I heard about the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, which is held from the first Saturday in February till the next Sunday since the last 15 years, only last year! At the time, I decided that I would visit Mumbai for the next event, and sure enough, I made my way to the city for the 2013 edition of the festival.
I have to say that it was an interesting experience. There were some lovely public art installations, and of course others that left me cold.
Some of the installations were quintessentially Mumbai. Like this one:
When you think of Mumbai, you think of traffic jams and teeming slums, of roads chock-a-block with people, of sultry humidity and general chaos. You think of Bollywood and industrial tycoons, of the super rich living alongside the poor, of a city that never sleeps. But if you thought that this is all there is to Mumbai, you’d be wrong.
A graceful arched window of a Church in Colaba, Mumbai, India
There’s a softer, gentler side to the city as well – tree-lined roads, mansions and apartment buildings that speak of old money, and a blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic (a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles) architecture. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Fort and Colaba area in South Mumbai.
Gateway of India, Mumbai, India
We started our exploration of this area from the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel after a hearty brunch at Le Pain Quotiden. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, the Gateway of India is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Many elements of the arch and the design of the windows are derived from Islamic architecture, while the pillars are reminiscent of Hindu temple design. We were lucky to find the area relatively less crowded, which gave us a lot of time to take pictures and generally explore the place.
The iconic Taj Hotel at Mumbai, adjacent to the Gateway of India
From there, we started walking along the lane behind the Taj, with our necks craned upwards looking for interesting window and architectural details. The road is tree-lined and quiet, the buildings are old and regal, and for a while, you can almost forget that you’re in Mumbai – it could be any old European city.
An old, elegant window perched above a busy, bustling street in Mumbai
We traversed a path through Colaba, Colaba Causeway and Fort that day, with no real fixed agenda. We were just a couple of walkers, roaming around the area and exclaiming over the architecture. Why we were in architecture overdrive is still a bit of a mystery to me, but that day all we had eyes for were windows and doorways and turrets and spires. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of those old, elegant buildings with the bustling metropolis that had grown around it – but the memories I took away were of an older, more genteel Mumbai than I remembered from my stay there 10 years ago.
An old colonial building that now houses a cool junk jewelery store – Aquamarine. Mumbai, India
Of course, being girls, our trip couldn’t be complete without some shopping now, could it? There’s no better place to pick up cheap nick-knacks than at Colaba Causeway (in that area, at least). You’ll find some excellent junk jewellery, footwear and leather goods at prices that will delight your pocket. If you are on the look out for something more exclusive, make your way to Aquamarine at Colaba, which stocks some really cool (though pricey) junk jewellery.
I came across this set of really cool articles in Open magazine, a relatively new weekly news magazine, that talk about reasons why Bombay hates Delhi, which is countered by why Delhi hates Bombay, and both these articles are then countered by the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay! Pretty interesting reading this.
I especially loved the one on why Bombay hates Delhi — maybe because I myself come from that side of the country — a lot of points made me say: “Yes! That is so true!” Sample this:
Space is not compressed here. Everything is far from everything else. There are real gardens where you do not see the exit when you stand at the entrance…Homes have corridors, and they are called corridors, not half-bedrooms. Yet, Delhi has a bestial smallness of purpose.
And a narrow mind — especially Delhi men!
Those men there who drive the long phallic cars, sometimes holding a beer bottle in one hand, there is something uncontrollable about them…What is the swagger about? What is the great pride in driving your father’s BMW, what is the glory in being a sperm? And what is the great achievement in stepping on the accelerator? It is merely automobile engineering—press harder on the pedal and the car will move faster. Why do you think a girl will mate with you for that?
Probably because of their “don’t you know who my father is” mentality. Power is everything here, with almost every second person claiming to be related or acquainted with a politician or a high-ranking police officer.
Delhi as a centre of power is an inheritance, a historical habit. An unbearable consequence of this is the proximity of easy funds for various alleged intellectual pursuits which has enabled it to appropriate the status of intellectual centre.
There is much weight attached to the imagined sophistication of talk, of gas. It is a city of talkers. There is always The Discussion…[there is] a meaningless aspect of Delhi’s fiery intellectuality, and also laid bare the crucial difference between intellectuality, which is borrowed conviction, and intelligence, which is creativity, innovation and original analysis…Delhi [suffers from a] mental condition which is incurable—a fake intensity, a fraudulent concern for ‘issues’, the grand stand.
Of course, there has to be a counter to this rather dim view of Delhi, though I must admit that I thought it wasn’t as convincing. Starting with a debate of fame vs. power, the article then meandered to Bombay being a city of dreamers…
In this city of people looking up without looking around, dreams are what matter. It is evident. The stock market, ad industry and Bollywood—whichever way you stack them, they make for too little reality.
…and then dissed Bombay for holding candlelight vigils, which, by the way, are now de rigueur in Delhi too!
