I admit it. I did not know that Mumbai was Bombay. That was just part of the shock of it all– the surreal turn from being happily drowsy on too much turkey and wine, to seeing the graphic imagery of what was transpiring on the other side of the world. Mumbai is Bombay. Bombay? Why would they want to hurt Bombay? Bombay is the biggest exporter of love, song, and respect for one’s mother that exists: Bombay is the home of Bollywood.
Most Americans tend not to like Hindi movies, finding them too melodramatic, too full of songs, too cheesy. But I defy you to watch one from start to finish and remain unmoved. It is impossible. They are unironic and they defy you to judge them. They are full of songs of true love and of sorrow. Everything that is important is said through song, as if the feelings were too powerful to just say plainly. I now present 44 seconds from the end of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Make sure the sound is up.
All of this sadness and death does not belong in that picture. I’ve had a very hard time reading and looking at the images from the city. But its made me want to see it with my own eyes more than ever. If you have the time, you should read Suketo Mehta’s piece in the New York Times. It made some sense of why Mumbai was targeted, and why its very heart made it vulnerable to attack:
Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.
Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The Taliban also banned, wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.