Posted on November 30, 2008
I get a chuckle out of overly simple binary models for organizing life. You know, things like:
- People either have jobs requiring a shower before work or after work;
- There are dog people and cat people;
- There are Republicans and Democrats (and Independents are just pretending).
When it comes to cities we have friends who love them orderly, well-run, and organized. They prefer Geneva to Rome, Singapore to Bangkok, Toronto to Mexico City. There’s much to be said about clean efficient mass transit, easy to understand street grids, and tidy parks and public spaces, but I prefer the messy, chaotic cities.
There’s something about their vibrancy, creativity, and energy that I find irresistible, even as these cities can drive you crazy. And no city is more maddening than Mumbai. It has traffic jams of epic proportions, some of the largest slums in Asia (cities unto themselves), crumbling infrastructure, and scenes of almost medieval poverty and deprivation.
Yet juxtaposed against all the unsettling scenes Mumbai has to offer are places and moments of extraordinary beauty and charm, the ebullient energy of the Bollywood films produced there, sublime food of endless variation, and people from all over that sprawling country out to make a new life in anything-is-possible Mumbai. If you have not yet been, read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, a terrific book capturing the rich tapestry of the place.
In many ways, like New York, Mumbai represents everything that radical fundemantalists hate. Their terrible attacks on the city was not really a surprise, even if their efficiently lethal havoc was. My fantasy (I know, not likely) is that multinational companies would locate more, not fewer business operations in Mumbai. That tourists would flock there and vie to be the first guests in the rebuilt Taj Hotel. That we would find ways great and small to let the hardy citizens of Mumbai know that we are with them as they recover their civic footing. That would be the message to send to the fundamentalists — that we won’t let them change how we live our lives.
I fear that in the aftermath of 9-11 we relinquished too much of our civil rights, our protections of privacy, and started to act like a fearful people to the point of absurdity (witness the infuriating madness of airport security where infirmed elderly people are pulled out of wheelchairs when not a single sane person thinks they are a threat). In contrast, during the height of the IRA bombings in London the British refused to let the terrorists win. With some few exceptions (indefinite internments of suspects, for example), they insisted on leading normal lives. The British have a dark history with India, but in this instance, I hope the people of Mumbai look to the example of their past colonizers.