Different in Different Eyes, One India


“… goddess Mumbadevi[‘s name], Mumbabai, Mumbai – may well have become the city’s.

But then, the Portuguese named the place Bom Bahia for its harbour, and not for the goddess of the pomfret folk…

The Portuguese were the first invaders, using the harbour to shelter their merchant ships and their men-of-war; but then, one day in 1633,  an East India Company Officer named Methwold saw a vision. This vision – a dream of a British Bombay, fortified, defending India’s West against all comers – was a notion of such force that it set time in motion. History churned ahead; Methwold died; and in 1660, Charles II of England was betrothed to Catherine of the Portuegese House of Braganza. […] It was her marriage dowry which brought Bombay into British hands. […] After that, it wasn’t long until September 21st, 1668, when the Company at last got its hands on the island… and then off they went, with their Fort and land-reclamation, and before you could blink there was a city here, Bombay, of which the old tune sang:

Prima in Indis,

Gateway to India,

Star of the East

With her face to the West.

Salman Rushdie,

Midnight’s Children (1981), pp. 121-122

“The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smel it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. I was excited and delighted by it, in that first Bombay minute, […] but I didn’t and couldn’t recognise it. I know now it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in ressurection and decay. […] It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live , and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage.  […] the worst good smell in the world […] But when I return to Bombay, now, it’s my first sense of the city – that smell, above all things – that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.

The next thing I noticed was the heat. I stood in airport queues, not five minutes from the conditioned air of the plane, and my clothes clung to sudden sweat. […] Each breath was an angry little victory. I came to know that it never stops, the jungle sweat, because the heat that makes it, night and day, is a wet heat. The choking humidity makes amphibians of us all, in Bombay, breathing water in air; you learn to live with it, and you learn to like it, or you leave.

Then there were the people. Assamese, Jats, and Punjabis; people from Rajasthan, Bengal, and Tamil Nadu; from Pushkar, Cochin, and Konarak; warrior caste, Brahmin, and untouchable; Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Parsee, Jain, Animist; fair skin and dark, green eyes and golden  brown and black; every different face and form of that extravagant variety, that incomparable beauty, India. “

Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram (2003), p. 4


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