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<nettime> Suketu Mehta : What They Hate About Mumbai
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 29 Nov 2008 23:01:04 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Suketu Mehta : What They Hate About Mumbai

The Mumbai spirit is alife and kicking!

Bwo Sarai Reader-List/Paul Miller
Usual Aps 4 X-posting

Suketu is a friend of mine, and it's such a sad strange day to watch
all the recriminations going on. From the perspective of NY it's even
stranger for me: my landlord was recently put in jail for having a
huge cache of automatic weapons (machine guns etc etc). I had no idea
he had this kind of stuff around, but then again, it's sometime people
in plain site that flip out like this. In any case, I just thought I'd
pass this along.


What They Hate About Mumbai

Published: November 28, 2008

MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they
go after Mumbai? There?s something about this island-state that
appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps
because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food
vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business,
to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city
understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of
it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor
plumbing what kept him in the city. ?Mumbai is a golden songbird,? he
said. It flies quick and sly, and you?ll have to work hard to catch
it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The
executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this
golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream
of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular
form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every
Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake
architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols
of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one
of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut
down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned,
wouldn?t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.

Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. ?I am ashamed to say this,? Amitabh
Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. ?As
the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did
something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be
in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my
licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow.?

Mumbai is a ?soft target,? the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can
walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start
spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random
bag checks? In Mumbai, it?s impossible to control the crowd. In other
cities, if there?s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai,
people run toward it ? to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new
residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is
just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity,
like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which
cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In
today?s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want
the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another
in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They
want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of
Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young
men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-
shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the
painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and
flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything
that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of
the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, ?paap-ni-bhoomi?: the
sinful land.

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets ? for the crime
of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people
in front of their families ? for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They
attacked the luxury businessmen?s hotels. They attacked the open-air
Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with
cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into
India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have
offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train
station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers
from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the
first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists? message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will
get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams
have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their
Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city.
Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even
more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good
home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel
rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah
Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better
toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God?s name but
in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance;
work hard and party harder.

If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the
explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are
you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

So I?m booking flights to Mumbai. I?m going to go get a beer at the
Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and
watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn?t have to be just

Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the
author of ?Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.?
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