When reality does sink in, all of Bombay responds as only Bombay can. Scented candles and designer dresses make for a procession of the fifteen thousand. Affronted as they are with the politicians and politics of this country, they ‘decide’ to teach the rest of us how things should be done.
The article touched upon the casteism, which sadly, is rising in Bombay, but the reason for the rise is power — political power. It’s a brilliant strategy if you think about it, but then, that is an altogether different discussion.
And then, there is the rest vs. Delhi and Bombay — one of the most hilarious, ironic articles I’ve read in recent times.
The article starts with a tongue-lashing on Delhi and Bomabay having to “kowtow kowtow to the fickle ways of the Bombay and Delhi weather,” and goes on to slam the efficient public transport in the two cities.
I utterly abhor the temerity of auto drivers from Bombay who, without exception, consider me unworthy of charging whatever grabs their fancy. What’s worse, they choose to take the high ground by being scrupulously honest about the whole business of taking me for a ride…Whatever happened to good old things like indecency and respecting what the customer can be ripped off for. It’s what I’ve come to expect and grown comfortably used to in Chennai. Why shock me senseless with your conscientious ways?
Delhi’s metro isn’t spared either!
For starters, what’s so great about offering an efficient and clean Metro Rail service when one can be pampered by the timeless pleasures of waiting for one to materialise and, in the meantime, making do with a service that’s considered frequent only by people who haven’t seen much better. Efficiency, I tell you—so over-rated and so unnecessary.
And then you come to the heart of the article — love.
Speaking of love, the thing about it, it’s easy to dish out in copious quantities when the recipient is a less fortunate soul, or city, worthy of pity.
And since Delhi and Bombay are not…Though,
Scratch the surface and you’ll find few people really hate Delhi, Bombay or the people from these great cities. What they are is jealous. And that’s what they hate. Happily, it’s okay to feel this way. I call it the ‘Australia syndrome’. Meaning what? Meaning this. So long as Australia were well-nigh unbeatable at cricket, it was eminently more comforting to hate them…Beatings apart, what’s not to hate about a country that’s so beautiful, so sunny, so clean, so spacious, so prosperous, so efficient, so livable (mostly) and, worst of all, possesses a cricket team so goddamn hard-to-beat? Naturally, the only option one had, since one couldn’t surpass them at anything important, was to hate them. Call them self-centered. Arrogant. Uncouth. Loud. And the like. Echoes how the rest of India feels about Bombay and Delhi, doesn’t it? Case closed.
Slumdog Millionaire has raised the hackles of a vast section of the Indian society, with a large section of population up in arms at the portrayal of Indian slums in the movie, slamming director Danny Boyle’s realistic cinema saying “this isn’t a representation of true India.”
Well then, what is? It certainly is NOT Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss. Nor is it Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger. Both of these writers have written about India for Western audiences. Desai paints first-time Indian visitors to foreign shores as poor desis who cannot wrap their heads around the biting London cold, nor use a western loo, nor adapt to their food. Her portrayal of middle class residents in India isn’t flattering either. In her world, Indians who enjoy English classical music, read English books, and enjoy continental food; whose interaction with the “slumdogs” is limited to their daily chats with their maids and watchman, are mere wannabes, who only want to ape the goras and live in a world totally detached from the realities of their poorer brethren.
Slumdog Millionaire, however, has none of those pretentions. All Indians are not portrayed as mere wannabes or totally devoid of adjustment skills. Instead, Boyle focuses on the journey of two slum children who lose their mother in the Hindu-Muslim riots that gripped Bombay. The movie then follows their trials and triumphs, as they move from one odd job to the next, escape a scheming “orphanage” owner who picks up street kids and forces them to beg, to selling odds and ends on trains, and finally landing up in Agra, where, through their fast-thinking and innocent looks, they manage to make enough money to live a comfortable life. Until, of course, they return to Bombay, where their paths diverge. One brother joins an underworld don; the other becomes an office boy at a BPO company, and through sheer luck, participates in a TV reality show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. His life, which we see in flashback through the movie, helps him answer all the questions on the show, and he walks away with a cool million bucks to his name.
In essence, it is a simple story of grit, determination and sheer luck — inspirational, actually. But the reason for it cooking up a hornet’s nest is because of Boyle’s authentic portrayal of slum life — the underbelly of India. It is this that is making us cringe.
True, there have been other Bollywood movies that have shown protagonists rising from the slum to become famous or notorious, depending on the movie —be it Satya, or Rangeela — but we didn’t protest against these movies because they didn’t become an international phenomenon. Nor did they show slums like Boyle did. Their slums were always glossed over; more fantasy than reality. And reality sure bites!
Yes, there is more to India than the Dharavi slums portrayed in Boyle’s movie. But then, Boyle did not portray Slumdog as the “definitive Indian movie.” He chose to tell an inspiring story, and he chose to make realistic cinema. And since that realistic cinema involved a rather unpleasant look at the slums, we just couldn’t digest it.
