August 18, 2006

Mumbai- Mater Civitas

Filed under: India n Me,Most Read,Mumbai,opinions,personal — Kaveeta Oberoi Kaul @ 7:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Hey guys!! Its been a while..Lifes like that..Wifely duties beckoned beyond all since hubby was embarking on a new project on 14th..wish him luck friends..thanks
I have written a piece for Kavita Chhibbers e-mag titled:

Mumbai- Mater Civitas.

When I think of Mumbai, a sea of impressions, etched deep in my psyche, inspire a deluge of sensations, undulating like ocean waves in my mind. And yet, how does one encapsulate the soul, the essence of Mumbai in words?


Quite unabashedly, I claim that Mumbai is my ‘jaan’ (life)! Just as one doesn’t question love for one’s mother, I’d rather not analyze what it is about Mumbai that binds me to it.


And yet how can one escape history? When King Charles II of England married Princess Catherine de Braganza of Portugal in 1661, he received as part of his dowry the isles of ‘Bom Bahia’, the ‘Good Bay’. Reclaimed from the sea, these would become the modern city of Bombay. In 1995, Bombay was renamed Mumbai, after the goddess Mumba Devi.


I was born in Mumbai, have lived here for most part of my life, save the years when foreign lands beckoned. ‘Home’ however, was always one place- Mumbai.


Mumbai is bundle of contradictions – a heady mix of affluence and poverty, where high rise buildings and slums co-exist peacefully. It carries in its womb the twin first and third worlds with seeming ease. Dichotomies of this kind bother neither the rich nor the poor. The exclusivity of an apartment life in an elitist neighborhood contrast seamlessly with the camaraderie of ‘chawl’ inhabitants, where hundreds live in match box structures. ‘Bhel puri’ on the beach is followed by cricket in the ‘gully’, and caviar with champagne is followed by a stint at the races at Mahalaxmi.


Perhaps, Mumbai has been the inspiration for more movies than any other city in the world. It has little to do with the fact that the Hindi Film Industry operates from here( how I dislike referring to it as Bollywood.. such a ‘me too’ feel) ever since its inception during the ‘Silent Talkies’, as it was then referred to . For the commoner, it was here that dreams of becoming a ‘big man’ seemed within grasp and Mumbai seldom disappointed. It has been oft repeated, that Mumbai feeds all.. none sleep hungry . Can the rest of India boast of this?


The glitz and glamour, razzle and dazzle of celluloid was next door for me. We lived at Khar-Pali, in the vicinity of Pali Hill. For the uninitiated, this locality has housed legends such as Dilip Kumar, Saira Banu, Rajendra Kumar, Nargis and Sunil Dutt, Meena Kumari, and so on. We moved amongst them and though their special “Star Quality,” was well defined, in those innocent days of our childhood, they remained ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty.’


We continue to live in the vicinity today, alongside the newer breed of stars- Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and others. And yet, even when boundaries are drawn, none of these stars can escape being witness to the harshness of life outside the periphery of their charmed existence. Many of them are ‘rags to riches’ stories themselves and no strangers to the sordidness of metro life, its trials and tribulations, toils and travails. Whether or not they choose to live in the backdrop of this reality or float on a cloud , insulated in their bubble, is a choice they make.


And yet today it seems that the halcyon days of Mumbai, with its Ambassador and Fiat cars, black and white films, when the term ‘peak hours’ still was a reality, and Doordarshan was the only T.V. Channel are gone. Gone are the days that saw deserted streets after 8.00p.m. emboldened with the advent of ‘discos’, reflecting a pristine lifestyle, which nurtured innocence and nourished simplicity.


Change was inevitable. Today, Mumbai is a city were just the urgency of living life is so intense that while you are in it, you lose all perspective of the past. Vibrant, pulsating, engaging and provocative, Mumbai leaves you with no option, save to thrive amidst all the turmoil..and yet you remain buoyant…hopeful. The song from the past which best embodies the spirit of Mumbai is’ Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan, zara hatke, zara, bachke, yeh hai bumbai meri jaan’.(Oh my heart, its rough out here, take strides, dodging the vagaries of life-because this is Bombay my love).


