Repeat after me, Bombay Meri Hai
We sell the idea of a fabulous city full of life and spirit to ourselves and everyone we meet, and it's time we stopped
The song 'Bombay Meri Hai' is a lie. I like it, obviously, because no one born and raised in Bombay in the 70s or 80s can hate something that was such an inescapable part of our childhood. And yet, it is the idea of a fabulous city that has begun to annoy and sadden me in equal measure. The sadness stems from the truth it once aimed to capture; that this really was a place with an enormous amount of appeal to those looking for a pleasant holiday, irrespective of whether they came from Scotland, Holland or any land. The annoyance comes from our inability to admit that what was once a beautiful city now survives only in the memory of those above the age of 40.
"Our ladies are nice, gents are full of spice," sang Uma Pocha, and we believed her because our grandparents spoke about legendary parties, the charming people, leisurely walks along the racecourse, comfortable commutes, and clean beaches. It's impossible to identify those nice ladies and gents full of spice among the harried throngs we walk past today because the smiles have been beaten out of us. We don't smile when we step out of our homes because we dread the nightmare of getting to our offices. Our commutes are never pleasurable, any parties we have are fraught with all kinds of hazards, and clean beaches exist only in Bollywood movies shot in the 1960s.
What was a city of tolerance, acceptance, and warmth insults the lyric "Mini or bikini is so good for you honey, If you ain't so gay then you can live the sadhu way." Try wearing a bikini, or any garment if you're female, and walk down a street without ever experiencing some form of harassment. We are now ruled by the moral police, judged for what we wear, the language we choose to speak and even jailed for public displays of affection. How does any of this square with what the writer of that song promised?
I recently thought about how we tend to present Bombay when a friend from another country asked me to describe it. I began with the spiel we all force feed ourselves and others, of a city that never sleeps, where every corner opens up into unforeseen vistas, and where thousands of dialects, cuisines and colours appear and disappear in harmony because we believe that unity in diversity matters.
And as I went on, creating my version of an 'Incredible India' campaign, I decided to stop and just tell him the truth. I told him about our public transport, and how millions of Bombayites come close to losing their lives each morning while attempting to get to work during rush hour. I told him about how our commutes didn't discriminate among us, affecting those who can afford their own vehicles as well as those who can hire cabs with equal measure. I spoke of how hours are lost daily as we fight for glimpses of clear skies at crowded, smoke-filled junctions.
The more I revealed, the harder it was for me to justify why millions of us simply sat back and accepted what was granted to us by governments that have had no qualms about taking our taxes for decades. I couldn't fathom why our parents and grandparents had retired, paid parts of their salaries all their lives, and were still denied access to a decent road in their localities.
We continue to paint a picture of Bombay that is a fantasy. We speak about the 'spirit' that drives us, boast about how our city never takes a break, and stifle the fact that we can't sleep because we are routinely denied the right to silence, or that our 'spirit' is all we have to fall back on when another bridge collapses and snuffs out the lives of fellow citizens. We use this to console ourselves and speak about Bombay being great so we won't have to confront the fact that it no longer is. To face the truth would involve asking ourselves uncomfortable questions about why we accept so much without a fight, and we have long given up the right to ask our government any questions. This is probably why we now have leaders who can rule us without feeling the need for accountability.
It doesn't make sense to sing 'Bombay Meri Hai' when our politicians now tell us whom this city does and does not belong to. That song should be retired.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to email@example.com
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