Tag Archive for 'Bombay'

Mumbai moment

Jil Wheeler in The Morning News::

Mumbai, meri jaan—my life, my love. It’s a city that was once described to me as New York, Los Angeles, and Lagos all wrapped into one. It’s a city I left, a city I returned to, and now it’s a city that I am really just this close to writing off.

 I’ve spent nine months now defending my adopted hometown as safe for women, half a sub-continent away in distance and culture from the headline-worthy rapes in New Delhi and northern India. I’ve justified my safety to my friends, to my family, to my husband, and—most importantly—to myself. And last month this came crashing down with the gang-rape of a female photojournalist as she was poking around an abandoned mill with a male colleague, before sunset and in the center of town.

 I don’t feel as much scared or angry as I feel betrayed by a city I praised and defended more than its own natives did.

My first “Mumbai moment”—what I’ve termed a feeling of joy and peace at being here and not there—came some evening in early 2009 when I was walking with friends along Marine Drive. The pedestrian walkway runs for two miles along the sea; walking north, there are six lanes of traffic and shabby Art Deco low-rises to your right, crashing waves to your left. We had just left an Asia Society talk on the fate of the euro or trends in microhousing or maybe developments in contemporary Chinese punk music. The feeling all over Mumbai was of great optimism. The economy was booming and the world’s eyes were on the city—whether for an Oscar-winning movie about the reality TV triumph of a slumdog or the well-publicized construction of a $3 billion single-family home. More:

Bombay dreams

Carl Bromley in National Geographic:

In my basement lie the remnants of an obsession with a city: novels, histories, ethnographies, journals, films, shopping bags, listing magazines, boarding cards, foot creams, CDs, film posters, postcards, video and super 8 footage. There’s also a cancelled passport with the name of the city stamped into it, Bombay, and a date—December 18, 1987.

There were 18 of us, touring India that Christmas and New Year, with a production of Romeo and Juliet. As soon as I boarded the bus from the airport, which took us to St. Xavier’s College, the city seemed to emerge, almost atonally, in short bursts of light, like flashbulb explosions. I was mesmerised by this otherworldly city, a city whose neon light breathed life back into me after a long, motionless day on a plane. I should have felt out of place. But I didn’t. I thought: If I had to be a city, I would be Bombay.

I was a maniacal teenage cineaste. I would make journeys to London and spend days at the Scala cinema in King Cross’s red-light district watching exploitation movies from all over the world. My identity was saturated by cinema then; it was my reference point for everything. During that first hour in Bombay, I thought I was experiencing the real life equivalent of the opening frames of Blade Runner with its belching flames rising from a vast industrial plain. I had, by chance, been thrilled by the Amitabh Bachchan film Amar Akbar Anthony one Sunday morning on BBC television. I fell in love with Amitabh when he burst out of the giant Easter egg and sang, “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves.” This playful, cheeky badmaash was the kind of hero I had always wanted to be. More:

What Man Santa: Holiday cheer from Mumbai’s Bandra

Naresh Fernandes in India Ink/NYT:

It is, Tweeted one enthusiastic fan, the “Kolaveri of Christmas.”

Like the Tamil film song “Why This Kolaveri Di” that went viral last year, the Bollywood musician Daniel B. George’s quirky Christmas tune “What Man Santa” has been spreading across the Internet faster than a snowball melting in the Mumbai summer. Within three days of being posted on YouTube, the song had been viewed more than 200,000 times, earning the producers lots of laughs and inquiries from radio and television stations that want to air the tune in the run up to Christmas.

“The reaction has been phenomenal,” said Daniel B. George, the hooded character in the video who is also the composer of the ditty, in a telephone interview. More:

Giving new life to vultures to restore a human ritual of death

Gardiner Harris from Mumbai in NYT:

Fifteen years after vultures disappeared from Mumbai’s skies, the Parsi community here intends to build two aviaries at one of its most sacred sites so that the giant scavengers can once again devour human corpses.

Construction is scheduled to begin as soon as April, said Dinshaw Rus Mehta, chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. If all goes as planned, he said, vultures may again consume the Parsi dead by January 2014.

“Without the vultures, more and more Parsis are choosing to be cremated,” Mr. Mehta said. “I have to bring back the vultures so the system is working again, especially during the monsoon.”

The plan is the result of six years of negotiations between Parsi leaders and the Indian government to revive a centuries-old practice that seeks to protect the ancient elements — air, earth, fire and water — from being polluted by either burial or cremation. And along the way, both sides hope the effort will contribute to the revival of two species of vulture that are nearing extinction. The government would provide the initial population of birds.

The cost of building the aviaries and maintaining the vultures is estimated at $5 million spread over 15 years, much less expensive than it would have been without the ready supply of food.

