Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mumbai, Cutting it Fine

The third volume of writings on Mumbai has pen portraits of a city that Bollywood has already told us enough about. It offers variety, but not much style, writes Shana Maria Verghis

Bombay: New Writing Volume 3
Author: Frog Books
Price: Rs 195

Roselyn D' Mello's poem 'Absolution' presents a familiar image of Mumbai to an outsider like oneself. It refers to "the enchanting sight of the sordid landscape rolling / through the barred windows of a local train;" And "....cigarettes all dangling on display in sync. ..with the / wavering sounds of a flute being played by a man with / black, painted nails at Colaba Causeway.' Then it gets more tactile, with: "the perennial confected aroma of freshly baked apple / pie (with cinnamon and raisins) at the blue-coloured Yazdan bakery; /...frankies at Linking Road, tickling sheikh pao at Premier/road Naka...pao bhaji at Khao Galli/ragda pattice at Elcos..."
'Absolution' has been included in a collection, Urban Voice 3: Bombay, New Writing (Frog Books), which picks up various strands of the city by 31 writers, journalists, poets and film makers who seem to know it well.
D' Mello we are told in the acknowledgement, is 22 years and lives in Delhi. But the first piece in the book is by Monideepa Sahu. Her short story 'Going Home in the Rain' reminds us about Ruchi Narain's short in the yet-to-be-released portmanteau film, Mumbai Cutting. Here you have a newcomer to the city and an autodriver who turns out to be less sinister than her imagination.
Rajender Menen's 'Loving and Deliverance in Kamathipura', seemed, to our jaded reading, like another of those "brave prostitute life stories." Ramendra Kumar's 'Mumbai 2020', is the only bit of comic relief in this set. He writes of Aamchi Mumbai in 2020 and thinly veiled references to 'Raja of Maratharashtra', Raj Thokoray watching an India Cup Twenty-Twenty final between Marathas and Ulta Pradesh.
By this time, the writer says, India has been spliced into 28 nations with a separatist movement by doodhwalas in Jharkand demanding new states called Doodhkhand, Dahikand and Shreekahand. There's a language problem all over. 'Rajnikaat' has been pushed out by Chennai for being Marathi. Marathis disown him for working in Bangaluru and Tamil Nadu. 'Amitabhi Bachha', now 77 is making it big in Bhojpuri movies. But back in Mumbai a Marathi version of Sholay is burnt for hurting Sena sensibilities with a line: 'Tera Kya Hoga, Sambha', which apparently insults 'Sambhaji -- the Bhau of the nation.'
Atin Dasgupta makes a point with 'Rupees 42 Profit,' where an "upright citizen" yammers on about beggars then helps himself to loose change from an elderly beggar woman's bowl.
Derek Bose's 'Stones in My Mouth' is about exorbitant fees at Nanavati hospital versus proper healing at a cheaper place, with surgery bills costing one-fourth the price.
Some pieces like Joy C Raphael's 'Local Guardian' and Anjali Purohit's 'The Subway' and 'Bombayana' by Freny Manecksha are observations about people in stations, on the street.
Murzban F Shroff's 'Muses over Manholes' reads like one of those godawfully self-indulgent I-am-a-writer-let-me-bore-you-with-my-writer-travails-and-leave-you-with-nothing-else-to-take-back meanderings. While Sunil K Poolani's 'Missing that Nagging Feeling' is written in the voice of a recently divorced man who sounds like he enjoys being a pain in his wife's arse.
There are two interviews. With poet Sudeep Sen and Time Out Mumbai's Naresh Fernandes. The latter unfortunately does not give you anything new about the city. And the former is so flowery it could have done with massive editing.
Dilip Raote makes no bones about being influenced by Roald Dahl's stories about precocious children giving it back to annoying adults in 'A Prickly Solution'. His protagonist, a little girl Geetika, who puts a hole with her compass into her dad's condom, leading to her mom's unwanted pregnancy seems motivated only by boredom. Vimla Patil editor of Femina for nearly 25 years reminisces about local herbs in 'Magical Memories'. Abhinav Maurya pays tribute to 'The Oldest Bombay Bitch', the Bombay Rail. Riya Terri's 'The Day I Found The Real Me' should not have left the writer's personal.diary.
As portraits of the city, most do their job. In terms of stylistic storytelling, however the writings are a bit passé and some are guilty of being very lazily written. Several should have been trashed.
-- The Sunday Pioneer


Anonymous said...

Ah, well.
Reviews wil be reviews.
-- Abha Iyengar (

Anonymous said...

Good. Reviewers are doing to your books what you do to others' books.
-- Dilip Raote (

Anonymous said...

Dear Sunil,
Liked Urban Voice which is devoted to Bombay New Writing. The few that I immediately perused through make pleasant reading. Your own personal essay dwelling on the rediscovery of the joys of bachelordom betrays the bitterness of a divorcee who is hell-bent upon glorifying his single status. It makes interesting read in the same class as Lamb's 'A Bachelor's Complaint Against the Behaviour of Married People'. There is no highway to happiness. Each individual must find his own dirt-track to plod one's way to Eldorado. Among the various things you enumerate that one can do in the state of single bliss without getting embarrassed is 'to allow dust to gather on unread novels meant for reviews'. I believe my own novel The Fourth Monkey has met the same fate. It has been more than fifteen months since I couriered you a copy, but to no avail!
I shall let you know of detailed reaction to other contents of the journal by and by.
Sushil Gupta (