Mumbai Miniatures Mumbai

An alphabet of hope for the city of dreams

A is for the archives of Adil Jussawalla which range from newspapers of the 1950s to playbills from Bombay’s theatre scene and photographs of Bessie Head in Iowa.

B is for bhelpuri, the dish, not the metaphor. The metaphor should have been put to rest a long time ago, the dish is a culinary miracle. An import, like so many other things, from another State. Thank you, Bihar. B is for bonda and B is for bhakri. B is for batata vada and B is for bombil. B is for bhatura and B is for baigun bhaja. B is for the beatitudes of the attitudes of the eat-it-dude.

C is for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, that lovely building which we have stopped seeing at all. Next time, go there not to go somewhere else but to see it, to really truly look at it. Count the animals you can find, the lion, the tiger, the monkey, the mongoose, the peacock, the dog, the squirrel and so many more.

D is for doing. I have been told in several parts of India: “This is not Bombay. Things will take time here.” This is a can-do city.

E is for Elephanta, magnificent monument to what you can do because of what you cannot do. Since our volcanic stone will not cut horizontally, no plinths could be cut and so we got cave temples. (See also Bheja and Bedsa)

F is for film. Used to be. we made Bollywood. Now we make Hindi films, Marathi films and even the occasional English film.

G is for Gokhale, Shanta. If we had the tradition of nominating living treasures, she would be my first nomination for her unstinting contribution to the world of the arts. There is hardly a project that has not been run by her.

H is for Haji Ali, the dargah in the sea. When you come down from Worli and swing into that wonderful curve you see it, gleaming like a jewel.

I is for the independence this city gives its women. How did this happen? No one knows. How can we keep it that way? No one knows. But right now, it’s still the city where women are most likely to take a cab home late in the night, alone.

An alphabet of hope for the city of dreams

J is for Junoon, the project Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar have put together, bringing people’s passions to each other.

K is for Kolatkar, Arun, the poet laureate of Kala Ghoda. If you think this is a rather small patch for him to be laureate of then you know nothing about the empire of the imagination.

L is for libraries. The Asiatic is well defended by Brahminical rules of exclusion but the People’s Free Reading Room & Library and the University Libraries at Kalina and Fort have always been open and welcoming to all presences.

M is for Marathi, a literary language with a 700-year history, for Mardhekar and his Ganpat Vani. M is for Mahim where Raja Bhimdev set up his capital. M is for Matheran and Mahabaleshwar and Madh Island, which means we can have mountains and oceans over a weekend.

N is for Narayan Surve and for singing the song of the millworker, for reminding us all of the Naval Mutiny Ratings in that classic poem of love and war, Usman Ali. N is for Namdev Dhasal and his Golpitha, excoriating poem for a city that needed purging. N is for Nissim Ezekiel, who deemed the city unsuitable for song but sang it anyway. N is for no longer here, not one of them. N is for never gone away, not as long as their poems are read.

O is for the Ocean. Go. Sit by it now. Thalassa, thalassa. It’s here. It’s free. The sea, the sea.

P is for the poets of the city, its bards, its storytellers. P is for the poets of the past too, Dom Moraes and Eunice de Souza and Kersi Katrak. P is for the poets of the present, Gieve Patel, Adil Jussawalla, Ranjit Hoskote, Rochelle Potkar, Sampurna Chattarji, Menaka Shivdasani, and that young woman who is writing her poems right now, reinventing the city again. P is for the poets in other languages, the ones who I don’t know about. I apologise for my ignorance.

Q is for the quantity of souls this city has. If another language gives you another soul then we have so many: Marathi and Hindi and Gujarati and English and Tamil and Malayalam and Telugu and Bhojpuri. Listen to the quality of the music this gives the conversations around you. Listen to the building of a great city from the million tongues of its people.

R is for the Zoo, Rani Baug, Victoria Gardens, whatever you want to call it. Those lovely old trees, the birdsong and then the Bhau Daji Laad Museum, restored to jewel-box splendour.

S is for SPARROW, the sound and picture archive for research and records on women, the brainchild of C.S. Lakshmi

T is for the turtles who have returned to our beaches. And for the turtles who turn and glide in the dark waters of the wells of Dadar and Mahim.

U is for the umbrella that will turn over in the monsoon but suddenly you are reminded of how you came from water and how lovely it is to get wet and how it doesn’t matter if you have to get to the next appointment because teri do takiyaan di naukri mein mera laakhon ka saawan jaaye…

V is for Vikhroli and the beautifully preserved mangroves that the Godrej-es gifted the city.

W is for the walk to Walkeshwar up to Baanganga and the little village around it and the tank with the ducks.

X is for the spot Aristotle marked on his map, naming us Heptanesia. Seven islands? Where did that came from? There were seven islands which got melded into one and there are more in the bay still. Seven, forsooth.

Y is your Bombay moment. Is it lunch of bhutta and coconut water on Nariman Point? The class picnic to Sanjay Gandhi National Park? The rocks of Carter Road for your first kiss? The blaze of red on the Malabar Hill during the summer? What is your defining moment in this city? Can it be that you have forgotten?

Z is for Zoroastrians, the Parsis really. For all they have contributed to the city. For their grace and their humour which is sometimes at odds with their grace. For their cheerfulness in the face of eminent extinction and their constant reassuring attempts at upholding the law and etiquette.


Essaem by Jerry Pinto.

‘Essaem’ is a word of Jerry Pinto’s coining. It means an essay that is also a poem.


The author tries to think and write and translate in the cacophony of Mumbai.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 11:35:58 AM |

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