We could digest Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, though. His book was hailed as the best book on Bombay. And what did his book focus on? The Dharavi slums — on Hindus who burnt Muslims during the riots and the tales of both Hindus and Muslims; of how the riot changed the landscape of Dharavi, leading to a palpable divide between Hindus and Muslims; and on the life of Bombay bar girls. His visits to the slums were interspersed with visits to Hindi movie director Vidu Vinod Chopra’s house, during the time he was preparing for the shooting of Mission Kashmir. A slim section at the end was a commentary on the rich and famous giving up their riches to take sanyas. If his novel were a movie, it would be far, far more graphic than Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.
But, there lies the irony. Mehta’s book was hailed as an exceptional piece of writing, maybe because the Pulitzer Prize and Kiriyama Prize are not as hyped, well-known and universally loved as the Oscars and Bafta in India. Boyle’s movie, though, has become a runaway hit, and what’s more, it’s sweeping of all the awards ceremonies. What this section of Indians cannot stand is the fact that the rest of the world is looking at India’s underbelly, and applauding a foreigner — a Britisher no less —- for portraying the abject poverty in which a vast majority of Indians still live, instead of catering to the middle class Indian’s concept of “India shining.”
On 26 November, terrorists struck India’s financial capital — Mumbai — in one of the most brazen attacks ever seen in India. They entered the city through the sea route, striking at the Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe, and Cama Hospital first. In this first strike, the nation lost three of its best police officers — Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte.
The terrorists then proceeded to take two high-profile hotels — the iconic Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi-Trident — and Nariman House (also known as Chabad House) hostage. The siege, which lasted almost 60 hours, claimed the life of the rabbi and his wife, leaving their young son an orphan.
This latest and most brazen attack, which the media dubbed India’s 9/11, has horrified the nation. For three days Indians sat glued to their television, in mute horror, watching the drama unfold on television. We watched, helpless, as the terrorists set fire to the heritage Taj Mahal hotel, we cringed as we heard gun shots and grenade blasts ring out, we watched with bated breath as NSG commandoes engaged the terrorists, and we cried when we heard about the number of hostages who are killed, and as we saw some hostages released. Once it was all over, though, we became a nation angry. This time we will not call upon “the spirit of Mumbai.” This time we want to see political action. Platitudes will not work anymore.
But, this is India.
Politicization of the attack
On day 1 of the attack, leader of the opposition L.K. Advani said he would work together with the UPA government and not use this event as a political campaign point. The next day, he forgot all about his promise and the BJP released full page color ads politicizing the issue. Its leaders like Rajasthan CM Vasundhra Raje are using the Mumbai siege as a topic to gain political mileage.
Then we have other politicians that give a gem of a soundbyte. Sample this:
Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir. These are difficult times for the nation. In times like this we should unite in our war against terror and the Pak sponsored attacks rather than waging war against the democratic institutions.
This, gem of a quote was given by the BJP’s Mukhtar Naqvi, his view of the candle light vigils being held in Mumbai and elsewhere around the country condeming the terror attack.
PM Manmohan Singh called for Pakistan to send ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to present him with hard evidence about the involvement of Pakistani elements, including Lashkar-e Toiba (LeT) terrorists, in the Mumbai strike. After agreeing initially, Pakistan refused to send his over. Now, Zardari is saying that there is no evidence that the terrorists were Pakistanis, and even if they were, they are stateless elements and Pakistan can do nothing about it. This, despite India having given them evidence of ISI involvement in the attack. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to India was also make to placate India and to ensure that we do not take military action against Pakistan. If we do, their war on terror will be affected, as they are using that country as the base from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan.
The attacks also point to a total intelligence failure, with agencies initially claiming they had no evidence about the attacks. Later, though, it became apparent that they simply ignored the evidence that they did get. Fishermen had submitted written letters stating there was suspicious activity at ports. Fishermen in Gujarat also reported that Indian trawlers were crossing over into Pakistani waters, meeting trawlers there, and coming back into Indian waters without being arrested. After repeated requests to improve safety at the Gateway of India, stating the sea route could be used for an attack, one police van and two policemen were stationed in the area. On the day of the attack, this motley security was also missing.
All of this points to the fact that this attack couldnt have been carried out without political sanction. This is not to say that the politicians were involved in it, but just that they chose to ignore warning signs and ensure the saftey of civilians. The reason? Simple. Political gains.
One of the stories that really stayed with me was related by a foreign couple who had come to India on a 1-month holiday. They were happy to be safe, praised the commandoes, and said that they had no plans to cut their trip short. Though the wife got teary while relating their terror while they were held hostage, her husband said that this episode would just serve as a road bump to their plans, they did not plan to give in to fear.
You cannot give into fear, or you let the terrorists win. When they are holding a gun to your head, that is the time to feel fear. But to let fear rule your life is to let them win. And I will not let that happen.