Love, life, and bhel
Organising an anthology on a city like Mumbai is a bit like making the perfect bhelpuri. KALPANA SHARMA finds the mix entirely palatable and delicious.
BAL THACKERAY should read this book. It would inform him, amongst other delicious facts, that the bhelpuri, that quintessential Bombay/ Mumbai street food that even the most loyal Sainiks eat, actually originated in Bihar or UP. According to an engaging short essay by Rahul Srivastava, the basic ingredient of bhel, the kurmura (puffed rice) is commonly used in many north Indian and west Indian temples as prasad. And the garnishes can all be traced back to north Indian chaat. So, Srivastava suggests that our favourite bhelpuri could in fact be a concoction thought up by migrants from Bihar and UP. Even today, the best bhelpuriwallahs in Mumbai are from these states that the Sena is now targeting.
Organising an anthology on a city like Mumbai is a bit like making the perfect bhelpuri not too hot, not too bland, just the right amount of onion, coriander, raw mango and most important, crisp kurmura. And a strong, well-fried puri to spoon up the delectable mixture. Pinto and Fernandes might have fallen short in a couple of departments, but on the whole the mix is entirely palatable, even delicious.
Perhaps you have to be a lover of this crazy, madly frustrating, dirty, noisy, hot, energetic, beautiful, bhelpuri of a metropolis by the Arabian Sea to appreciate fully the essays in Bombay, meri jaan. But even if you are a stranger to Mumbai, the book gives you an intelligent mix of the lived experience of contemporary Bombayites/ Mumbaikars and visitors to the city through the years. For this reviewer, the former was far more interesting than any of the selections from the likes of Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Aldous Huxely, Pico Iyer, Rudyard Kipling or Paul Theroux.
One of the most engaging essays in the book is by Paromita Vohra "The One Billion Rupee Home". It captures the ironies of the housing disaster of Mumbai, where housing estates are developed for slum-dwellers but end up being the only affordable housing for young professionals who come to the city. Vohra's tale of her home in the PMGP (Prime Minister's Grant Project) in the suburb of Andheri, is hilarious, heart-rending and utterly honest. It exposes a reality that the glitter-and-gloss brigade, who want to convert Mumbai into Shanghai, do not want to see or perhaps, even know about. The reality that building homes for the homeless is a complex problem that the homeless include not just those sheltered by slums but thousands of others who flock to this "city of gold" looking for work, for a break, for that elusive million/ billion/ crore, for love, for life.
A good anthology is one that has enough of a variety to satisfy an assortment of readers even if every component is not riveting. Thus, even if some of the choices made by the editors for inclusion are a bit puzzling, such as Kipling's poem "To the City of Bombay", others make up for it. An excerpt from V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness is well chosen as it has a resonance even today the author's hilarious description of how he tried to get a permit from Bombay customs to extricate some bottles of liquor he had brought with him by ship.
I am personally glad that the editors chose to include an excerpt from the famous ornithologist Salim Ali's book, The Fall of a Sparrow. This is a gem of a book that needs to be republished many times more.
No anthology can ever represent every side of writings on a city as complex and diverse as Mumbai. Yet, because of this, in fact an anthology is an engaging way to convey a flavour of Bombay and Mumbai a view of the spectator and visitor and the Bombayite/ Mumbaikar. This particular bhelpuri of an anthology meets this reviewer's tastes.
Bombay, meri jaan: writings on Mumbai, edited by Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes, Penguin Books India, 2003, p.348, Rs. 395.
Send this article to Friends by