Bombay is the real capital of India. It’s where the money is, where all the action is centred and where 14 million+ of India’s multitudes live. And everyone who lives there still calls it Bombay, not Mumbai, before you ask…
Bombay is a living hell for many who live here; a city where to breathe the air is to smoke 20 cigarettes a day, a place where a million people can live within one square mile and where you see the greatest inequalities of wealth in the world.
There are parts of Bombay where property costs more than in Manhattan and even even in the slums a family might have to pay for the privelege of sleeping under a piece of tarp on the street. Whilst the entourage of Bombay’s IT and Bollywoood industries live lifestyles that gives decadence a bad name, for millions in Bombay access to drinking water is a dreamed of luxury, never mind a place to shit.
Bombay has been renamed Mumbai by the Hindu fascist movement of the Shiv Sena (literally the army of Shiva), a nationalist force responsible for the outbreak of the Muslim-Hindu riots in the early 90’s – barbaric violence which killed 1400 and maimed thousands more for life.
Since the riots the Bombay underworld has also grown into a real force, even an alternative system of government and justice for those who realise that the courts and municipality will do nothing for them. If someone owes you money or you need permission to build, things can be done much faster in Bombay by going to see the mafia than trying to get the bureaucrats or police to do anything.
For the traveler in Bombay the best thing you can do is leave. If, however, a city as messed up as Bombay interests you as an anthropological disaster then you’ll have plenty of material to keep you busy. In this densely packed city you can see all of the disasterous social and economic planning which India excels at and plenty of the resulting suffering.
The houses are falling to bits due to waritme legislation that prevented landlords from ever raising the rents on sitting tenants – therefore they wait for the buildings to fall to bits to force the tenants out.
Everyone rushes everywhere all the time in Bombay, its inhabitants are famous for having no time as a result. They travel around the city in the most crowded trains in the world, cattle cars where people cling on to the sides, ride the tops and die in the hundreds each month.
But in Bombay there is at least the chance of making a buck and hence the Indians and Bangladeshis keep coming, just to get one polluted, sewage-soaked step closer to the money.
And you can too – hang around in the Salvation Army hostels and you might get the chance to make 1000 rupees as a film extra.
Read a book called Maximum City by Suketu Mehta to really get the feel of the place. Forget Shantaram.