“Most vulture aviaries have to spend huge sums to buy meat, but for us that’s free because the vultures will be feeding on human bodies — on us,” Mr. Mehta said. More:

Ellington in India, 1963

[Thanks to Naresh Fernandes @tajmahalfoxtrot]

Read here

The Gentleman behind the story: Jehangir Dalal

Finding Carlton is documentary film about the story of jazz in India.


Inspector Killjoy

The Economist on India’s archaic anti-alcohol laws:

IF A Bollywood scriptwriter had to dream up a killjoy cop, he would base him on Vasant Dhoble. Over the past month Mumbai’s police have been shutting down parties and confiscating bars’ music systems in a drive to regulate the city’s nightlife. Leading the drive has been Mr Dhoble, the head of the city police’s “social services” division.

A stocky figure in his 50s sporting a moustache, Mr Dhoble has gained cartoon-villain status among hip Mumbaikers. An anti-Dhoble Facebook group has attracted over 20,000 members. Urbane newspapers witheringly describe him as a teetotal vegetarian. Bloggers have shared video footage that shows him roughing up employees at a juice bar, armed with a hockey stick. More

Another Friday walk

Gautam Pemmaraju in 3quarksdaily:

I know all of this on account of the fact that I live on an eponymously named street. It was in fact, precisely on Friday, December 14 2001, that I decided so find out who Tertullian was, after walking out the gate of the building where I stay, to set off, as I had several times before, on a lazy, meandering stroll around Bandra, a western coastal suburb of Bombay. I recall this quite well – it was just the previous day that the Indian parliament had been attacked by five armed gunmen. The television images of September 11 were still quite fresh and there was a sense that something was afoot, and the world had changed.

Setting off on desultory walks, particularly on Fridays, had become a sort of ritual; not one rigidly followed, but instead conducted on airy impulse. They help also to break the monotony of the regimented runs that have become a part of my daily routine in the last few years. Opening my gate precisely at 6PM, as always, I step out once again onto Tertullian Road. I can’t imagine there is any clear method to what and how one thinks on such walks; I’ve always thought the process to be imprecise, swaying and buckling at whim, setting adrift, only to eventually, run aground. Much like an asynchronous non-linear edit – apprehending a sight here, a form there, affixing these with a stray thought from the previous night, or from 30 years ago, to lead on to a cryptic composite.

Bungalow No 78, or ‘The Retreat’, stands on the corner of Rebello Road. Having passed by it for over 12 years now, I had become accustomed to the sight of the two elderly ladies who sat on the porch every afternoon. They are no longer to be seen. The bungalow was in the news recently. A real estate developer had some men of a private security firm beat up the lone guard and take possession of the structure, claiming that it had been sold to him. The plot is part of the St Sebastian Homes Cooperative Society, under a long lease to Edmund Joseph Vaz, and as per the society by-laws it cannot be sold to non-Catholics. Land grabbing by local thugs acting on the instructions of predatory builders/politicians, is a common occurrence here. The price of land, the potential development of plots into apartment complexes, is a murky and hugely profitable game. While most low-rise structures have capitulated, there are several others that remain standing. Of these, there are quite a few locked in dispute. The builder-politician nexus is perpetually on the lookout for easy prey, and senior citizens, many whose children live abroad, are precisely that. I have no count of the number of real estate related crimes in Bombay, but I’m certain it would be a significant, if not disturbing, one. More:

Q&A with Salman Rushdie

In New York Times, Shivani Vora catches up with Salman Rushdie on Chetan Bhagat, Twitter and his favourite hang-out places in Mumbai/Bombay

The author, who was a guest at the Pierre’s recent Diwali party, agreed to answer a few questions before the event about his connection to Mumbai, his time on Twitter and the state of Indian fiction today.

Q. You’ve agreed to read an excerpt of a new book about the history of the Taj hotel in Mumbai. What connection do you have to the hotel?
A. I’m a Bombay boy, so my connection to the Taj is life long. I went there as a boy with my parents, and as an adult I’ve taken my own family to stay there a number of times, and in general have always made a beeline for it when in Bombay.
Q. Have you visited Mumbai since the 2008 terror attacks? In your view, how has life in the city changed since?
A. Yes, I have. There’s much more security, around places like the Taj and other hotels, of course, and yet there isn’t much of a feeling that the city’s defenses have been improved.
Q. What’s your favorite pastime or place in Mumbai?
A. The secret of Bombay (excuse me for not saying “Mumbai”) is its people, so the best thing to do there is hang out with friends. As to favorite places, I used to meet the late, great poet Arun Kolatkar at the Wayside Inn in Kala Ghoda, a marvelous spot.
And I have a nostalgic soft spot for the Old Woman’s Shoe in the Kamala Nehru Park on Malabar Hill: my childhood playground. more

All that jazz

Musician Micky Correa was present when they served poularde soufflé Independence at the Taj Ballroom on 14 August 1947, writes Naresh Fernandes in Mint Lounge. Fernandes’ book, Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age, is scheduled to launch in November:

Drum and bass: Members of the Micky Correa band pose for a photograph at the Taj in the mid-1940s. Courtesy Naresh Fernandes.

