Mumbai's Trial By Fire

In India, as perhaps in any other country, the inhabitants of any town, city or village are usually very proud of the culture and characteristics of the particular place of habitation. When viewed by a neutral observer, however, the same values that are loftily vaunted by the local residents may not appear that attractive, and rightly so. In this context, the super large cities (or metropolises) of India have unique characteristics of their own. Residents of each city proudly boast about the distinct cultures of their cities. Again, a dispassionate examination of these cultures may leave a lot to be desired and may also be mildly repulsive in certain cases. For example, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Bangalore have grown into great centres of cosmopolitan culture. Yet, most of these cities have some peculiar and inextricable characteristics that may put a new visitor in a state of unease on certain occasions. New Delhi is infamous for its notorious cabs and treacherous streets. Kolkata’s raw ethnicity may cause one to feel at sea. Chennai is known for its dislike of people unfamiliar with the local language and culture. Bangalore, too, has still not been able to totally rid itself of the ubiquitous ethnic flavor. That leaves us with just one more metropolis– Mumbai.

Without any disregard for the other great cities of India, Mumbai is distinctly disparate and with a unique charm of its own. It has that nondescript magnetism that has left many a visitor longing to return to the city over and over again. As I perceive it, the aspect about Mumbai that makes it so uniquely lovable is the amount of freedom it allows every person to spread his wings, live a life of his or her choice in the city. Mumbai is a city of the Mumbaikar, in every sense of the famous euphemism. It is not unusual for a newcomer to feel a bit edgy in an alien city but Mumbai is one city that makes you feel at home immediately with its air of friendliness and hospitality. Right from the moment a traveler lands in Mumbai, he or she gets taken in by the inescapable air of enchantment that pervades this great city, from the friendly cabbies to the hurrying masses, the unique local trains, the gaiety in the beaches, eateries and pubs. The city is so unobtrusive that it makes one feel at ease almost immediately. It is a celebration of life in its truest form. A resident of Mumbai has always been proud to be called a Mumbaikar. People living in the city have long forgotten their roots and have embraced the Mumbai way of life in its totality, in keeping with the immortal adage, “once a Mumbaikar, always a Mumbaikar”. It is virtually impossible for a Mumbaikar to imagine himself as anybody other than a part of the Mumbai culture, irrespective of his ancestral roots. Therefore, the recent violence in Mumbai on the lines of racial origin has come as a total shocker to one and all. Mumbaikars and tourists alike have been subject to a kind of apprehension and fear that is so very alien to this gregarious city. Mumbai has always stood up with remarkable defiance against all anti-social elements attempting to spoil its harmony and vivacity. Not even the deadly serial blasts and cataclysmic riots had succeeded in disrupting its rhythm for long. Today, Mumbai is facing a challenge of a different kind – a challenge from its own people. Racial demarcations hitherto unknown in this city are at this moment threatening to divide the city into insular pockets. The footfalls on the sidewalks are still as brisk as ever but somewhere deep in their minds, people are a bit apprehensive of what lies round the corner. Each Mumbaikar is now being reminded of his or her racial origins. The streets of the city have never been so treacherous as they are today. The minds of its citizens are being deluded into believing that not all people deserve equal treatment. In short, Mumbaikars are falling prey to politics of the ugliest kind without even being aware of what all this might lead to – destruction of the very fabric of the city. In spite of everything, I am confident that my Mumbai will ultimately emerge out of this examination as a much stronger and wiser city. It will take much more than a few deranged souls to undermine Mumbai’s resilience. The citizens of this great city will have to ensure that the spirit of freedom that has made Mumbai the most lovable city in India is protected. Should they fail, India will have lost more than a city. Mumbai symbolizes India’s exemplary success in preserving unity in diversity. Impairment of Mumbai’s culture in any way will mean decadence of that image, and the country will be that much the poorer for it.

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