Mumbai’s skyline at night is reminiscent of New York. Come to think of it, there’s a similar energy to New York that pulsates through Mumbai. Just get swept into a Mumbai local train at rush hour, and you’ll realize what I mean. It’s a city that indeed doesn’t sleep.
Previously known as Bombay, the city Mumbai as we know it today, was formed by the merging of 7 islands. In addition to Bombay itself, the islands were Mahim, Parel, Worli, Mazgaon, Old Woman’s Island and Colaba.
Today, Mumbai is regarded the commercial capital of India, with many financial institutions and companies having their headquarters here. It’s also the film capital, with Bollywood (aka the Hindi film industry) providing much fodder for film-crazy masses, star struck tourist hoardes and gossip columns of local publications. With so many dream merchants based here, is it any wonder that it’s called the ‘City of Dreams’?
In fact, this adage has been in use at least conceptually since the textile boom in 1800s, with many mills and the Sassoon Docks, providing employment to countless hoardes.
Multitudes of rural immigrants continue to throng Mumbai in the hope of making it big in life. Housing crises have impelled the formation of new localities like Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai) and suburbs like Thane and Vashi. Yet, a central location continues to remain of utmost importance and as a result, slums and tenements populate every available inch of space in the main city.
Mumbai is as cosmopolitan as they get. With the choicest retail outlets, pubs, restaurants and pavement shops, Mumbai makes for a terrific tourist destination. South Mumbai, especially the Fort area and Colaba boasts of numerous heritage buildings and museums that are the architectural legacy of the British Raj. The Gateway of India, as much an emblem of India itself, as of Mumbai, was erected in 1911 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, to India.
Being surrounded on three sides by the sea, no discussion of Mumbai is complete without mention of its numerous beaches. Chowpatty, Juhu, Worli Seaface and Bandra Bandstand are the main beaches, frequented by families, romancing couples and lonesome souls - walking the promenades or strolling the sands, munching peanuts or spiced sweet corn.
With its range of cuisine from Japanese to Bengali to South Indian, Continental to Gujarati to Parsi, Mumbai is an epicurean heaven. Street food was never more interesting, with local fare like Vada Pav (also called the Indian burger) and Chaat (a range that includes Bhel Puri, Pani Puri, Pav Bhaji and variations thereof).
Mumbai does induce a sense of overwhelm, but that’s the essence of the city. The crowds, the food, the traffic, the hawkers. It’s a city of excesses, and in many ways, some entirely welcome excesses at that.
(an edited version published in the November 2005 issue of At A Glance)