One day in 2007, as the historian Ramachandra Guha and I were making our way to a coffee shop in Colaba, we encountered Micky Correa outside his building on the Causeway. It was most serendipitous. The legendary musician had been the subject of the first conversation I’d had with Guha four years before, when I accosted him at a lecture at Mumbai’s Press Club.

I had just finished reading A Corner of a Foreign Field, Guha’s social history of Indian cricket, and had been gobsmacked by the breadth of his vision and the depth of his research. My admiration reached boiling point when Guha described the celebrations that followed Vijay Hazare​’s triple century in the finals of the Pentangular Tournament of 1943. At a reception organized by the Catholic Gymkhana to honour their co-religionist, Guha noted that “three hundred couples took to the floor, swaying to music by Micky Correa’s band…”. More:

To listen to samples of Micky Correa’s music, visit www.tajmahalfoxtrot.com. A delightful blog.

The big bad city

In The Indian Express Shobhaa De reviews Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga:

When the blurb reads, “A suspense-filled story of money and power, luxury and deprivation, a rich tapestry peopled by unforgettable characters, not least of which is Mumbai itself, Last Man in Tower opens up the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of this great city — ordinary people pushed to their limits in a place that knows none”, you know it is one of those books. There is a point of view. A position has been taken. There will be a strong moral tucked into the narrative. The reader is sufficiently prepared. Mumbai sucks. Mumbai is a bitch.

But wait. Mumbai has become a hot destination for expat writers. Mumbai is hot! Just like Bollywood has gone nuts over picturesque Delhi and decided Delhi is hot. These days our lives have been greatly simplified, thanks to the “hot” handle. Everything and everyone is conveniently classified under two categories — Hot and Not Hot. I started reading this season’s hottest book Last Man in Tower a bit too eagerly, I confess. My mistake. It’s the irresistible combo — Adiga + Mumbai. Combine that with spectacular reviews and one goes, “Woaaaah.” Well, I was still going “woaaaah” on the last page, but not half as enthusiastically. The reason is simple. As a Mumbaikar, I see Mumbai through a slightly different filter and can pretty much tell when the supposedly typical Mumbai characters turn caricatural.

Adiga’s story is structured like a television soap, with neatly demarcated good guys and bad guys, plus a Hindu, Muslim, Christian “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” thrown in for good measure. The book helpfully provides a cast of characters with thumbnail sketches at the beginning, along with a map of the metropolis that shows the routes taken by commuters on local trains. Adiga has dedicated the book to the very same commuters of the Santa Cruz-Churchgate line. More:

The chawls of Mumbai

In Mint Lounge, a review of Neera Adarkar’s The Chawls of Mumbai (ImprintOne, 162 pages, Rs1,200):

Mumbai would not be the city it is today without its chawls. These three- and four-storey blocks of one- and two-room tenements dotting all of south and central Mumbai, built on a massive scale over the 19th and early 20th centuries by both the colonial government and private landlords, stand at the centre of the city’s social history. Although each of the great chawl neighbourhoods—Girgaon, Girangaon, Kalbadevi, Worli, Byculla—has its own distinct history and religious and class composition, together they form an architectural and city-specific continuum through which many of Mumbai’s traits can be understood. The quiddity of chawls and their influence “as a historical actor” on Mumbai’s landscape are illuminated through a variety of academic and narrative perspectives in Neera Adarkar’s excellent new anthology The Chawls of Mumbai.

The word “chawl” is a slightly anglicized version of the Marathi “chaal”, which means “anklet” and by extension “corridor” or, to use the Mumbai word, “gallery”. The very etymology of this architectural form, then, reveals what kind of residential space it was—one in which the boundary between private and public space was blurred, and communal areas were as significant as private ones.

