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.

3 comments:

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.
regards

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