India's Mother Goddess
Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995 to shed its colonial past. A wise choice that makes this megacity the benevolent mother goddess of India. A deity with three faces, those of trade, industry, and finance, it also wears the Technicolor sari of Bollywood.
What remains of the ‘scent of India' in the Mumbai that poet and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and his vagabond humour discovered in the bad neighbourhoods of the port of Bombay in 1963? What of all the people he describes who slept on the sidewalk? What is left of Alberto Moravia's ‘idea of India', which he formed on the same journey? Pasolini's ‘scent' was wild and beautiful; Moravia's ‘idea' looked to religion. Fifty-three years later, Mumbai is not the same.
To begin with, Bombay is no more. Except, that is, for the High Court and its stock exchange, where 70% of the capital transactions of India's entire economy take place (Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange of India).
India's largest metropolis, which counts 19 million souls, got rid of every reference to its colonial past by changing its name. ‘Good Bay' or ‘Bom Bahia', a vestige of the 130-year Portuguese occupation in the 17th century, which the British anglicised to Bombay, disappeared in 1995. Now it is more religiously Mumbai, a contraction of the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi and Aai, or mother in Marathi—so Moravia scores his point.
The benevolent mother goddess of the city, who had her temple here (destroyed by the English in the 18th century and rebuilt in 1830), does not, curiously, possess a mouth. Here she is dumb in the face of the new Technicolor gods from the Bollywood studios, as well as those deriving from trade, industry, and finance. Mute also in the face of the largest slum in Asia (Pasolini also made his point) while its numerous residential skyscrapers, like Babel, defy heaven.
The visitor will benefit from the mildness of the dry season and no doubt will be as attentive to the intimacy of Mahatma Gandhi, at the Gandhi Museum (housed in his former home), as to the early youth of Rudyard Kipling, a native of Bombay and the flesh-and-blood symbol of British colonialism. Those who visit here will harbour a deep nostalgia for the city for the rest of their lives.