Chawls began to come up in great numbers in the “Indian quarter” of Mumbai, north of the spacious, landscaped European quarter in Fort, from the mid-19th century onwards as the Indian cotton industry boomed, filling up the breach left by the Civil War in America. The colonial government and an emerging class of Indian capitalists needed labour; and migrant workers thronging the city from the Western Ghats and the Konkan coast needed cheap housing. As Mumbai (then called Bombay) urbanized and industrialized, many chawls were built by private parties on what was formerly farmland. But after an outbreak of plague in 1898, attributed to unsanitary conditions in the native neighbourhoods, the colonial government stepped in, in its own interest, to build chawls on a large scale. The massive Bombay Development Department (BDD) chawls in Worli, for instance, a colony of over a hundred chawl buildings, were built by the government on what was then cheap uninhabited land in north Bombay, now turned by the advance of history into what might be thought of as Mumbai’s centre. More:

Our bestial stamp on British cities

The British talent was building cities. The Indian talent is renaming things others built. Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

The British talent was building cities. They gave the Chinese Hong Kong and Singapore, they gave the Lankans Colombo, they gave the Burmese Rangoon, they gave the Kenyans Nairobi. To us they gifted Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi, the five greatest cities of the subcontinent.

The Indian talent is renaming things others built. We gave the world Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.

This put on display our pettiness and our ingratitude, and it also exposed another thing. We squat aggressively on names but we have not been able to create a single city of this quality on our own. The British did not build Surat or Ahmedabad, it is true, and these cities rose whole cloth from the Indian mercantile tradition. But they are quite provincial. Even if commercially independent of English language and colonial architecture, they’re actually giant villages. They have nothing of the metropolis about them. The cities we inherited from the British, it must be admitted, we have run into the ground. No city in India is Hong Kong.

Delhi and Kolkata look as if populated by a race different from the one that built the city. Like Rome overrun by Vandals or—to reach for a more popular allusion—like Planet of the Apes. The symmetry, the order, the Classical lines of Lutyens’ Delhi are the product of another civilization. These neighbourhoods are not designed for the people who now occupy them. Armed with its vaastu shastra and servant quarters, a second-rate civilization is spreading its slum over the creation of a civilized one. More:

A house-warming party for the world’s costliest home

Shobhaa De in The Times of India:

Mukesh and Nita Ambani played hosts to an interesting mix of people at their lavish housewarming party put together at short notice on November 25, in order to pre-empt an anticipated paparazzi attack on Altamount Road on November 28, where Antilia is located. Smart move. After months of speculation and even published reports last month of the `party that never happened’, guests at this super exclusive dinner were requested not to reveal the date for the official unveiling of the most opulently appointed residence ever created.

Rising dramatically, 300 metres above sea level, and built at a staggering cost of over a billion dollars, Antilia (the name is likely to be changed to `Anandam’) can be described as the Taj Mahal of the 21st century. Cantilevered and colossal, it easily dominates the skyline of the city. From the exquisite Krishna temple on the ground floor to Mukesh’s personal library on the top floor, it is a staggering feat!

As Shekhar Kapur, one of the few Bollywood invitees (the others being Preity Zinta, Aamir Khan, Karan Johar, Karishma Kapoor and Vidhu Vinod Chopra) commented from the roof (no, there isnt going to be a helipad here, the new plan is to transform it into a lush terrace garden), “It’s great to breathe fresh air at this height and leave Mumbai’s pollution down below.” A telling remark that can be read on many levels! From that impressive height and with those panoramic vistas, Mukesh and Nita are clearly the undisputed masters of all they survey east, west, north, south. More:

A league of Bombay’s best

The making and history of one of India’s finest schools, Mumbai’s The Cathedral & John Connon School. In Mint Lounge:

An Undefiled Heritage: By Mridula Sood Maluste and Viral Doshi

It was to be a flagship building and the Committee had done its homework. The plot most suited for it would have come as an epiphany as they meandered down tree-lined Esplanade Road, then conceived as a boulevard, to just that point between Esplanade Main Road and Hornby Row, immediately opposite the Frere (now Flora) Fountain.

Reverend FL Sharpin, Honorary Secretary of the Board loved it instantly, and begged “just that site on the Esplanade”—a large triangular plot of land that would imaginably expand into a college and, if the girls got lucky, into a girls’ school. And it was close enough to the Cathedral. The last was important to enable the Reverends to take religious instruction, albeit sporadically, and ensure that the choir continued to service their cathedral. The grand building would befit the cathedral and define the beauty and symmetry of this part of the Esplanade. And it would also incidentally, educate choristers, orphans, and others. More:

Mumbai: The plot unfolds, Lashkar strikes and investigators scramble

"After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj. "

This is the second part of ProPublica‘s investigation into the plot behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Read the first part. By Sebastian Rotella:

David Coleman Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.

He opened the office of an immigration consulting firm. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.

But it was all a front. The tall, fast-talking Pakistani American with the slicked-back hair was a fierce extremist, a former drug dealer, a onetime Drug Enforcement Administration informant who became a double agent. He had spent three years refining his clandestine skills in the terrorist training camps of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. As Headley confessed in a guilty plea in U.S. federal court this year, he was in Mumbai to begin undercover reconnaissance for a sophisticated attack that would take two years to plan.

