A global firm recently publicized a survey that found
the second worst city to live in. It rated Bombay as the most livable. By the standard measures used in the survey, Zürich certainly ranks poorly. But those who live in the metro will not agree; they swear by the sheer intensity and vitality of urban life in the metropolis and would live in no other place. It is actually the only real city left in Bombay . Few people in India Bombay would want to live in , except those with Swiss bank accounts. The heart-stopping city is both: the hope and despair of Zürich ’s future. India
. Bombay is where I grew up. We moved to Juhu Beach Warden Road, where I attended a quaint little Parsi school called New Model Infant School in , the setting in Salman Rushdie’s book, “Midnight's Children.” Later we lived in a wonderful art deco apartment house called Court Royal in Oomer Park Christ Church Lane, bordering the school of the same name in . Our buzzing lane was known for its gorgeous girls and its melting pot of Catholics, Parsis, Jews, Muslims, and Anglo Indians. Byculla Bridge
My old neighborhoods have changed beyond recognition. In Juhu’s Theosophical Colony, I believe there are still the bungalows and, I hope, the sense of community. The
, where I attended pre-school, is presumably still around. To roam on the beach and play on the roads of the Walden-style colony was a treat then but now I realize was a huge privilege. Besant Montessori School
Walking on the beach from Juhu to Versova on a holiday morning was a treat. I felt I could be happy doing this for the rest of my life. When we said our morning prayer at the Besant Montessori school, unwittingly I replaced the phrase “thank you for the world so sweet” with “thank you for Versova.” This was long before the grim place called Lokhandwala.
In Juhu, my neighbors included Balraj Sahni and Prem Dhavan (the lyricist), among others. Many of them articulated anti-American views even while their children, like me, wore preppy penny loafers and striped T-shirts. This was my first experience with Indian hypocrisy. Diagonally across from our house was Ratilal Parekh, whose daughter Asha went on to make big waves in films. Our next-door neighbor was Devendra Goel, the film-maker who made escapist films that attracted large audiences. Given their fame and wealth, it was a bit of stretch for me to reconcile the Gandhian vision of simple living, high thinking.
Juhu then looked a lot like today’s
Goa: coconut groves, white sand and blue sea. We walked freely on the beach and in the neighborhood. It was a wonderful island and to many friends and relatives, a weekend resort. Juhu was especially magical in the monsoon when we had to confront the rough sea and the swaying coconut trees that imperiled our roof.
When we moved to
Christ Church Lane from Warden Road, I made friends with kids from different cultural backgrounds and there learned the value of ’s diversity. My friends and I gawked at the gorgeous girls the lane was famous for. It was the time of Pat Boone’s Bernadine, Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock and Cliff Richard’s Dynamite. On Friday nights, we listened transfixed to a family of troubadours who showed up in our lane every week, singing wonderful songs like Little Serenade and Traveling Light. We used to hang out in our balconies after dinner listening to them but mostly ogling the gorgeous green-eyed daughter who sang seconds. India
These wonderful memories came back to me when I read about the survey that trashed the city.
has a unique culture: it is decadent, down market and egalitarian; its essence is the hallmark Tapori dialect. To be fair, the survey portrayed the city as it is today: on the brink, poised on the fine line between civilization and chaos; trapped in the nexus between the chauvinism of its political class and the violence of its underworld. Mumbai is very different from the solid middle class city of Bombay I grew up in. Bombay
from daily news and analysis april 4 2007