Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Are IWEs Writing More and More about Bombay?

Why does Bombay serve as the subject of many novels by Indian Writers in English (IWE)? That's a question being addressed by BBC on its website in this article. Um. Happenstance, my novel – Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard, is also about Bombay, the city I have lived for the past forty-five years (Who better to write than a veteran of so, so many years, huh?). Manu Joseph's novel Serious Men is about it. I am yet to read it. My novel is about a brilliant and top-rated M.B.A. coming back to India to contribute his mite and failing totally to make a mark in the internecine machinations of the city's corporate world.

This might come as a surprise to those who swear they love Bombay and hate all those who don't. I don't love Bombay; I don't hate it, too. I am ambivalent about it, nothing fixed, nothing set in stone. Well, kind of. I hate it at times, I love it at times, but then nothing percolates to a fixed love or hate. For example I hate it when it rains without stop and there seems no end to the filth that mixes with the rainwater making me go "yech" when I have to wade through it. Yes, Bombay drainage stinks, literally. I love it, love it, when I walk in the shades of the archways of D.N.Road and the sun strikes a cornice or a gargoyle and there's such joy in the light and shade it throws. I want to capture it on camera, but my camera is down with the heebee jeebees. It clams up when it is in contact with my clicking finger. What I now want is a digital SLR, nothing less. I digress.

Coming back to my ambivalence about Bombay, though I am recognized everywhere as "your face is familiar", "have seen you somewhere", "have we met?", I don't have a feeling that I belong. Having lived for forty-five years in one place is itself is a record. I was absent, away in the Persian Gulf for one year, during which time I felt I had missed Bombay and I thought I loved it. But the ambivalence returned on the day I returned after I suffered the hot sun of May beating down from the tin roof of the taxi that took me from the airport to home in New Bombay. Saudi taxis have air-conditioning.

Yes I can say I love New Bombay. I live in Artiste Village, near a dam, surrounded by a tropical rainforest which is being developed into a national park, so I hear. When I go on my morning walks, it's so beautiful that I feel I can't live elsewhere, there are the serene green mountains, a waterfall and a morning mist so dense the hill seems like it's floating. Guess I am lucky to live in such natural greenery, so close to a big city.

But my love for New Bombay doesn't in any way affect my ambivalence for Bombay. I still will not relent. On working days I am happy when I cross the Thane Creek and with great booming sounds and the train's wheels cross over from disintegrating Bombay to its well-planned satellite city – the largest man-made city in the world. I digress, again.

Coming back to why writers from Rushdie to Joseph have chosen Bombay as their subject, I feel the city is so diverse that there are too many things to write about. The problem is what to write about and what to leave aside. It's a novel by itself, and perhaps, I will write that novel some day.


Susan Abraham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Abraham said...

You're definitely qualified to write a novel about Bombay, John.
Also, you offered layered perceptions. :-)
Have you completed the novel yet, John & what did you decide about a publisher?
I'm almost on the same page, in my life too.

Anonymous said...

Your blog selected by TripAdvisor.in because your blog well reputed so please contact me (tripadvisorndia@gmail.com) for the listed your blog on TripAdvisor.in - the world’s largest and most popular travel community, used by more than 35 million travellers to plan the perfect trip. Via these pages, your blog will be exposed to millions of users visiting us from all over the world. These users will see your blog featured by us and will go to your blog directly from our website. You will be able to connect with our users instantly.