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Bridging the north and south

Both the island city and the suburbs have a great deal to imbibe from each other.

mumbai Updated: May 13, 2012 02:33 IST

An old friend whom I met recently said that Mumbai was becoming too claustrophobic but she had nowhere else to go. "There is nothing new to see, what can one do?" she lamented. "When was the last time you saw the national park in Borivali?" I probed. "I don't go beyond Worli," she responded with a shrug that suggested that she hadn't heard anything sillier.

This column is devoted to the charms of south Mumbai, but the Sobo state of mind is complex: it can be insular with a misplaced disdain for the 'others' in the city. Who will question south Mumbai's status as this city's most valuable part? It has history, culture, power, sophistication and, of course, money. But this status has also led to a blinkered vision.

Many in south Mumbai go north only when they absolutely have to, mostly to the airport, and thus do not fully appreciate the city's demographic and cultural growth. As a result, there is little cross-pollination, which has hurt south Mumbai more than the suburbs because the former's daunting house prices discourage young people from living or starting businesses there, unless they inherit a place, leading to a stagnation of ideas and a lack of fresh energy.

Meanwhile, the suburbs are thriving, most conspicuously in shopping and dining but also because of a 'can-do' spirit. They have a buzz stemming from the energy of the young, their aspirations and their lifestyles. Yet Mumbai's planners and philanthropists have failed to create institutions of lasting value in the suburbs that go beyond spending money.

For many years, the only large beautification project in the suburbs were massive painted concrete lollipops, promoted by Bilkees Latif, the wife of former governor Air Marshall (Retired) Idrees Latif, in the early 1980s, on the Western Express highway, near the domestic airport.

Imagine if while the Bandra Kurla Complex had come up with its imposing glass-faced towers it had included a museum chronicling Mumbai's commercial ethos. We lost that chance, just as we squandered an opportunity to pay homage to the linchpin of Mumbai's commercial success, the textile mills, with a museum or by preserving an entire mill and chawl complex as a heritage site.

The Hindi film industry, in its centenary year, has also not been properly commemorated. Thousands of fans flock to the homes of Amitabh Bachchan, and Shah Rukh Khan, but nowhere from Bandra to Malad do we have an institution that captures the magic of Indian cinema and Mumbai's mammoth contribution to it. The film industry's story may have started in the south but it came to fruition in the north.

All is not gloom. We do have models. Bandra, for instance, is a sought-after address because it is seen as happening and trendy, largely because people in this suburb work hard to give it an identity and vibrancy, with festivals, cultural activities, locality awareness drives and an understanding that an area can thrive only if it manages to balance fads with tradition.

We can easily replicate this in other areas, such as say Lokhandwala, which although lately in the news as a hub of sleazy crime, is a vibrant place where the younger generation congregates.

The suburbs can certainly learn from south Mumbai traditions, but Sobo also has much to learn from the rest of the city.

When he is not following sport, Ayaz Memon writes about the city and its different worlds.