Tag Archive for 'Mumbai'

The art of the Mumbai circulating library

In The Comics Journal:

Upon publishing the interview with Leaping Windows Comics Café, I was informed by an elder Indian that rental bookstores – locally called “circulating libraries” – are not uncommon in Mumbai. There used to be more, I was told, but there are still some out in the suburbs, though they deal mainly in books in Hindi and Marathi (the local language) rather than in English.

Online searching turned up more than a dozen scattered across Greater Mumbai, some of which are actually in the heart of the city, near railway stations and major intersections. These latter seem to be mainly older businesses, hanging on since the 1950s and 60s. I am also told that, out in the suburbs, a number of “paper marts” – paper recycling shops – have begun doubling as lending libraries, redirecting not only junk books and magazines that come their way, but also cartons of cheap remainder books. I have heard – though I haven’t seen them – that there are book vans that show up in certain neighborhoods once every three days or so, with blinking LED lights and megaphones tootling jingles.

All of which is to say: borrowing books for a fee, beyond the familiar institutions of private and municipal libraries, is neither a new nor rare thing in Mumbai.

One of the older establishments is Victoria Music House & Library in Mahim, named (like Victoria Dry Cleaners next door) after Our Lady of Victoria Church down the street. Founded in 1950, the library is today run by one Arif Merchant, whose name makes sounds like a character from one of those dry-wit, Indian magical realist novels. More:

World’s worst cities for air pollution

According to WHO [Click on the image}


Mumbai’s Parsi cafe culture

Rosie Birkett in The Guardian:

I eat the best creme caramel of my life in 26C heat, with life-sized cutouts of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smiling down at me from the dining room’s slightly slanting balcony. A pigeon snoozes on the lone chandelier, dusty beneath peeling turquoise paintwork, and ceiling fans whirr above crowded, chattering tables. I’m sitting in Britannia and Co Restaurant (Wakefield House, 11 Sprott Road), one of the last remaining Parsi cafes in south Mumbai (or south Bombay as the locals so protectively still call it), and I’m full of food.

Opened in the 19th-century by Parsi settlers – Zoroastrians from Iran – these cafes, with their magnificently faded, time-capsule dining rooms and speciality dishes, are a gloriously eccentric part of the fabric of Mumbai. They are also democratic and inclusive places, where people of all backgrounds, classes and sexes meet, so you may find a Sikh next to a Hindu or Zoroastrian or a group of young female students dining alone.

They are also a dying breed. In 1950 there were about 550 of them, many of which grew from humble tea stalls; now only 15 to 20 are still open. More:

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:

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:

Island city: Mumbai then and now

Twenty years after the riots, Mumbai’s landscape is unrecognizable. Enclaves of exclusion challenge the city’s idea of itself as a progressive, cosmopolitan metropolisNaresh Fernandes in Mint Lounge:

One recent evening, a barber named Shaikh Mansoor took time off from cutting hair in his tiny shop in Bharat Nagar, on the edge of Mumbai’s Bandra East neighbourhood, to point to the precise spot where three of his neighbours had been shot dead by policemen from the local chowki 20 years ago.

Mansoor was 14 on the morning of 7 December 1992, when chaos swept through his swampy slum. Located on a spit protruding into the mouth of the Mithi river, the Muslim-dominated settlement had only one road running through it—and that road had been blocked when a group of about 50 young men torched a BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) bus to protest against the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya the previous afternoon.

As the vehicle went up in flames, policemen shot at the protesters with pistols, muskets and sten guns. A little while later, hundreds of people surrounded the police outpost at the edge of the slum, hurling stones and tube lights that left holes in the corrugated asbestos roof. The four policemen on duty attempted to fight their way out, killing three men and wounding 54. “The guns sounded like thunder,” Mansoor recalls. The clashes in Bharat Nagar were only one flame in an inferno of violence that was already consuming vast portions of Mumbai. Over the next two months, approximately 900 people would be killed in two phases of riots across the city. 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:

A tale of two riots in Mumbai

Vikram Doctor in Economic Times:

There is one interesting, and depressing, difference between the Maharashtra government’s reaction to the recent Azad Maidan riot and a riot that took place in the city exactly 30 years ago, in August 1982.

That was the Bombay Police Riot, an unprecedented event that put the city through its worst riots in 12 years and which was, predictably, greeted by calls from MLAs for the removal of Julio Ribeiro, who had just taken over as police commissioner (PC). But the then chief minister, Babasaheb Bhosale of Congress, refused to give in to the demands since he knew, all too well, how Ribeiro had managed to contain a problem that could have become far worse. Arup Patnaik, who has just been unceremoniously removed as PC, also quite possibly saved the city from far worse on August 11.

Some activists were looking to provoke a stronger reaction that could have led to further chaos. And by attacking Patnaik for ‘doing nothing,’ political parties like the two Senas would have relished the chance of such chaos in which they could retaliate.

But by choosing not to be provoked, and containing the riot despite the attacks on police personnel, Patnaik may well have averted a larger conflagration — and his reward has been his removal. More:

Mapping toilets in a Mumbai slum

At India Ink / NYT:

It was while stepping over the channels of ochre fluid that run between the raggedly cascading apartment blocks that make up the Mumbai slum known as Cheeta Camp that James Potter discovered a real-life version of what could be a scene out of a magical realist novel by Salman Rushdie: a toilet facility that gets built and then torn down again, always on the verge of being finished, but never usable.

“Five or six people circled around to tell me the tale of the perpetually about-to-open toilet. Apparently, for the last 15 years or so, the toilet had been built, demolished and rebuilt three times,” said Mr. Potter, a Hindi-speaking student who is pursuing his master’s degree in public health at Harvard.

Each time, local politicians claimed that the lavatory facility would open “after the elections,” but that never happened. Instead, the residents told Mr. Potter, the government workers would just tear it down and start to build a new one next time the elections rolled around. “The neighbors didn’t have any expectation that the current structure would be opened any time soon,” said Mr. Potter.

Mr. Potter was one of a dozen students from the Harvard School of Public Health who traveled to Mumbai in January to research life in the city’s slums. More:

Also read in Harvard Magazine: Into 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

Property in Mumbai

In The Economist:

Take the view from one of the towers clustered in midtown, owned by Abhisheck Lodha, a razor-sharp American-educated tycoon making billion-dollar bets on transforming the city. The odd skyscraper erupts out of low-rise clutter. There are pockets of tall buildings on old mill land and along the city’s west coast. But much of Mumbai—supposedly a rival to Hong Kong, London and New York—looks flat and knackered. To the east the vista is of derelict factories, rotting low-rise rent-controlled buildings and the odd slum. To the south lies the ossifying old city centre, with its ageing port, colonial showpieces and Soviet-style offices and bureaucrats’ flats. The nearest green spaces are a racecourse and a club on whose ample lawn members feed stray dogs buttered toast.

Mumbai has perhaps the most extreme statistics of any metropolis. Its land mass is small, stuck like a crooked blade into the Arabian Sea. It has poor transport links, so people who work in the city live near it. That in turn means it has the highest population density of any big city. But it is also low-rise. Panama City has a taller skyline.

The result is tiny living spaces of 4.5 square metres (48 square feet) per person, compared with 34 square metres in Shanghai. And prices are high. Mid-town flats cost $1m-3m. The average price of a 1,000-square-foot pad in the city is perhaps $250,000, or 90 times GDP per head. With flats out of reach, the share of people in slums has risen to perhaps 60%, compared with 20% in Rio de Janeiro and Delhi. Of the rest, about half live in rent-controlled digs, sometimes propped up by wooden staves, or flats for public-sector employees. More:

The letdown of ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’

Paul Beckett in WSJ / India Real Time:

I agree with some elements of the rave reviews. It is an astonishing portrait of a much-overlooked section of Mumbai — and Indian — society. The protagonists of the book are given extraordinary space to tell their tales, to elucidate their hopes, ambitions, disappointments and frustrations. Their tragedies are rendered in heartbreaking detail.

The social hierarchy of their slum is convincingly depicted: contrary to many portrayals, the poorest of India’s urban dwellers don’t all necessarily strive to get to the top; they mostly just want to get ahead of the people around them. It is an obvious point once it’s made but is worth making again and again — it’s a major reason why the country doesn’t erupt in well-organized rebellion from the bottom.

How dedicated was Ms. Boo in bringing these characters to life? It is already legendary in journalistic circles that, as she notes in the afterword, for a central scene in the book of a woman setting herself alight and its immediate aftermath, the author conducted “repeated interviews of 168 people.” All this, even though only one person actually witnessed the self-immolation by looking through a small hole near the roof of the woman’s dwelling.

Well, that brings me to my chief objection: I wish some of those interviews had been redirected to the other characters and trends in the book outside of the slum, which are held chiefly responsible for the slum dwellers’ collective misery. 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:

A shocking satellite tour of the world’s biggest slums

More at Business Insider

Dharavi, India. A slum in Mumbai with approximately 1 million people.

Orangi town, Pakistan. A slum in Karachi with approximately 700,000 - 2.5 million people.

A definitive account of a Mumbai slum from one of the world’s best reporters

In The Caravan, Girish Shahane reviews “Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” by Katherine Boo [Penguin India]:

 Boo locates her book in Annawadi, a settlement established by Tamil labourers near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in 1991 when repairs were being made to a runway. The settlement’s character was altered by an influx of Marathi migrants, and is being reshaped again by a wave of North Indians. Its changing demographics and proximity to a recently privatised terminal make it an ideal site for exploring economic opportunity and gross inequality—the exacerbation as well as transcendence of social divisions that the metropolis engenders. Annawadi is hidden beyond a concrete wall painted with an advertisement for ceramic floor tiles that, if the repeated slogan is to be believed, remain “Beautiful Forever”. The effort to keep the shanties out of sight behind a high barrier is futile: once aloft, airline passengers are bound to notice slums spreading like eczema around the airport, alongside roads and railway tracks and across once-green hills. More than half the residents of Mumbai live in such settlements, which represent both the city’s capacity to offer jobs to millions of new migrants, and a catastrophic failure of urban planning.

More than half a century ago, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote in his book Tristes Tropiques, “Filth, chaos, promiscuity, congestion; ruins, huts, mud, dirt; dung, urine, pus, humors, secretions and running sores: all the things against which we expect urban life to give us organized protection, all the things we hate and guard against at such great cost, all these by-products of cohabitation do not set any limitation on it in India. They are more like a natural environment which the Indian town needs in order to prosper. To every individual, any street, footpath or alley affords a home, where he can sit, sleep, and even pick up his food straight from the glutinous filth.” Affluent Indians often suggest that eliminating the grime which so disgusted Lévi-Strauss demands a kind of delete button to erase squatter colonies from existence and memory. However, NGOs like the National Slum Dwellers Federation have led a salutary reimagining of shanty towns as centres of productive labour rather than the habitat of dispensable parasites. Foreign correspondents reporting on Mumbai’s emblematic slum, Dharavi, are now more likely to focus on textile exports than on poverty. More:

And here’s the link to Jonathan Shainin‘s review of the book

Totally drug-resistant tuberculosis hits India

In The Times of India:

Tuberculosis, which kills around 1,000 people a day in India, has acquired a deadlier edge. A new entity-ominously called Totally Drug-Resistant TB (TDR-TB )-has been isolated in the fluid samples of 12 TB patients in the past three months alone at Hinduja Hospital at Mahim . The hospital’s laboratory has been certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) to test TB patients for drug resistance.

While Iran first reported TDRTB cases three years ago, India seems to be only the second country to report this deadly form of the disease. TDR-TB is the result of the latest mutation of the bacilli after Multi-Drug-Resistant TB (MDR-TB ) and Extremely Drug-Resistant TB (XDR-TB ) were diagnozed earlier.

Even more worryingly for Mumbai, 10 of the 12 TDR-TB cases are from the city, while the other two are patients from Ratnagiri and UP. One of the 12 patients has since died. India sees around 3- 4 lakh deaths for all forms of TB each year, while the world saw 1.7 million deaths in 2009. More:

Mumbai’s fight clubs

Jason Burke in The Guardian:

Dhiraj Wahelendar was waiting to fight. Within an hour he would step into a temporary ring set up in a film studio in the northern suburbs of Mumbai, India’s vast commercial capital, and take part in one of the country’s fastest growing sports: full contact fighting.

Wahelendar, a 35-year-old professional martial artist, is one of 12 combatants who, wearing no protection other than groin and mouthguards and thinly padded leather gloves, were to battle each other, using kicks, punches and grapples, in front of several hundred aficionados who have paid up to £13 for seats to watch.

Some of the fighters were there for excitement and “exercise”, others for more basic reasons.

“Where I grew up there is nothing. We didn’t have enough to eat when I was a kid. I am more scared of poverty than being hurt,” said Wahelendar, from the western state of Gujarat, as he prepared for his bout. More:

A problem like Maria

Neeraj Grover (right, bottom), a 25-year-old TV executive, was murdered in Mumbai. He was lying naked in 27-year-old Kannada actress Maria Susairaj’s bedroom when her fiance, Emile Jerome Matthew, an officer in the Navy, walked in and stabbed Grover to death. Maria and Emile are then said to have hacked the corpse into 300 pieces before burning the chopped limbs. Maria Susairaj was acquitted and Jerome Matthew found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison.

In Mint-Lounge, an excerpt from Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel.

Mumbai police owes the legend of the force being second only to Scotland Yard, to an Englishman, Stephen Meredyth Edwardes, Mumbai’s police commissioner in 1909. Edwardes, having studied the workings of Scotland Yard at first hand, set up the Criminal Investigation Department, which later became the Mumbai Crime Branch. The Crime Branch, divided into twelve units along the length of the city for administrative reasons, has the authority to do a parallel probe on any case registered in any Mumbai police station.

Freed from the often time-consuming administrative work of a police station, Crime Branch cops, usually to be found in plain clothes, work exclusively as detectives and have distinguished themselves by solving some of the most talked about cases in recent history, including the Gulshan Kumar murder and the J.J. Hospital shootout case. The notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj was also arrested in a Crime Branch operation.

On May 13, four days after he ordered the probe, a group of Neeraj’s friends came to see Rakesh Maria to complain about the lag in investigation. Among them was a young woman who sat right across him. There was something about her eyes that bothered him.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Maria Susairaj, I am also a friend of Neeraj’s.’

‘I know, he disappeared from your house. You, lady,’ Rakesh Maria leaned forward, stared hard and, pointing a finger straight at Maria Susairaj said, ‘are my number one suspect.’ More:

Living next door to Sachin Tendulkar

Dilip D’Souza in The Caravan:

The best-known cricketer on the planet is now my neighbour. I mean, even with my aging arm muscles I’m sure I could fling a stone from my balcony and shatter the pristine plate glass of Sachin Tendulkar’s windows, not that I’m about to attempt that feat. After three years building his mansion, he moved in one balmy September morn. That day, on the otherwise nondescript lane in our Mumbai suburb, there was a steady influx of TV cameras, pert correspondents wearing inordinately tight clothes, crowds of excited young men, schoolgirls carrying bouquets and wiping sweat off their brows, women carrying what looked like trophies of a kind, a group with a welcome banner that climbed a tree and incurred the neighbours’ wrath—all right, my wrath—when they casually snapped a few three-foot-long branches and threw them to the ground.

“We are doing good work here today,” one argued when I went over to remonstrate, “and you’re trying to stop us? These were just twigs! They blocked part of our banner! Besides, do you know how many poor people our organisation helps? Bet you don’t help any!”


And when Tendulkar appeared at his entrance in the early afternoon, the boom mikes snapped forward like a crowd of alert cobras, cameras pressed in, men shouted and up on my fourth-floor balcony, overlooking the scene but with no stone at the ready (I promise), I heard despairing feminine wails from somewhere inside the crush. The bouquet girls and trophy ladies were not even visible any more. Later reports, no surprise, suggested there had been some minor injuries. 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

What Mumbaikars owe to the American Civil War: ‘pav bhaji’

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

Snack food in India is the product of its urban centres. The first community to settle in Bombay’s Fort area, in the 1660s, was the traders of Surat. Now Gujarat has been an urban state for centuries. While Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras were settled by the British, Ahmedabad and Surat existed as urban centres before the British arrived in 1608, their ship docking on the Tapi’s right bank near my house. When the Tapi silted over later in the 1600s, Surti traders were cajoled to move to Bombay. They brought with them their afternoon food—khandvi, dhokla, patra—and their breakfast snacks, fafda, thepla and khamni.

This, of course, isn’t street food. That would have to wait for a couple of centuries. Street food is very recent in Indian cities and its origins can be dated to around 1840. This is when a group of Gujaratis began trading in the area now known as Dalal Street, starting Asia’s first stock exchange a few years later. They traded mainly in cotton, and many made fortunes in the period 1861-65 when global supply of the stuff was affected by the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln’s navy blockaded New Orleans and the Mississippi and Manchester’s looms came to a halt, sending cotton prices shooting. The Gujarati merchant is one of the world’s finest managers of uncertainty and he made a lot of money. These early globalizers worked, as today’s call centre workers, late into the night when rates were wired in and orders wired out at American and European times. By then everyone would be quite famished and the wives would be asleep at home.

This demand for regular food at an unusual time created a unique supply. The traders were served by street stalls that invented a late-night special: pav bhaji. This is mashed vegetables (all the leftovers) cooked in a tomato gravy and served with buttered loaves. The loaf came from the Portuguese Jesuits, who settled in Bandra around the mid-1500s. It has been neatly absorbed into Indian fast food, soaking up the oil and gravies that Indians love. More:

Beauty and Mumbai’s beastly trade

From The Independent:

Sonia Faleiro was simply in search of a story she could sink her teeth into. A campaigning reporter on a number of Indian newspapers, the 33-year-old from Goa adhered to one overriding credo: “To convey information about people we know nothing of.” And so, when she came across a small news item about dance bars in Mumbai, dens of iniquity in which disadvantaged young women were used and abused by the city’s elite, she knew that here was something worth delving into.

“I met with one of the girls, Leela,” she says, “a 19-year-old who had no doubt suffered [as a child, her father sent her out to be gang-raped by the police] but who, since arriving [in Mumbai], was so alive, and so optimistic.”

Faleiro spent several months shadowing this engagingly self-dramatising heroine, convinced that she was worthy of far more than a mere article. The result, six years after they first met, is Beautiful Thing, a book that throws the doors open on Mumbai’s sex trade. More:

Previously in AW: Dreams of Mumbai

Dreams of Mumbai

Sonia Faleiro in IHT. She is the author of “Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars,” which will be published next month.

Varanasi — In Delhi where I grew up I knew a girl who carried a meat knife. Tired of daily molestations, she used to say that the next stranger who fondled her, in the bus, or on the street as he brushed past, would feel it.

I didn’t carry a knife, but I wore my sister’s baggy salwar kameezes. This way, I told myself, men wouldn’t stare and they wouldn’t touch. When I was 24 years old, I left Delhi for Edinburgh to study for a master’s degree. After I returned to India I found that I no longer wanted to dress like someone else, and I still didn’t want to carry a knife. So I moved to Mumbai.

My boyfriend, an American recently arrived in the country, moved as well. Mumbai offered me the freedom I had experienced only outside the country, and it gave him freedoms he took for granted in his own.

Before relocating I had heard that young women did things in Mumbai that were unthinkable in Delhi — they wore shorts in public and returned home on their own after dark, even if they had been drinking. But it was in Mumbai that I became the person, and in time the writer, I now am.

Only in Mumbai could a young female writer safely attend a late-night birthday party hosted by a madam in a brothel. Only in Mumbai could I have lunch with a known gangster and leave the conversation feeling even more alive than when it had begun. More:

The most expensive city in India?

Delhi not Mumbai is the country’s most expensive city according to Mercer’s annual survey of 214 cities around the world. What makes Delhi so expensive? Transportation, food, entertainment and price of housing. Incidentally, both Delhi and Mumbai are more expensive to live in than Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Now if only we were earning in dollars! Margherita Stancati in WSJ’s India Realtime.

Despite popular perceptions, Delhi is a lot more expensive than Mumbai, according to a survey comparing the cost of living in cities around the world. The annual survey, conducted by the consulting firm Mercer, ranked 214 cities around the world on the basis of the cost of living in them. more

Read survey report here.

The maximum threat

Dilip Bobb in The Indian Express:

As Mumbai’s Boswell, Suketu Mehta captured the dark side of Mumbai as effectively as he did the wonder and iconic status that define the metropolis. The alluring mistress of hope, the devil of despair, the maximum city in every which way, whether providing nightmares or building dreams. It also detailed why and how Mumbai can become an addiction. Above all, it defined what makes a Mumbaikar. It is a peculiar definition, but it manages to say a lot, much like one speaks of someone being a New Yorker. Wednesday’s terror strike has brought Mumbaikars into tragic focus once again — their legendary “resilience” and “spirit” starting to invite anger rather than pride from those who face the reality of being the favoured target for terrorists.

The reasons for that targeting go beyond the cliché of being “the financial centre”. No other city in India has that aura, and sense of destiny, that Mumbai commands. Like New York, with which it is often compared, Mumbai stands for something unique: a city that energises those who live in it, and instills a desire to excel. Such cities have become “command centres in the borderless domain of the new global economy,” as an American architect recently wrote. These are cities that cause prominent writers like Mehta, Vikram Chandra (Sacred Games, Love and Longing in Bombay) and now Aravind Adiga (Last Man in Tower) to use them as a backdrop to their novels, because of their iconic status, of the kind of people who inhabit them, and the dynamics of its neighbourhoods. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire could only have been filmed in Mumbai to bring alive the grime and the glamour, the ambition and drive, and the dreams that it encourages its inhabitants to dream. It is that spirit which invites the terrorist’s wrath, the obsessive desire to see it broken. Mumbai is more a symbol of emerging India and its growing economic clout than any other city in India, and that’s what keeps the fidayeen plotting their twisted conspiracies while preparing the ammonium nitrate. More:


Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

Here is a question, and a proposition, rolled into one: Is Mumbai the new Calcutta? And the choice of the new name for one, and the old one for the other, is deliberate. There was a time when Calcutta was the globally celebrated metaphor for all that was wrong with India. From Oh! Calcutta to Dominique Lapierre’s City of Joy, the poverty, the dysfunctionality of that city was the benchmark for all that could go wrong with Third World urban sprawl. Rajiv Gandhi brought the decline of the city to national consciousness by proclaiming that the city was dead. Even the most die-hard Kolkata-walas will not protest when I say that their city has lost that dubious “number one” status to Mumbai. In fact, not only has Mumbai become the new Kolkata, it also does not have the comfort of having a Mother Teresa to bring it succour, a sense of pride and a possible Nobel.

Check out the signals from popular culture. Four of the most prominent books centred on Mumbai (Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Shantaram by Gregory Roberts, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City and, most recently, Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower) have each drawn from the seamier underbelly of India’s clichéd city of dreams where streets were allegedly paved with gold. Two of the most celebrated India-themed foreign films, Slumdog Millionaire and Salaam Bombay, have followed the same pattern. Not to be left behind, Bollywood is also back to its old pessimistic view of its own city, as the success of Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (with a sequel in the works) shows. In fact, today, almost all that is optimistic in popular culture is north/ Delhi-based, from Band Baaja Baaraat to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Even the new bestselling chicklit is based in Delhi, Anuja Chauhan’s Zoya Factor and Advaita Kala’s Almost Single. And this, in a city with a well-earned notoriety for being wildly unkind to young women.

Repeated terrorist attacks and bombings are only the most visible symptoms of Mumbai’s decline. The boast of developing it into Asia’s new financial centre, a new Shanghai, is now an insult to India’s fastest diminishing city. More:

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:

Love triangle


"Once Neeraj Grover (bottom right) was dead, Emile Jerome Mathew (top right) slapped his girlfriend Maria Susairaj (left) several times and then, according to her statement, raped her twice."

In The Indian Express, Smita Nair on a crime of passion:

On the night of May 6, 2008, Grover, an executive in a TV production company, dropped in at Susairaj’s newly rented, one-room flat at Dheeraj Solitaire, a lavish building in Malad, Mumbai. She needed help moving in. He decided to spend the night there.

Susairaj and Grover are said to have been “seeing each other” after he had promised her a role in Mahabharat, a TV serial. His friends would later tell the Crime Branch that he was in love with her. Susairaj’s confession would put it as “purely one-sided”.

The same night, Susairaj got a call from Mathew, her boyfriend from her schooldays. Mathew, a naval officer in Kochi, could hear laughter and Grover asking Susairaj jokingly, “Is that your boyfriend?”

But for that call, Mathew might have gone on with a bright career. Now, he was furious. He got a friend to drive him 45 km to the airport for a 3.45 am flight to Mumbai. He told his friend his girlfriend was upset and needed him, but not that they had quarreled when she refused to throw Grover out of her house, or that she had switched her cell off.

At the other end, Susairaj and Grover went to sleep at 4 am; the prosecution says this was after they had had sex. When Mathew arrived, he found Grover, allegedly naked, in Susairaj’s bedroom. According to her confession, he slashed the screaming Grover’s throat, stabbed him in the chest. More:

Update: On Friday, a Mumbai court sentenced Emile Jerome to ten years in jail for the murder of Neeraj Grover. Maria Susairaj was given a maximum three years’ imprisonment which she has already served during trial. and walked free on Saturday.

Later, at a press conference: “Grover’s body was cut into four pieces only, not 300, as the prosecution has claimed.”


The art of the deal

How David Headley saves his own life in a Chicago courtroom. Liz Mermin in The CaravanLiz Mermin is a London-based writer and filmmaker from New York. She has directed many international documentary features for the BBC, including Shot in Bombay. She is currently working on a drama based on the Headley story.

In October 2009, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested David Headley at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Philadelphia. His intention, he later told interrogators, was to go from there to Pakistan and then on to Copenhagen to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. At the time, investigators had no idea Headley had been involved in the Mumbai attacks (a detail he offered up after he was in custody), but he had been fixated on the Denmark plan following the “success” of 26/11, and intended to carry it out on his own, if necessary.

Although he had been trained to use AK-47s and grenades, Headley had never killed anyone with his own hand. His contribution to the 26/11 attack was intelligence from Mumbai: he provided his LeT handlers with hours and hours of video footage and offered strategic suggestions based on his time living in and scouting out the city. He was impatient for more action, and now wanted to attack the West. But LeT was under intense scrutiny after the Mumbai attacks, and his handler—though initially enthusiastic—had told him to back off. So he turned to al Qaeda. And when the men in Europe whom al Qaeda said would carry out the Copenhagen job were unwilling to do so, he offered to do it himself.

The plan was to enter the newspaper’s heavily secured office building with guns and knives, take hostages, shoot them, and then cut off their heads and throw them out the window into King’s New Square. As in Mumbai, the attackers were not supposed to survive. So it seems that the FBI might have saved David Headley’s life by arresting him—a courtesy they would extend again when he agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the US government in exchange for a promise that he would avoid the death penalty and extradition to Denmark, Pakistan or India. The latter was something Headley wanted to avoid at all costs.

I had been following the Headley saga since November 2009, when I happened to see a MiD DAY gossip column headlined “Did Headley Date Starlet?” The piece began: “Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind David Coleman Headley (49), whose reputation as a strikingly handsome charmer almost matches that of his terror history, may have dated starlet Aarti Chhabria.” My first thought—reading the paper online from London—was “who the hell is David Headley?” Though he had been arrested in October, very little information about him had been released, and there had been almost no press coverage, apart from a few small items in Indian newspapers. More:

The intrepid reporter

An Amul ad pays tribute to crime reporter J Dey who was shot dead in Mumbai

Mid-Day’s 56-year-old investigative reporter J Dey was gunned down in broad daylight in a busy Mumbai suburb. In Outlook:

Having written on crime and the Mumbai underworld for 20 years, Dey was an acknowledged “boss” in his domain. Threats and ambushes were, to him, mere work hazards; his calm response to one such call—“Don’t keep calling to threaten, if you have the guts, come and get me upfront”—during a routine edit meeting at the Indian Express, Mumbai, is the stuff of legend. And, in the hush-hush talk on “compromised” crime reporters, Dey’s credibility was remarkable.

On that afternoon, as Dey biked his way through incessant rain from his mother’s house in Ghatkopar to his own at Powai, four men on two bikes tailed him and shot him at close range—from behind. Five bullets from .32 revolvers shattered his chest region. By the time he was taken to the Hiranandani Hospital, he was dead. There was shock and outrage. “He was my guru, my commander and my elder brother,” wept Nikhil Dixit, the crime reporter who performed Dey’s final rites. His distraught mother, Bina, could only say, “He always said he’d protect me, he wouldn’t let me be harmed. But, in the end, he wasn’t protected.” More:

In The Hindu: Now, an endangered press. By Sevanti Ninan