Oindrila Mukherjee reviews City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes (Aleph Books, 2013)

Bombay’s aptitude for aggregation can also be tasted in the snacks sold on its footpaths: Chinese bhel, Schezwan idlis and cheese dosas are made with ingredients (blended together with a large dollop of enterprise) that share the skillet only in this city.”

CITY_ADRIFTIf there is a single city in India that has most accurately served the function of the proverbial melting pot then it has to be Bombay. In addition to “snacks and slang,” as Fernandes points out in his book, the city has historically proved to be an amalgamation of people from different cultures, religions, occupations, and classes. Bombay has always attracted immigrants in search of a better life and, in the past, acted as a symbol of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, not least as portrayed in the fabled cinema it produces. However, throughout much of this book the author laments the recent decline in these values, a decline that corresponds with growing signs of “progress.” He attributes much of the growing divisions between not only the rich and poor but also between religious communities, to the rise of the Shiv Sena and “ad hoc urbanism.”

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