September 21, 2011

Bombay Electric

Bombay was the first stop during my India travels this time round.

Before I continue, a note on the post's title - I always liken titles to the elusive last piece of a jigsaw puzzle: *they* ultimately create the overall, bigger picture. I love the name of the store, Bombay Electric and while I was wondering what to title this post, for some reason, the store name leaped to my mind. To be honest, I usually associate Bombay (name purists concerned, I am going to stick to Bombay for the remainder of the post!) with one of my all-time favorite books, Suketu Mehta's cult non-fiction work on Bombay, Maximum City : Bombay Lost and Found - but I prefer this moniker, after all. Electric would be the word that I personally would most closely associate with Bombay.

When it comes to Bombay, I was initially going to say that I am not much of a city person - however, the truth is that I have only visited cities and have never had the occasion to inhabit one. Like Delhi, Bombay too has been a transit point for me and in that context, I have merely been a migratory bird, literally swooping down from the air to briefly rest upon the ground before returning to air again. Perhaps, these lines from an unpublished short story of mine about a girl visiting Bombay probably best encapsulate my transient perceptions of Bombay: "Even though her previous visits to the city had been limited to a day or two, she had always perceived it as a world laden with promise of something happening: its ant-industrious people, glossy green leaves sprouting from finger-nail thin cracks in brick walls, and the invisible yet palpable presence of Bollywood, ghosts that perpetually lingered in the corners and only occasionally agreeing to be seen."

The last lines of this extract especially demonstrate that I did largely consider Bombay synonymous and virtually indistinguishable, even, from Bollywood - and this association was so overwhelming that I was not particularly inclined to see beyond it.

Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

However, it was when I read Maximum City (fittingly enough, in Bombay itself) that compelled me to scrape away my surface contemplation of the city - and understand what lived, breathed, throbbed beneath, like a pulse beneath the skin. While City of Djinns opened my eyes to the palimpsest that was Delhi, Maximum City made me aware of the multiple parallel universes constituting Bombay.

One of Pushpamala N's performance art photographic works

I have tried to move out of my comfort zone, so to speak, whenever I have subsequently visited Bombay although I know that what I have encountered is merely the tip of a palace of an iceberg.

This time round, I walked around Kala Ghoda and the vintage loveliness of Fort, discovering the art galleries, Matthieu Foss Gallery, Gallery BMB, and Lakeerein Art Gallery at Arthur Bunder Road (or what my mental memory road-map says just around the corner from the Taj), where there was a great feminist photography exhibition and featuring the works of the performance artist, Pushpamala N. I also attended a Kathak performance by Pandit Chiresh Das in jugalbandi with North and South Indian percussionists at the National Center of Performing Arts, which gave me an opportunity to discover NCPA, in addition to experiencing the wonderful dance-music dialogue. In between, I bought gorgeous anklet-like sandals from street markets and mogras [jasmine] buds by the dozen and tried to intuit the exact color of the Bombay sea during twilight.

However, one of my most pleasing and serendipitous discoveries happened near Lalbaug, where I chanced upon an abandoned, locked up, moss-dressed house; finding a house so spectacularly in tropical ruin, inscrutable and shuttered, in a city of skyscrapers and transparent lives made me think it was a narrative in itself, demanding to be heard. But who could tell me its story?

** My fave Bombay sites/references: I love Fashion Bombay, where fashion stylists and journalists, Jasleen and Sonu always find the most interesting backdrops and locations in which to present their vibrantly styled outfits. Prutha of Don't Shoe Me is an experimental fashion blogger residing in New York but originally from Bombay; I loved this shoot of hers in the antique market, Chor Bazaar, which really captures the energy of the place. Finally, Mumbai Boss is essential reading, as much as for its excellent writing and insight into Bombay's fashion and art scene (my particular interests, anyway) as for their hilariously detailed recaps of the talk-shows, KWK and IMD (Koffee with Karan and India's Most Desirable to the uninitiated, starring KJO and Simi Garewal as chat-show hosts) - so much better than enduring the episodes themselves:P

Pushpamala N image courtesy Philips de Pury and Company


  1. I too wish to explore the city as you have narrated ... but never manage to get so much time! Hopefully soon!

    ♡ from ©

  2. Lovely to see you here, Tanvi - thank you for stopping by:)

    Yes, I was always too preoccupied with Bollywood star-spotting (and shopping!) *sheepish face* on my earlier visits to Bombay but I am trying to make amends now. But as you said, it's all about time: so much to see and so little time. Will you be visiting Bombay soon? Hope you have a wonderful time whenever you do go there!


Thank you so much for taking the time out to leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!