Book Review: Non-fiction/City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes, Aleph, 168p; Rs 295(Hardback)
It’s a moving commentary on the city which is at ease with its state of chaos
A city like Mumbai cannot be described in a few words; so to attempt to etch a ‘short’ biography of this historic, vibrant city is in itself a daring act. However, Naresh Fernandes’s City Adrift attempts to override such realities, with a moving commentary on the city, which is at ease with its state of chaos.
In an excellent narrative, this book reveals the prominent temperament of Mumbai — its unusually configurative set of urban islands, its tryst with commercial history, and its mixed sociological set-up. The book represents the city neither as a ‘maxim’ nor as a unit ‘toying with minimum spirits’. It engages itself with the changes that made Mumbai a mismanaged locale.
It would be wrong to say that the city inspiringly transcends beyond political rhetoric, nevertheless; and in patches, the author pragmatically delves into the political paradigm shift in the city from progressivism to ‘identity-assertiveness’.
Since Mumbai is India’s first cosmopolitan city, the entrepreneurial tradition developed here with Europe’s growing interest in sea trade during the late medieval times. The primarily business communities such as Gujaratis and Parsis were some of the first beneficiaries of this rising global trade alliances. Even today they are the formidable players in commerce.
However, business operations have renewed methodology now and have segregated many of them from social affiliations. Fernandes, as a writer and resident of Mumbai, ponders over the same through his book and locates significant results. He narrates the history of Mumbai and portrays its existing state, with a deep sense of attachment and concern. His personal sentiments are also evocative in his depiction of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The security lapses happened, the most inhuman killings took place, but sadly Mumbai’s security structure has not improved as it should have had. A single downpour can turn the city into a living hell. The dwindling housing facilities don’t constrict one to live decently unless one is facilitated by an obscene amount of earning!
The book reflects upon how the new ‘demonic structures’ in the city has made it more corrupt-looking and indifferent to the shortage of basic civic facilities all around. Today, Mumbai needs a complete geographic reconfiguration, emancipation from ‘chauvinistic politics’, and its citizens’ active participation. Only that would justify the city that has the best corporate services in social domain. The Parsis and other businessmen of the gone era were different from India’s neo-rich, who are ‘absurd’ beyond the limit.
The book could have been lengthened, so that it could detail the painful transition of the city, but it still carries a pertinent research on India’s “most cosmopolitan” city.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,on December29,2013)