What happens to a city which grows without a plan, its life’s nectar sucked dry by politicians who give the key to the city after they have taken everything worth having? Ghettos resulting from multitudinous population, an incessant influx of humanity from other states, coupled with crime, which is like an overhead you have to pay, living in Mumbai is not for the faint of heart.


Mumbai is like a chameleon. The global trends of New World Urbanism or Gentrification are hurriedly being adopted . A timely call for a return to traditional city planning methods where mixed zoning would make housing, shopping, office space, and leisure facilities all within walking distance of each other. This would reduce the demand for road-space, while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of mass transit.


Presently close to being as populated as Australia , a continent and twenty times larger in size, two thirds of the people occupy five percent of the city area. The UN forecasts that 60% of the world population will live in cities by 2030 and 2 billion people will be living in slums. Mumbai needs to be rescued urgently.


Targeted by the terrorists for being the economic hub, the financial capital and the brain of India, Mumbai is being choked by an errant State Government. There is neglect of its infrastructure, an onslaught of taxation and the burden of an antiquated judiciary and stunted systems. And yet Mumbai is like a prayer that emerges strong and clear. An indomitable will to survive, posited to be at the fringe of unprecedented economic growth, Mumbai carries within the capacity to withstand any hindrance,


A great city is one which produces the greatest men and women. By that I don’t mean people blessed with fame, riches, wealth and social standing. The heart and soul of Mumbai lies in the fierce never say die spirit of its people, even when all seems lost. July 26th 2005 saw the worst of natural calamities rage on Mumbai. When the rain gods seemed adamant on wreaking havoc, the citizens decided to surge forth with bravado and grit.


My personal experience left me sending a silent prayer of deep gratitude. Nothing can be more devastating than to wait for your loved ones to return home, knowing fully that they are caught in neck deep water. My son was among those left stranded. But a kindly auto driver, helped him wade through the waters for five hours and then brought him back home. There have been numerous stories like that which bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. Lives were saved at the cost of one’s own. Parents of such heroic children smile behind their grief, while we can only salute that spirit of sacrifice and selflessness which led those lost today, to do the right thing.


The recent Bomb blasts saw yet another occasion when the Mumbai-ite surpassed himself. The world saw that people do unite and prove their mettle when in dire straits. ALL the injured and dead, were brought to hospitals by total strangers. If the purpose of the terrorists was to cripple Mumbai, demolish its lifeline and devastate the economy, then they were in for a huge disappointment. If anything, each citizen admirably rose to the occasion when the administration fell apart. Each shouldered the aftermath of the horrific carnage, after offering succor to the victims and then bravely continued on with his journey on those very trains. The Mumbai’ite refused to surrender.


Serious Intelligence lapses coupled with faulty contingency plans resulted in the tragedy that was 7/11. Today what is needed is a demand for answers. The administration has to be made accountable for the serious lapse in security and anti terrorist measures.


While we can subdue the terrorists with our resilience and continue to pretend as if nothing has happened, we have to accept the truth- Mumbai is vulnerable and a soft target, a sitting duck, crumbling under inept governance. This is a wake up call for authorities to step in before our confidence is shattered, fear gains foothold and hopelessness, indifference and apathy sets in.


But wallowing in self pity is not reflective of a true Mumbai-ite. Infallibility demands adopting a die hard, unerringly optimistic attitude. Or in typical Mumbai language..”tension ka magajmaari nahin lene ka”(don’t want to mess up my brain by stressing out)..” Sab chance by luck ka baat hai”(it’s just a coincidence)..” aapun ka bad luck hi kharaab hai”(my bad luck is..bad).. examples of typical Mumbai-isms. One encounters these and such like on a daily basis, but dare not smirk.”.ekdum serious se sunne ka “. (pay serious attention!)


