There is a reason that some of India’s most compelling pieces of literature found home in Mumbai. When Indian-born and later Pakistan-adopting author Saadat Hasan Manto left India, his heart broke in remembrance of the city, such is its temptation. Gregory David Roberts, an Australian criminal made Mumbai his home and became Shantaram. Salman Rushdie brought his sea-loving Moor to the pungent waters of this city. Rohinton Mistry placed a dysfunctional family against Mumbai’s hyperactive landscape. Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes chronicled tales that make the city India’s most impassioned in the ingratiating Mumbai Meri Jaan.
Some of our most exemplary writers have turned to Mumbai to produce some of their most acclaimed work. The city continues to serve as an evolving character in tales of literary brilliance. And we decode the many reasons it does so.
It is a melting pot of cultures
“I, however, was raised neither as Catholic nor as Jew. I was both, and nothing: a jewholic-anonymous, a cathjew nut, a stewpot, a mongrel cur. I was–what’s the word these days?–atomised. Yessir: a real Bombay mix. ” ― Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, Bohris, Buddhists and Jains – almost every faith can be found in this city. Divide those into their respective subcultures, and you have South Indians and Gujaratis trading recipes about sambhar and dhoklas. For a country that prides itself on its secularism, Mumbai is the unabridged beacon of inclusiveness. With literature often being an ethological study of people, their behaviour and humanism, this cultural diversity is extremely informative to wring out wonderful characters and stories.
Its history will have you hooked
“I found Bombay and opium, the drug and the city, the city of opium and the drug Bombay” ― Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis
Once inhabited by the Koli families, Mumbai had several exchange of hands before it became the commercial powerhouse it is today. A former colony of the Portuguese, Mumbai began as an important trading point for India. Then it became a luxurious seat to the British Raj, where it was blessed with gothic, Victorian architecture in addition to its Mauryan monuments. It then embraced its financial status as it did its position of hosting the country’s most popular film industry. That’s a history as diverse as the city itself, and makes for great literary flashbacks.
It is a city of paradoxes
“The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air … it’s the smell of gods, demons, empires and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them human and rats …” ― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
The city’s most expensive building Antilla sits next to the city’s largest slum area, Dharavi. From a meal that could cost you anywhere around INR 10,000, you could also fill your stomach with a small meal of INR 15. It hosts one of the country’s largest number of middle-class working families as it does poor, impoverished people as it does the richest men and women in the country. It’s a city of finance, but also the city of entertainment. Mumbai stuns and awes you with its contrasts, and it is in its inherent sense of oppositeness that some exquisite literature is born.
People flock to Mumbai to realise their dreams
“You see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair” ― Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
Mumbai is known to fulfil even the most ambitious dreams — such is its potential. People come to city from the world over, to achieve the life and the lifestyle they’ve always dreamt about. In this pursuit of success and excellence, are birthed stories that are wistful, inspiring, eventful and unique. Each person living in the city is living their own individual story, that will have a certain element of difference from the rest. The city reinvents its people in its own way, thus making for phenomenal tales.
Its overwhelming animation is the only constant
“In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. It appears in a minute when something disrupts the way in which the world is supposed to work. It can disappear almost as instantaneously.” ― Jerry Pinto, Em and The Big Hoom
Mumbai is the city of movement. It is the proverbial city that never sleeps. Writers look for stories in places that are brimming with activity and in that aspect, the only constant Mumbai ever sees is change. Its people are constantly on the move, evolving and growing. Therefore, its every quarter is potent enough to enthuse tales of its own kind.