I like writing about cities. Most people see them as dots on a map or as places populated with urban detritus, but not as an organism. Not the fire breathing, I-will-destroy-everything-in-my-path kinds nor as a gaggle of dysfunctional humans. But as an entity that shapes the environment around it, in all spheres political, social, geographical and mental. It is easy to see a city as a collection of famous buildings or past happenings of importance. It is also easy to see every city having a ‘character’ atry, hep, modern, conservative, heartless and so forth. What is not easy to put in words the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of every city and see it with that perspective.
Consider a piece of lush land between low rounded hills and a shallower inlet of the sea. Miles of mangroves blurring the distinction between the land and water and the whole scene reads like a page out of Tolkien’s epics. In the nineties denizens of Mumbai were confronted with the existence of such a piece of land lying east of the city, on the Indian mainland and they conspired to turn it into a city.
And this momentary deliberation is what makes New Bombay what it is. A planned city with the widest roads in this hemisphere. Railway lines with stations so near one can walk to and from them. Malls, theatres and shops confined to particular areas and homes in sectors. Sectors in nodes. It was all very novel and for the first few years after its conception the city lay barren with pockets of population stranded like some post-communist city. And with time all industries moved to Navi Mumbai (in a cruel mockery of the name change from Bombay to Mumbai, its sister followed suit). MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial development corporation) was established all over the hills, ironically with toxic companies having the best views. Come monsoon and all the unpaved roads become unofficial waterfalls with picnickers reveling in them.
Viewed from the eastern end of Mumbai, New Bombay has an impressive skyline, one that is tall, modern and spans the length of the city. Mangroves, buildings and the foothills of the western ghats in the distance.