'Vast, vibrant, sprawling' Bombay Dreams
India expert Balaji Kandasamy recently travelled to Mumbai for the first time since the terror attacks of late 2008.
“Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veins. Everything north of Bombay was North India, everything south of it was South. To the east lay India’s east and to the west, the world’s West. Bombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were its narrators, and everybody talked at once” - Salman Rushdie (in his novel The Moor's Last Sigh)
I have been to Mumbai (previously Bombay) many times, however in early January this year my visit was a particularly poignant one, organised by India Tourism to express the support of UK tour operators for the people of Mumbai in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks last November. The trip also helped me to experience the Taj Mahal Hotel (Tower Wing) and The Trident hotel after the re-opening on 21 December 2008.
The city of Bombay or Mumbai means different things to different people. The city, formed by uniting seven islands, has been inhabited since 250 BC. In 1534 the city came under Portuguese rule, before it was acquired by the British in 1664. In 1668 the islands were leased by the Crown to the British East India Company for a nominal sum of £10 per year.
From the beginning people from across the world and from other parts of India were drawn to the place. Today, the vast, vibrant, sprawling and cosmopolitan city has multiple personalities. A walk through the streets will reveal that Mumbai is a melting pot of different races and cultures filled with detail, drama and a richly varied cast of characters.
To many Indians, the city offers hope , like an oriental version of the 'American Dream'. Here, with hard work and good fortune, anyone can make it. With subtle twists and tweaks to the script, the stars of Bollywood try and successfully reflect this sentiment on the celluloid screen. In real life, the lives of business moghul Dhirubhai Ambani and versatile actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan tell you why Mumbai can be an addiction.
To all others including the overseas visitors to Mumbai, the thriving metropolis is a great oriental city and is as pulsating as a Bollywood music video with many thousands of images from beggars, slums to palaces, skyscrapers and the super-rich.
If anything the terror attacks of November 2008, has brought the people of Mumbai closer together. The feeling of one nation is stronger than ever. Most of the local people that I spoke to said that they wanted to contribute, and were prepared to do their bit to ensure that terrorism is defeated.
The Taj Mahal Hotel re-opened its Tower Wing 3 weeks after the attack, and work is in progress in the Palace Wing. The Trident Hotel also re-opened on the same day, while work is in progress at the prestigious Oberoi Hotel. I had the privilege of staying at the Tower Wing of the Taj Mahal, and the opportunity to visit The Trident. Many of the hotels' staff were nothing short of heroic during the terrible attacks, protecting guests and colleagues alike. Today, the hotel staff and management have done an exceptional job in getting their hotels up and running again so soon, driven, not least, by the desire to honour the memory of those who lost their lives whilst saving others last November.
And one other thing that every one of them, including those who have nothing to do with tourism, appeal for is that anyone wishing to support Mumbai should travel to India and visit the city. They believe that through more people visiting (both domestic and overseas) the dreams of millions of Mumbaikars will come true.
I hope you choose to visit this great city sooner rather than later.
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