Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Mumbai: Maximum City

Posted by Jerry on July 14, 2006

My new favorite newspaper writer–Farah Baria at the Indian Express–wrote a poignant, emotive, and honest article right after the recent 7/11 blasts in Mumbai.

She begins the article with a hauntingly arresting image; something I never thought of, but now having read her words, couldn’t agree with her more. She gives you a glimpse of what this city is really like:

Maximum City, Invincible People & their Lifeline

Farah Baria

Posted online: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 0000 hrs IST

MUMBAI, JULY 11
Even at the best of times, there’s one scene that never changes: battered railway coaches packed with the human flotsam of a brutal city. Men, women, and children, travelling like concentration-camp refugees to do the only thing they know: survive.

This is Mumbai’s Western Railway Line, the fragile umbilical cord that links our metropolis to the Motherland, across the amniotic swell of the Arabian Sea. It is also Mumbai’s lifeline, ferrying four million citizens from hydra-headed suburbs to the congested heart of the city in relentless pursuit of a livelihood.

On Tuesday, that lifeline was cut, savagely severed by a hand that obviously knows Mumbai’s anatomy well. Seven serial bombs at seven stations—all key nerve centres—in peak-hour traffic. When in doubt, aim for the jugular. Hannibal Lecter couldn’t have done better.

It isn’t the first time Mumbai has been mortally wounded. Exactly 13 years ago, 13 bombs brought India’s feisty financial capital to its knees. Back then, the prime target was the Stock Exchange, that impudent icon of progress and prosperity. The aim: to symbolically cripple a newborn economy, taking its first baby steps towards globalisation.

But this time the target is a much more priceless asset: the ordinary men and women who are the flesh and bones of India’s most spirited city. Yet, today, bathed in blood, and battered by wanton violence, that spirit still shone.

No wonder. After all, the Mumbaikar is, in all probability, the most hardy specimen known to mankind. We are a species smelted in the furnace of privation, people who have simply got used to living—nay, thriving—in Hell. To dodging lethal potholes, sidestepping broken pavements, circumventing decomposing refuse, commuting like refugees, waking up at ungodly hours to fill our buckets before the municipal pipelines run dry, drinking jaundiced water, hoping against hope that our kids don’t catch malaria from exposed sewage, and watching shanties come up for free outside our matchbox apartments, while we sweat to pay off an astronomical loan for a home that may collapse the following monsoon.

It is the spirit that contributes Rs 58,000 crore to the national exchequer, and expects almost nothing in return, except the permission to aspire.

That’s why when our main artery was ripped, no one even waited for administrative first aid. The dead were shrouded in bed sheets borrowed from the neighbourhood, and the injured were ferried to hospital on the shoulders of more fortunate fellow citizens—while the railway authorities looked on languidly, and the state government debated on whether a muddied statue in a local park should be given police protection. That’s why, in the space of a week, Mumbai has been through a flood, a political riot, a serial blast—and survived. And that’s why, it will take more than seven deadly bombs to snuff out this invincible city.

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One Response to “Mumbai: Maximum City”

  1. This evocative description sounds – in some aspects – rather like accounts of Chicago’s early growing pains. So fear not, one day pehaps you can again live in a city of fat sports fans where overpaid city contractors repave unbroken streets!

    The burning question is really whether you can be the next Mafshall Field, or Colonel McCormick, or Montgomery Ward, or…

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