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Friday, December 5, 2008

Holier than thou Mumbai

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It’s really not the time, I know. It will hurt, I know that too. But I have to get it off me because people will not be able to listen directly to me otherwise. If you are passionate about Mumbai, don’t read further. I don’t mean disrespect, but I have to tell this.

Attack on Mumbai was atrocious. It was devastating because it killed so many, because it went for so long thus emotionally draining us, and because it was ruthless in its implementation. I am as connected to Mumbai as most of non-Mumbaikar are: I’ve visited the city for a while, I know it as financial and entertainment capital, and I have enjoyed my stay there. However, lets not get carried away in holier than thou attitude toward Mumbai in our desperation, ignoring rest of the India. Emphasis: Mumbai is important, so is rest of India.

Suketu Mehta wonders what is so special about Mumbai that attracts terrorists? He concludes that open nature and entrepreneur spirit of Mumbai is unacceptable to destroyer of Indianness. It’s nice thing to say except that terrorist attacks have happened at many many other places too, not just Mumbai. They’ve happened too frequently in New Delhi too. A city is spirited and open nature by its people, and not by itself. All cities of India are very open and entrepreneur, everyone is welcome anywhere to try his luck. But most chose to come to Mumbai, because, obviously, and this is what Tim Harford implies in his book, cities support interconnections. So it’s true that Mumbai is city of dream but it is just because it is and not because no other city can be. It’s all historical, who settles where and who pulls whom next. Easier answer is terrorists chose Mumbai and other places because they think it will make good news and cause great harm. And they aren’t that fond of Mumbai as he would like to believe, which is, of course, a good thing.

Often after tragedy, there is talk about resilience of city. How Mumbai recovers so fast from disaster. Bluntly, it doesn’t. It is forced to. Could a person who supports his family hand to mouth afford to be afraid and sit at home? No, he will die of hunger if not terrorism. So does every other city. It’s same everywhere in India. Nothing special about Mumbai. It’s all special about people. Similarly there are so many articles saying that Mumbaikars are so helpful. They run towards disaster, not away from it. Of course, they do. So do people of other cities. It’s about people, silly. There are brave and helpful everywhere, so are there afraid and exploitative. Everywhere we can hear stories of courage of people giving shelter, food, transportation, saving lives after any natural or manmade disaster.

Can we just stop calling it “India’s 9/11”. For starters, lets get our own name and stop tagging to someone else’s branding. For next, what about hundreds of attacks earlier? Was London subway bombings called UK’s 9/11?

At these times, and earlier too during Mumbai floods, many people raise demands that Mumbai should be separate state. That Mumbai contributes disproportionately large portion of India’s taxes and doesn’t get equivalent grants in return. Two things disprove this stupid logic. First, it is power of state to collect taxes and use them irrespective of their origin. Hey, I never got as much money back for my development as much as I contributed in taxes. Second, Mumbai contributes to large taxes only because all rich people chose to live there, not because all money is coming from there. When ‘Om Shanti Om’ became hit, Indians across nation put money in the kitty, but because Shah Rukh Khan lives in Mumbai, he files taxes there. Mumbai didn’t contribute all money its own. When Reliance files its taxes from Mumbai, it is filing on all India revenue. And so on and so forth. Money is coming from all India and if Amir Khan shifts his home to Tripura next day, Mumbai’s contribution will drop instantaneously.

Here is an excellent piece arguing against common phrase that attack against Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was attack against India’s pride. Except uncalled for rich bashing, article is spot on in mentioning that CST is real icon of India (movies confirm that!) which has been least focussed upon in news.

I have nothing against Mumbai. It’s been on my mind last week as you can see from topics of this blog. But I just wish people of Mumbai stop looking down upon rest of us. It’s not that different from other cities as they come.
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