THAT there is a multitude of writings available on and about Mumbai, more now than ever before, is not surprising. The city forms an opinion in your mind before you can even breathe in the humid air wrapped deeply around its fish. So much so that sometimes even the most obvious bring out musings and yearnings that we hope sound different. These voices are many as Urban Voices 3 showcases earnestly.
Unfortunately, not much is fresh or newly baked. Most voices sound world-weary and worn not just with Mumbai but sometimes even with life. Is that the irony of Mumbai or the choice of writings, you decide.
But what makes this volume worth riffling through is a heart-felt attempt at bringing different genres of writings on Mumbai under a single pointed roof. An interesting selection of writers, film-makers, journalists and poets takes you through a city that is beloved to them.
Here poems mingle with ponderings and short stories meander through the narrow, clustered by-lanes of Mumbai bumping into dialogues, at turns.
The city, one of extreme contrasts, flutters between subjects as varied as Muses Over Manholes (by Murzban F. Shroff) related through the eyes of a despondent and repeatedly rejected writer standing on the rain-drenched streets and the very metropolitan Prickly Solution (by Dilip Raote) set in a typical Mumbai high-rise home. While these two writings are in no way definitive of the collection, they give an indication of the width and depth of a city constantly at play.
What is missing perhaps is a affectionate perspective, an inkling of which is offered in Vimla Patil’s Magical Memories, a warm piece that delves into a nostalgic, gentler past of this frenetic City (by Abha Iyenger) ... "enchantress, seductress, nibbler of souls, monstrous maw, et al".
However, more often than not, the selection reiterates the clich`E9s that Mumbai has come to stand though the structure and layout of this magazine-style volume is a special endeavour to break stereotypes. When viewed within this framework, the two interviews included come as a pleasant surprise and addition. Unluckily, the first one with Time Out magazine’s editor Naresh Fernandes toes a predictable unruffled line of questioning while the other with poet Sudeep Sen is too indulgent to provoke energetic debate.
Nevertheless, Urban Voices 3 is worth a look. It may not be in the same class as the must-reads on the city like Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (Suketu Mehta) or the heady-paced Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts) but it introduces something new and invigorating towards growing writings on Mumbai, much like the city herself.
-- Gayatri Rajwade / The Tribune