Happiness is made up of tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. This is one truism that the Mumbai-ite seems to have imbibed completely. The wikipedia may quote a few hundred pages indicating places of interest in Mumbai, sights and sounds, smells and tastes, all nerve tingling and evocative. However, Mumbai is its people and if you wish to know the people of Mumbai then go beyond the tourist spots. Instead, scan stories where a beggar woman, living on the railway tracks, happily gave her single blanket to carry an injured, or when a profusely bleeding commuter, refused to leave the bogey till the shell shocked, immobile aged man was not rescued before him. Stop to salute the honest cop who relentlessly searched for the wife of a diamond merchant who had died in the blast, and handed her the packet of diamonds worth lakhs: the tireless tea vendor who spent the night making rounds with free tea, coaxing, cajoling patients and relatives in a hospital with a reassuring smile, few words of solace, while they waited for news of their loved ones with bated breath..


Look at the precious gift of life in the sign outside blood banks informing citizens that they needed no more blood. Mumbai-ites had given enough and willingly to those whose blood had been shed, unwillingly..


All I can say as a proud Mumbi-ite..‘After the dust of centuries has passed over, we too will be remembered not for our victories and defeats in battles or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit..’


  1. celebrating Independence day seriously..wereyou???????? havent been around since:)

    nice article..only i am very wary of the future of mumbai.

    Comment by neha — August 19, 2006 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  2. oohh I really miss mumbai now. When i visit i get quite bugged with the dirtiness frankly. I mean what does it take to keep the surroudings tidy. No matter where you live and whichever part of mumbai there will be pockets which are so yechy. But yes the other side of it is true too. There is something abot the place which gets you addicted and in no time i am acclimatizd and dont want to go away.But i liked your article. it was balanced and heartfelt. That is why i feel that to love mumbai you have to be from there. and btw its good that the previous post, art and soul comments were ignored. I mean three people mis spelling hypocrite as ‘hipocrites’ cannot be a coincidence, it has to be the same person..check the ip addresses…or maybe you have and that is why did not reply..hehehe..and happy independence what if it is belated.

    Comment by puja — August 19, 2006 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

  3. good article

    no space to comment there:)

    good luck with your projects (and hubby’s too)

    Comment by temporal — August 20, 2006 @ 2:06 am | Reply

  4. you are beautiful:)the article was great..

    someday will let you know who I that I know who you are.

    Comment by anonymous — August 20, 2006 @ 11:31 am | Reply

  5. thats not fair..the reason for absence was added later…so my comment reads funny..what is he starting..or am i “asking” and i should be doing it on em? all d best though to u n him.

    Comment by neha — August 20, 2006 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  6. @Neha,
    It was after your comment that I decided to be specific. So you were the catalyst and therefore thanks..and that definitely does away with any chance of your comment getting redundant..em me.. I shall give you details of his new project..might find it interesting.

    I is a kind of cultural shock when one comes back to India after a visit abroad.. I feel it too. All the same, one even gets accustomed to rural life if one has to. It has an irreplacable charm..that way Bombay is a class apart..and it is Home for me. And yes.. you are right.The ip addresses were the same..all three. How does it matter. In fact it underlines the essence of my post namely if the content is strong enough then just as you dont need multiple postings, one does not require provocative sensationalising in art..Q.E.D

    Coming from you.. thanks (wide grin) a post from the heart sets its own mood and evokes its own unique energy..I had little to do with it.. and thanks for hubby ..shall be conveyed to him..more on im.

    @ anonymous,
    you are kind and thanks. But the snaps highly flattering and taken under perfect conditions..great lighting and make up etc.So dont get taken in.And yes a name and identity is always welcome.

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — August 20, 2006 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  7. a well rounded and highly engaging article..shall visit here often:)

    Comment by dilip — August 25, 2006 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  8. thanks Dilip:)

    Comment by kaveetaakaul — August 27, 2006 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: