Mumbai Memoirs 7: From 7 Islands to a Megalopolis! (Part IV)
Travelling is a great way to free the mind. It’s a way of transporting one’s self into a totally different environment and refreshing one’s soul in the process. British novelist David Mitchell, in his fiction ‘Cloud Atlas’, quotes “Travel far enough, you meet yourself”. Last week I met few tourists who were first time travellers to Mumbai. I was curious to know what they were looking for in a city that may seem, like a Sufi Dervish, to be swirling in a trance of its own. Inspite of hailing from different continents of the world, all three tourists had almost the same views to share. Roberto from France, Adam from Canada and Zhang from China expressed as to how knowing the history and culture of a place helps them to be objective and more understanding towards the lifestyle of people, especially of lesser known world destinations like Mumbai. Adam added, ‘I am amazed with the multi-levels of growth the city exhibits in all walks of life’.
What he simply meant was that Mumbai boldly showcases both, the glamour of the elite and also the plight of the poor. It is true that there exists a huge gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s here, but there are many socio-economic layers in between the two extremes, which eventually harmonizes the social fabric of Mumbai into a wonderful tapestry.
No city develops in a vacuum. National and international events, directly or indirectly influence its development, as time flies by. Realizing the need for better transport facility, the British administration had introduced electric tram cars in 1907. Under the Bombay Tramways Act of 1874, the trams served the city till 1964.
An interesting fact is that the modern day Mumbai Monorail Project, that got inaugurated last year, has sprouted out of the same legislative Act, which was born in Mumbai’s colonial past.
Bombay also was a silent witness to the gradual end of the British rule and the emergence of an independent India. The fire of nationalism burnt brightly in India as Mahatma Gandhi, the central hero of the Indian Independence struggle, arrived in Bombay. From 1917 to 1934 he resided at ‘Mani Bhavan’, a mansion located at Gamdevi near Grant Road area in Central Mumbai. A kilometre away from ‘Mani Bhavan’ is Gowalia tank ground. The ground is now renamed as ‘August Kranti Maidan’, in memory of the historic ‘Quit India’ freedom movement that started in August 1942.
This movement was a final attempt, under Gandhiji’s leadership, to end the British Imperial supremacy over India. After the end of the Second World War, India was granted complete independence on 15th August 1947. In 1948, the last unit of the British troops gracefully bid goodbye to the shores of Bombay with a historic march at the Gateway of India.
The making of the megalopolis that Mumbai is today, further accelerated after India’s independence. People from the Punjabi and Sindhi communities from North-West India (which currently is part of Pakistan) who had been displaced due to the partition settled in Bombay. Both these hardworking communities have added their colours to Mumbai since then. The ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ restaurants & car accessory stores that one notices in Mumbai mostly belong to the Punjabi communities. The most significant contribution of the Sindhi communities, besides their business ventures, is establishment of various educational institutions which are elevating the standards of higher education in Mumbai since the early 1950s.
In 1960, after a bloody revolution, Bombay was formally recognized as the capital of the state of Maharashtra. In South Mumbai, an eternal flame keeps burning at ‘Hutatma Chowk’ (Martyrs Square) in memory of the 105 martyrs who laid their lives for the unification of Maharashtra.
In 1995 the existing ruling political party of the state of Maharashtra officially renamed Bombay as Mumbai. The name Mumbai is a fusion of two words ‘Mumba’- the goddess worshipped by original inhabitants of Mumbai- the Kolis & ‘Aai’- means mother in Marathi language (the official language of the state of Maharashtra). The 15th century Mumbadevi temple (goddess mother of Mumbai) is still active and is situated at a busy street in the heart of South Mumbai.
Over the years, like a galloping horse Mumbai is heading India, especially in the financial sector. The city is proudly referred as India’s financial capital. The modern state-of-the-art infrastructural developments in Mumbai are of international standards that are attracting huge Foreign Institutional Investments (FII) in the corporate world.
A visiting tourist who spends few days in Mumbai may feel awestruck & at times overwhelmed after experiencing the city’s contrasting dynamics. Like any other evolving city of the world, Mumbai too has its dark side. It’s a well known fact that after experiencing the dark one realizes the importance of light. As reported by many tourists I met, especially from developed countries, when they witness the agony of the less fortunate people of Mumbai, they feel blessed to have a better life & feel inspired to make the best of what they have after returning to their homeland. I bet, even the dark side of Mumbai will emit some spiritual value for a tourist who is in search of oneself!
As I end this 4 part series that highlighted the making of Mumbai, I look forward to virtually unveil more facets of my hometown through words and photographs in my upcoming features.
But in case if you are soon touring Mumbai in person, I assure that, inspite of the daily challenges, Mumbai’kars will welcome you with open arms because the land that was once formed from 7 Islands is today a home to million hearts!
Welcome to Mumbai!