In 2006, U.S. counterterrorism agencies still viewed Lashkar primarily as a threat to India. But Headley’s mentor, Sajid Mir, had widened his sights to Western targets years earlier. Mir, a mysterious Lashkar chief with close ties to Pakistani security forces, had deployed operatives who had completed missions and attempted plots in Virginia, Europe and Australia before being captured, according to investigators and court documents.

Now Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits were about to pay off. Lashkar had chosen him as project manager of its most ambitious, highly choreographed strike to date. More:

FBI was warned years in advance of Mumbai attacker’s terror ties

Newly discovered warnings about Headley reveal a troubling timeline in Mumbai case

The man behind Mumbai

This is an investigation by ProPublica, an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in public interest. The report exposes the conspiracy behind the terror attacks on Mumbai. This is the first of two parts. By Sebastian Rotella

On a November night two years ago, a young American rabbi and his pregnant wife finished dinner at their home in the mega-city of Mumbai.

Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg had come to India on a religious mission. They had established India’s first outpost of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish organization, in a six-story tower overlooking a shantytown. The Holtzbergs’ guests that evening were two American rabbis, an Israeli grandmother and a Mexican tourist.

Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American operative named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.

On Nov. 26, 2008, Mir sat among militant chiefs in a Pakistani safe house tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront. The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.

The 10 gunmen split into five teams. His voice crisp and steady, Mir directed the slaughter by phone, relaying detailed instructions to his fighters. About 10:25 p.m., gunmen stormed the Chabad House. They shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis, took the Israeli grandmother and Mexican tourist hostage and barricaded themselves on an upper floor.

Mir told his men to try to trade the hostages for a gunman who had been captured. Mir spoke directly to the Mexican hostage, 50-year-old Norma Rabinovich, who had been preparing to move to Israel to join her adult children.

Mir soothed the sobbing woman in accented but smooth English.

“Save your energy for good days,” Mir told her during the call intercepted by Indian intelligence. “If they contact right now, maybe you gonna, you know, celebrate your Sabbath with your family.”

The prisoner swap failed. Mir ordered the gunman to “get rid” of Rabinovich.

“Stand her up on this side of your door,” he said. “Shoot her such that the bullet goes right through her head and out the other side . . . Do it. I’m listening. . . . Do it, in God’s name.” More:

Love and loathing in Bombay

In Mint-Lounge, Booker-winning author Arvind Adiga on how he imagined Bombay, how he confronted the city’s harsh realities while living there and why he decided to leave. Adiga’s new novel, Last Man in the Tower, will be published in 2011 by HarperCollins India.

I moved to Mumbai in November 2006. The girl I had been seeing in Delhi came to the city to work for a marketing firm; she brought me along with her books and bags and bric-a-brac from Rohini. I had quit my job with Time magazine at the start of the year to finish a novel. Instead I had wasted my time doing little freelance jobs for my ex-employer. Unless I left Delhi—too many journalists, too many stories—I would never get this novel done. Going to Kolkata was the original plan; a friend said he might rent out his place near Minto Park. But then the girl came to Mumbai.

I first saw the city in 1985 with my mother. We were the guests of my granduncle Suresh, a lawyer who lived in Bandra. Many in my family had migrated from Mangalore to practise law in Bangalore or Madras. Suresh, a feisty, affectionate, beak-nosed man was the only one who had chosen Mumbai—a far-away, Hindi-speaking place where south Indians were reportedly attacked by the Shiv Sena. He drove us up to see the Queen’s Necklace; I had paani puris near the Gateway of India and puked them into the ocean. And though 18 years passed before I came back, Mumbai always found ingenious ways to remind me of its existence. More:

James A. FitzPatrick’s India

Namit Arora at 3quarksdaily:

James A. FitzPatrick (1894-1980), American movie-maker, is best known for his 200+ short documentary films from around the world. They appeared in two series, Traveltalks and The Voice of the Globe, which he wrote, produced, and directed from 1929-55. Commissioned by MGM, the shorts played before its feature films and were no doubt a mind-expanding experience for many. Some of them are now online at the Travel Film Archive. Nearly eighty years later, what should we make of FitzPatrick and his travel films?

FitzPatrick’s shorts on India—including Jaipur, Benares, Bombay, The Temple of Love (Delhi & Agra, no audio), and others not yet online—are a rare and unique window into Indian public life in the 1930s. We can see what many of these cities’ prominent streets and traffic looked like before motor vehicles and billboards, what familiar urbanscapes and skylines looked like, and how uncrowded these cities were before the big rural migrations, not to mention 70% fewer Indians. It is interesting to hear an American public figure from the 1930s pronounce on the castes of India, the religiosity of the Indians, and how they shared their public spaces with animals. They have the charm of quaint narrative conventions we find in period pieces. His films are valuable records of history also because they are a unique encounter of two very different cultures—illuminating the world behind the lens through the one in front.

