In recent weeks I have been a trifle disdainful about Mumbai — of the appaling state of its infrastructure and the apathy of its people — but this city continues to hold the rest of the country in thrall as my recent travels on the cricket circuit to Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Rajkot would suggest.
Only the Kolkatans seemed to be diffident, neither Delhi nor Mumbai of great significance to them. This could be because of the renowned self-absorption of the Bengalis or their current turmoil, unsure as they appear to be with the new political dispensation they have swept into power.
I must, of course, confess here that the sample size of my survey is meagre and the methodology employed was extremely simplistic: not more than a dozen people in each city — mainly at the cricket grounds — were asked what they knew about or wanted to see in Mumbai if they happened to come here.
The biggest attraction was the Hindi film industry and its stars. Perhaps inevitably so, given the global appeal of Indian cinema now. What Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and particularly Salman Khan did in their spare time and how they lived seemed to garner the most curiosity.
At least 50% of the respondents seemed to know where these actors lived even if they hadn’t been to Mumbai. The accuracy of some of the answers was so astonishing as to make any GPS system redundant. Clearly words and pictures travel fast in the Information Age.
Interestingly, Amir Khan did not feature too much in their counter-questions though almost everybody expressed interest in his films. He was thought to be reclusive and given his space, as it were. Is that clever positioning I wonder? I wonder even more that women actors did not find much resonance. Perhaps some sociologist can explain.
The only non-filmy person to evoke such interest was Sachin Tendulkar. Is his new bungalow big and posh, many people wanted to know. Given the exorbitant prices of real estate in Mumbai, big is relative of course. Not having been to Tendulkar’s new house yet, I have no answer to the second part of the question.
The responses revealed a clear north-south divide in Mumbai’s appeal to people not from this city, though they wouldn’t perhaps know of this. Most people from the film industry live in the suburbs, north of the island city; in the south it is places that find fancy.
The Gateway of India, Marine Dive and Malabar Hill continue to be favourites. Newer landmarks included the Taj Mahal Hotel and Leopold Café (terror tourism has its own appeal), and Antilla, Mukesh Ambani’s towering residence on Altamount Road.
But the Cricket Club of India, in many ways the seat of Indian cricket, seemed to have faded from memory even though all the respondents were ostensibly cricket lovers. Shivaji Park evoked some response, but essentially as the place where Tendulkar learnt his cricket.
Quite amazingly, though Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Gandhi would live when in Mumbai and August Kranti Maidan, where the call for the Quit India movement was given in 1942, hardly registered a blip on anybody’s radar. The fascinating Rajabai Tower may as well have not existed too. I can think of scores of other places in south Mumbai replete with rich history or culture, but realised the futility of even bringing these up.
As mentioned at the start, the survey was simplistic and with a very small sample size, though the responses were enthusiastic. But why do I get the feeling that Mumbai is desperately in need of some new, or revival of some old, sterling attributes to mark it out as one of the great cities of India that it undoubtedly is?