As something of a commemoration, here's a short review of Bombay Meri Jaan, co-authored by the editor of TOM, Naresh Fernandes.
The Sea Breeze, The Lumps
In 1996, the then-CM of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi, actually celebrated what he called his "greatest achievement" in his first year as CM, an addition to his CV that rapidly elevated Joshi to Central Minister and later Lok Sabha Speaker. Yes indeed: he got Bombay renamed to Mumbai.
Deafening applause all around. God, this is a perverse city! And yet, and because it is, a thoroughly fascinating one.
Why do Bombayites find other cities pedestrian? Not because we have gorgeous gardens, or pristine roads, or clean air, or affordable housing, or leaders who strive for more substantial achievement than renaming. We have none of those, and we don't have many more things too. But what's wrong in Bombay helps make it such a stimulating place. That drives the creativity and life here.
And that makes this book a treasure. Nope, I didn't like all the pieces in it, but who wants that? The unevenness here mirrors Bombay to a "B". After all, the pleasure of the sea breeze on the Carter Road promenade is tinged with brown lumps that dog "lovers" leave lying around, and that's Bombay for you. So too with Bombay meri jaan.
So when Namdeo Dhasal calls Bombay "O whore with the heart of gold", while for Jeremy Seabrook it's "this appalling and splendid city", I know just what both men mean. I feel the electric charge that leaps from the squalor and spirit here, from how they seem to fuel each other and the writing in this book. This anthology succeeds precisely because all the writing is not splendid.
Thank you, Fernandes and Pinto, for this cutting-chai-spicy salaam to my city. And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off in search of the fancy bookstore where Aldous Huxley found scientific journals, but only of "a single, rather special kind": gynaecology, sexual psychology and VD.
That's Bombay for you too. Even if it's a "greatest achievement" to call it Mumbai.