But having said that, I also think their present value owes more to the paucity of video records of everyday life from that era, than to the quality of FitzPatrick’s mind. FitzPatrick seems to me very much a man of his time. In his directorial choices and opinions, he may well qualify as a textbook orientalist. This is not to say that his films are devoid of truth, empathy or humor. It is to say that he brought along with him a marked sense of cultural and racial superiority, as he trained his viewfinder on what he found amusing, outlandish or admirable. More:

Soaring above Mumbai’s poverty, a billion-dollar home

Jim Yardley on Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey home in Mumbai. In The New York Times:

The newest and most exclusive residential tower for this city’s superrich is a cantilevered sheath of steel and glass soaring 27 floors into the sky. The parking garage fills six levels. Three helipads are on the roof. There are terraces upon terraces, airborne swimming pools and hanging gardens in a Blade Runner-meets-Babylon edifice overlooking India’s most dynamic city.

There are nine elevators, a spa, a 50-seat theater and a grand ballroom. Hundreds of servants and staff are expected to work inside. And now, finally, after several years of planning and construction, the residents are about to move in.

All five of them.

The tower, known as Antilia, is the new home of India’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, whose $27 billion fortune also ranks him among the richest people in the world. And even here in the country’s financial capital, where residents bear daily witness to the stark extremes of Indian wealth and poverty, Mr. Ambani’s building is so spectacularly over the top that the city’s already elastic boundaries of excess and disparity are being stretched to new dimensions. More:

Mukesh Ambani’s Antilla: Island of opulence

Vikram Doctor in The Economic Times:

The official Ambani position on the new mega-mansion-apartment-block that Mukesh Ambani and his family are due to move into is clear: no comments, no explanations, and presumably no regrets. Not that there has been much open criticism; when it comes to the Ambanis most people, even the normally quote eager, tend, perhaps understandably, towards great circumspection.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t have views on the new building that looms over the city from Altamount Road. The rich who are Mr Ambani’s neighbours in that exclusive area have been infuriated by such a supremely status shattering creation, though they’re usually careful to voice their feelings in terms of practical complaints about loss of view and construction nuisances.

For those less fortunate, who just trudge past its considerably-wide shadow, most can remember a moment when they realised what the building was. With tower blocks shooting up across Mumbai, its initial rise didn’t draw much attention, though as it took form people noticed its rather odd shape, asymmetrical and thinner than most blocks and with those soaring piers.

But at some point the penny dropped for everyone: this whole structure was just for one family, and the piers supported the main house that, already elevated by Altamount Road , really soared over the city. In part, this surprise could be for how the building subtly shifts the meaning that apartment blocks have come to acquire in Mumbai. More:

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, builds world’s first billion-dollar home

From The Times of India:

Antilia, the luxe 27-storey home of India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani in south Mumbai, is ready for housewarming during the ongoing festive season. The building, which stands taller than most buildings in the vicinity and is visible from a distance in every direction, bears the name of a legendary island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, India’s largest private sector company, whose personal wealth is estimated to be $27 billion, is set to move into his mansion by the end of the month. The palatial building, completed after seven years of labour, has three helipads on the top floor and has been billed as the most opulent home of an individual anywhere in the world. The Ambani scion has invited the who’s who of the country for a sneak preview and celebrations on October 28.

Ambani’s multi-million-dollar customized skyscraper in Altamount Road would have Kumar Mangalam Birla, scion of the Birla family, as one of his neighbours. More: and here

Two years after terrorist attack, Taj restores its heritage

Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai in the New York Times:

When terrorists stormed this city nearly two years ago, killing at least 163 people, they also dealt a blow to the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, an architectural landmark that has played a critical role in nurturing and housing Indian art.

During a three-day siege the hotel, a Moorish-Florentine palace that opened in 1903, was ravaged by fires, gunshots and grenade explosions. The roof collapsed, and intricate woodwork was burned away. Paintings by modern Indian masters like Vasudeo S. Gaitonde and Jehangir Sabavala were covered in soot and fungus, which thrived in the humid air after air-conditioners gave out, and sprinklers and fire trucks doused the building with water.

