The "spirit" of this city. How often since the deluge have we heard that phrase; how many times have we heard it in the wake of other disasters in this city? The people who help unknown sufferers, the legendary resilience of our citizens, the ability to cope with adversity: distilled from all this, our spirit. Salute it!
Then fellow residents write to me, reacting to something I wrote about the downpour, saying "It's not Bombay! It's Mumbai! Do you still have superiority complex by saying Bombay?" And: "Anyway I ignore views from a Christian about life in Mumbai. You guys always had problems mixing with mainstream community."
Trivial stuff, of course. Here, for me, is the final straw: Hafeez Contractor in the Hindustan Times, telling us that the city flooded because it is overflowing with garbage, and that's because "half the city comprises slums that only sponge on the city."
Tell me about this "spirit."
This is our best-known architect; a man whom the High Court of this city named (judgement in W.P. 1585 of 1997) for creating a "bogus tenancy" in his own name to take advantage of a FSI loophole. When such a man blames half of this city for a great disaster, and calls them parasites too, what spirit are we talking about?
Churlish to bring up this stuff at a time like this? Let me tell you what I believe is churlish. When we've read plenty of stories about how people of every description -- footpath resident to 15th-floor Web addict -- went out and offered a helping hand in the rain, it simply grates on my ears, on my soul itself, to hear the tired old lie about the slum-dweller parasite.
Why is it a lie? One short answer: every single person in this city pays sales tax and octroi every time they buy anything at all. To make out that half of us -- seven million people, more than in all of Finland -- are "sponges" is monstrous, no less.
But more than that, it tells me how shallow is this celebration of the spirit. Let the flood waters recede, and you know as I do that the memories will recede with them. We'll be back to clamouring for those "illegal" slum homes to be torn down, the people in them to be "sent back to where they came from." Back to saying they are all "dirty" and "Bangladeshis" and "breed like rabbits." You know, the myths that are as tired as Hafeez Contractor's lie. As false, too.
And in flinging those lies about -- they filled the air just six months ago, remember? -- it seems to me we tear tooth and nail at the very humanity the flood drew out of the choked roads and gutters of this city.
We're all in this together, after all. The godawful conditions of the last few days hit us all. Blame the city fathers and mothers, yes, and let steady anger at them make them accountable. But also blame ourselves: every time we fling out a plastic bag, or gawk in wonder at flyovers and malls as the epitome of "development", without a thought for millions to whom those things are meaningless.
Tell me about the spirit of this city, sure. But for once, let's make it mean something.