Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Amit Chaudhuri on Bombay

Not much to say, but this is a wonderfully evocative essay by Amit Chaudhuri (although I haven't read Maximum City and so can't say if his generous praise for that book is merited or not).

One sees the novelist at work here too: Chaudhuri's working in of the recent blasts, and the sorts of lives they touched, is masterful, without seeming remote.

Chaudhuri is in a sense a son of both Calcutta and Bombay, which makes him well placed to urge, as he does, the notion that while Calcutta was India's pre-eminent "modern" city, at some point over the last two decades Bombay became its pre-eminent ("postmodern"?) city. I don't know either city, but no-one who has grown up on the Hindi cinema of the 1970s and 1980s can ever be indifferent to the question of Bombay: for I have been a virtual visitor, if not to the city as such, then certainly to some of its landmark sites: Marine Drive, VT, the Gateway of India, and Chowpatty. Any city, and certainly any great city, cannot be reduced to the sum of its landmarks, but by virtue of Bollywood, Bombay's are never restricted to those who have actually visited, or to those (all of us by now) plugged into the contemporary global tourism network. Rather, elements of the city are part of a collective memory, better yet an archive of dreams, and so dearly held that when confronted with the vanishing of Bombay in cinema -- the city being replaced by the sterility of Swiss meadows, First World locations, or Eastern European imports in an unending celebration of the lewd -- I absurdly feel a sense of loss for a city I have never been to.


elizabeth said...

i'm with him on the generous praise--Maximum City is one of the best nonfiction books I've read all year. Mehta's next book is apparently going to be about Brooklyn, a prospect that fills me with delighted anticipation.

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