STRAIGHT OUT OF A BOOK
A book can take you to many places, but seeing is believing. Here’s a look at the locales of Mumbai to compare them with their descriptions in five books
wascentral;allrivers flowedintoitshumansea.It wasanoceanofstories;wewere allitsnarrators,andeverybody talkedatonce.” Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh is set in Mumbai, and the story revolves around the Zogoiby family. At one point in the novel, the characters make it evident that they find the Elephanta Caves uninteresting.
It is not surprising that one of the country’s oldest and richest cities has served as an important backdrop for stories across the ages. It never mattered if an author visited the city for a day or if they spent all their lives in it. Mumbai, somehow, has influenced writers to imagine their characters as one of the millions that inhabit this crowded city.
What is it that makes the city irresistible for artists? Why couldn’t Saadat Hasan Manto let go of Mumbai, “Elepanta Island was nothing, a hilly lump in the harbour,” the book reads. I felt so too when I first visited the island as a child. On my visit, I came across a man selling posters on the way to the top. One particular poster r stood out: the cover of this very book. The hawker doesn’t know who Rushdie is, but another hawker knows who the author is.s. He’s surprised when I tell him Elephanta features in one of Rushdie’s books, but not enough to keep him from trying to sell me a lighter. even after he left India for Pakistan? What is it that Gregory David Roberts saw in the city that makes him come back over and over? It’s hard to answer such questions while sitting in a room with a thoughtful book, but a stroll through the streets described in the very same texts can prove quite enlightening. Herein, HT Café visits some famous locales described in five great books set in Mumbai to find out what has changed since the time they were immortalised.
NAVY NAGAR SLUM: GREGORY DAVID ROBERTS’ SHANTARAM
first impression was that some catastrophe had taken place.” That’s how Gregory David Roberts felt when he first saw Mumbai’s slums. These very slums would go on to change his life forever. A fugitive from Australia, Roberts finds a home in Mumbai’s slums. As you walk through the narrow lanes between the chawls of the Navy Nagar slums Gregory called home, silence descends, and before you know it, you’re inside a dark alley that screams “This is a different world!” It is 2017 now, but those lanes remember their history; they speak, tell you stories about the past and the lives they have witnessed over the years. The place still exudes what Roberts wrote about years ago: religious and cultural tolerance. People knew what I was here for as they saw me walking through those dingy lanes with my camera. Soon, a young man approached, saying, “Foreigner? Ha yahi rehte the. Aao mai le chalta hu.” Speaking about Roberts, the young man, who introduced himself as Neeraj Kumar, said, “He has helped us a lot — from education to our standard of living, things have changed around us because of him. I’ve seen him twice, but my mother says he changed the perception of the chawl forever.”
CLARE ROAD: SAADAT HASAN MANTO’S BOMBAY STORIES