Written by Adrija Roychowdhury | New Delhi | Published: July 23, 2018 6:32:56 pm
Perhaps the best testimony to Mumbai’s struggle with modern-day greed is the way nature expresses its wrath over the city, year after year in the form of large-scale destructive floods. The question then arises as to what went wrong in the decades spent building Mumbai.
Gregory David Roberts, the author of the bestselling novel Shantaram, is believed to have once remarked that “more dreams are realised and extinguished in Bombay than in any other place in India”. Mumbai, the city of dreams, desires, glamour, and fame has for decades attracted all of India to dwell in it and to revel in the life of struggle and toil it has to offer. The story of Mumbai began when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed on the Southwestern coast of India in the late fifteenth century. Within a decade the Portuguese gained a stronghold over Bombay which was then seven separate islets.
What the Portuguese began, the British took forward in the seventeenth century. Under them, the city took a new birth, transformed itself and shone like a gem attracting merchants, traders, bankers from all over the world. In the next couple of centuries, the British went on to alter the city’s architectural space, building tall gothic structures, reclaiming lands submerged under the sea and constructing roadways, bunds and drainage systems. In the process of building and rebuilding the city under the colonial regimes, Bombay in itself was becoming a colonising force. Trapped under the brutal maneuvers of colonialism it began oppressing those it attracted through crowded streets and shanties, deplorable living and working conditions and regular outbreaks of disease.
“The Portuguese are long gone now, the British have packed their bags and left, and yet the experience of the city as a colonising force persists,” writes historian Gyan Prakash in his celebrated book, ‘Mumbai Fables’. What was once colonial greed has now turned into the avarice of an independent, industrialising India, eager to find itself space within the ranks of the world economic powers. Perhaps the best testimony to Mumbai’s struggle with modern-day greed is the way nature expresses its wrath over the city, year after year in the form of large-scale destructive floods. Writing about the floods that stalled the city in 2005, journalist Naresh Fernandes in his book ‘City adrift: A short biography of Bombay’ remarked: “The 26 July rains had made apparent decades of wilful damage wrought on Bombay. Politicians and bureaucrats, in their eagerness to benefit builders, had disregarded all notions of sustainable development.” The question then arises as to what went wrong in the decades spent building Mumbai that the city is still posited against nature in an unwilled fight at least once every year.