Yet, every time a tragedy hit, the city got back on its feet, dusted the ashes off its spirit, and went back to helping those bereaved and in distress. A recent Reader’s Digest Survey which said that Mumbai was the least polite and courteous of the cities studied could not have more wide off the mark. Obviously, the surveyors did not understand the metropolis and its citizens.
One saw an unmistakable sign of Mumbai’s humane heart on Tuesday when thousands of very ordinary people came out of their homes and offices to rush the injured to hospitals, to trace the kin of the dead and to offer food and water to those stranded in shock and grief. Long queues of people could be seen outside hospitals waiting to donate blood.
This is Mumbai’s remarkable helping hand that writer Suketu Mehta pointed out in his “Maximum City”, which was short listed for the Guardian First Book Award. Let us take one paragraph from the book that so rightly demolishes the Reader’s Digest conclusion. Mehta writes: “In the crowded suburban trains, you can run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals ... And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable, or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning. All they know is that you're trying to get to the city of gold, and that's enough. Come on board, they say. We'll adjust.”
Such camaraderie never stops or wanes, much like a circus, which goes on night after night, day after day. Most poignantly brought out in a Bollywood film, “Kal, Aaj Aur Kal” (Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow) by legendary actor-director Raj Kapoor, this concept of ceaseless show is shown as being akin to Mumbai, which never says die.
The city is its plucky best in times of crises. Salman Rushdie, often described as Mumbai’s best chronicler, wrote in his “The Moor’s Last Sigh”: "Those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay."
But the metropolis refuses to let anybody do that. Home to many multinational companies and to all those millions of people whose dream is to make money, Mumbai lives not by the dictum of any dominant culture or faith or even language, but by the courage of its conviction. To move ahead fearlessly, and if a fellow traveller slips, a hand must be extended to steady him.
It is this remarkable attitude that has seen Mumbai emerge unscathed from terror-induced disasters. Many analysts believe that the city’s 1993 serial explosions were a dress rehearsal for the attacks that followed a decade later in London, Madrid and even New York. While these cities stumbled or even buckled under such frightening terror, Mumbai stood unshaken, its wonderful plurality offering shelter to just about everybody. Whether it is one who shines shoes or hawks food on the pavement or sells gold or executes mega corporate plans or paints his/her face to enter the movie world, Mumbai makes no distinction. It is perhaps this strength of fellowhood that frustrates the perpetrators of a crime like Tuesday’s. There was no communal flare-up, which could have torn apart India’s Muslims and Hindus, and given the terror groups a chance to recruit hundreds of men and pave a fresh road to pursue evil.
Mumbai has stopped them.
(Posted on this website on July 13 2006)