Over the last 21 months a team that has at times swelled to more than 2,000 has gutted and renovated the hotel. A smaller group of five specialists spent 10 months restoring nearly 300 pieces of art, working in the Crystal Ballroom, where guests and staff sought refuge during the attack. More:

Also in the Times of India:

Mumbai: Great city, terrible place

In his new book, A Place in the Shade (Penguin India), renowned architect Charles Correa explains why, despite bad infrastructure, Mumbai gets better and better as a city. Excerpt from the book in Mint Lounge:

Perhaps we are paying too much attention to the physical and economic aspects of a city—and not enough to its mythical and metaphysical attributes. For a city can be beautiful as a physical habitat—trees, uncrowded roads, open spaces—and yet fail to provide that particular, ineffable quality of urbanity which we call: CITY.

We all know examples of this. Bombay, of course, illustrates the very opposite. Everyday it gets worse and worse as physical environment and yet better and better as city. That is to say, everyday it offers more in the way of skills, activities, opportunities at every level, from squatter to college student to entrepreneur to artist. The vitality of the theatre (and the evergrowing audiences), the range and talent of newspapers and magazines—there are a hundred indications emphasizing that impact (implosion!) of energy and people which really is a double-edged sword— destroying Bombay as environment, while intensifying its quality as city. More:

World Cup — Mumbai version

Arun Janardhan in Mint on Mumbai’s Friendship Cup that coincides with the Fifa World Cup and intends to bring children closer to the tournament being held in South Africa:

The Friendship Cup, like the World Cup that started on Friday, will have 32 teams representing that many countries, divided into eight groups, with a final on 19 June. So Patnaik’s “Spain” will be in Group H, with Switzerland, Chile and Honduras. Each team will play just one knock-out match in its group—unlike the World Cup where every team plays the other before the group leaders advance to the second stage.

The other variation is in the names. “Spain” will joyfully be called “Spanish Idiots” and “Switzerland” is “Swiss Chocolate”, but the players will try and get their jerseys as similar to the countries they represent, including, in some cases, getting the name of the sponsor.

At a practice session on Thursday at the Goan Sports Association grounds near Churchgate, Patnaik presented a range of teenage contradictions. Dressed in a Brazilian yellow-green jersey bearing the name of Ronaldinho on the back, he says his favourite team was England, but since they could not get that team, he was happy with Spain, which had his favourite player Xavi. “I want to play like him, I want to be him,” says Patnaik, after a busy exchange of headers with a player in Argentine blue-white bold stripes. More:

How Bombay made Hindi a heroine

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

We do, however, know one remarkable fact: historically, before Bombay became the epicentre of Hindi cinema in India, it had already established itself as the beating heart of the subcontinent’s commercial Hindustani theatre. Remarkably, this Deccan port, a thousand miles from heartland of Hindi-speaking India, remained the hub of both commercial Hindustani drama and commercial Hindi cinema for a hundred-and-fifty years. It’s not a coincidence that India’s most successful repertory theatre and its most profitable film industry were both incubated in Bombay and that the medium for both was Hindustani.

Bombay’s history brought this about in two ways. As one of the principal sites of colonial rule in India, the city hosted English stage plays in the late 18th and the early 19th centuries which helped create a hybrid commercial theatre that drew on both European and Indian theatrical traditions. But this wasn’t unique to Bombay; the same could be said of Calcutta. What was peculiar to Bombay was the presence of a merchant elite from elsewhere that was willing to experiment with commercial drama in any language that would fetch a return. Parsi theatre happened in Gujarati, Marathi, Urdu and even English, but given the currency of forms of Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani in northern and even some southern cities, it was a cheerful and robust Hindustani that found it the largest audience.

And while the Parsi theatre as a mobile repertory form wasn’t confined to Bombay, it is in Bombay that many of the major companies were centred. It was Bombay that provided much of the entrepreneurship, and many of the patrons, financiers, managers and performers who helped the Parsi theatre create the largest ticket-buying audience in Indian stage history. More

Why Bombay is India’s arch-metropolis

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

It’s hard to define what a ‘sense of place’ actually means, but Gertrude Stein summed up its absence nicely when she said, “there’s no there there.” It’s safe to say that there’s plenty of ‘there’ in Bombay; not only does the city have more than its fair share of iconic landmarks, but it also has a style, a swagger, a way of speaking that has been storied in film and fiction.

As someone from Delhi, I’m acutely conscious of the fact that Delhi’s neighbourhoods, its sense of itself, its historical landmarks, don’t resonate with outsiders in quite the same way. Why is this? Delhi is the older town, historically the grander metropolis, and politically the much more powerful city. William Dalrymple’s history of the rebellion in Delhi, Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi show us a city that once represented historical processes larger than itself. And you can see that in movies like Delhi-6, there are worlds to be evoked, there’s a nostalgia to be harnessed in the service of fiction.

