.
Religion or caste has never been an inherent problem of the city although it has seen a lot of attacks on the name of religion. Every time it was attacked, it came back stronger. You can visit Mahalaxmi, and then go pay your obeisance at Haji Ali and take a bus to Bandra Church. On the way back visit Siddhivinayak, go to Chaitya Bhoomi and end up at Mumbadevi. You are welcome everywhere.
The Arabian Sea best defines the city.
Vast, Homogeneous, Turmoil on the surface and Calm at the bottom.
Thousands of people still come today to either become a Bachchan or an Ambani or just to earn a living. Mumbai has accepted them all and transformed their lives.
Salute to the city of Mumbai and the Mumbaikars.