So why is it that it’s Bombay that captures the pan-Indian imagination? The only time Delhi is used as a metaphor is in the course of political sloganeering, when one politician or the other says ‘Dilli chalo’. Netaji Subhas Bose pioneered the slogan, and a bunch of less distinguished imitators like L.K. Advani have echoed it. I can, without thinking too hard, think of three big recent English language books (Sacred Games, Maximum City and Shantaram) that take Bombay as their text. And this is a fairly thin sliver of Indian literary production: if we were to get started on the popular fictions that shape India — the Hindi films that Bombay makes which, in their turn, make Bombay — the list would be endless. More:

The Oberoi reopens after terrorist attack

The Oberoi-Trident, Mumbai, which was completely destroyed in the 26/11 attack, reopened its doors to the public on Saturday. The Oberoi Group CEO PRS Oberoi in conversation with The Indian Express Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta.

This was the battlefield.

Yes. They put bombs here. And a lot of grenades. They broke everything. They wanted to kill as many people and do as much damage as they could.

Where were you when you heard of this and what came to your mind?

Well, I was living in the hotel that day but I had gone to North Bombay for a function. While I was there, I was told there had been an attack. First they thought it was a gang war. Half an hour later, they said it was a terrorist attack. I didn’t know what to make of it. When I came and saw what they had done two days later, it was a shock. I was practically in tears. I didn’t how long it would take to restore the hotel. It has been completely rebuilt now. Everything, except the structure, is new. I must give credit to our people. They worked very hard to get it to this standard. More:

We’re all Shah Rukh

The RSS, the BJP, Mukesh Ambani and Rahul Gandhi are on the same side — against the Shiv Sena. Can Mumbai finally find its voice? Samar Halarnkar in The Hindustan Times:

On June 26, 1963, US President John F Kennedy, showing solidarity with beleaguered West Berliners, famously said (in a grammatically incorrect statement): “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I am a Berliner.

After 9/11, the French paper Le Monde declared: “We are all Americans.”

On Monday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said: “Count me as a Bihari.”

The wise often argue that silence speaks the loudest.

Not always. Not now. Not in India.

There is a reason the world’s best car companies install powerful horns in the automobiles they sell here. Indians need to say it out loud. Injustice triumphs when the powerful are silent, when standing strong only needs a voice.

So, in a city where business tsars and Bollywood stars are infamous for grovelling whenever a politician frowns, it was a relief to first hear Mukesh Ambani and later Shah Rukh Khan stick it to parochial politics and the Shiv Sena, incongruously named after Shivaji the Great.

“You can only say what you believe in and stand by it, and hopefully I will have the strength to do so,” Khan said in New York about the Sena’s threat to ban his latest movie, My Name is Khan, and to prevent his return to Mumbai. “As an Indian I’m not ashamed, guilty or unhappy about what I said, neither am I sorry.” More:

Mumbai’s messy motorways

From the Wall Street Journal:

Traffic has become so bad in my home of Mumbai that I don’t bother to make friends on the north side of town anymore. I have to rudely refuse all dinner invitations from suburbanites because it takes more than two hours to reach them some days.

I’ve been monitoring Mumbai’s motorways for more than a decade: first from the front of a Honda scooter and recently from the back of a Hyundai Sonata. Back in the 90s there was already too much traffic but at least there was enough space to squeeze my Honda Kinetic past the idling cars. Today even that space is gone. The tightening knot of sub-compact cars, rickshaws and Tata trucks has expanded to the curb and beyond. Scooter-straddling families are stuck in the mess with the rest of us – except for the few that ride on the sidewalks.

I, like many Mumbaikars, am strangely proud of my city’s traffic mess. Any traffic story from anywhere else in the world, I can top. My best, awful story involves the traffic jam from hell in the late 90s. The 30 kilometers to the airport took seven hours – the last 30 minutes pushing my Padmini taxi through waist-high water. I still made my plane though. My flight’s crew was stuck in the same jam. More:

Mumbai Parsis divided on intermarriage

From GlobalPost:

Mumbai: A group of about a dozen young Parsi professionals gather around a table at the Parsi Gymkhana or social club at Marine Lines in Mumbai. They drink Pepsis and snack on toast topped with akuri, a spicy mixture of scrambled eggs and tomatoes, as they wait for others to arrive.

“What’s up, homies?” says 23-year-old Peshotan Kapadia as he makes his entrance. Sporting a goatee, jeans and T-shirt, Kapadia — like the rest of the group — looks like a typical modern young adult.

But despite the modern scene, the group’s underlying purpose is a reflection of their traditional beliefs: to foster marriage between young Parsis.

The group, Zoroastrian Youth for the Next Generation (ZYNG), was launched in mid-December and aims to provide social, cultural and employment opportunities for young people in their community. Zoroastrianism is the religion that the cultural group Parsis follow. More: