Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

I take my words back. When I referred to the book earlier, I had mentioned that it was a dry read. I take it back.

CA1Summary: Go read it.

Back in the early 90s, when I was a school-kid in Ranchi, I was fascinated by some of these guys who’d know fairly great details about the girls they had a crush on. They’d know the typical schedule they keep, their walk and talk times, their teachers, friends and foes, where they lived, where they ate, their parents’ history, blah blah blah. How? That’s the question I always struggled with. What I knew for sure is that their crush was supported by a huge volume of research painfully collected and organized over days and weeks and months of following the girl everywhere. On a cycle. On two feet. On a scooter. In the morning. Or the evening. Effort. Love. Dedication. Single Minded Focus. Oh… and there was heartbreak too!

City Adrift gives you a feeling that Naresh loves “Bombay”. He still doesn’t like the city being called Mumbai.

Over the years, I have had several fascinating conversations about the city of Mumbai/ Bombay with several people, most of whom I believe knew a lot more about this city than me. The landmarks, the emotions, the stories behind the daily places, and what-nots. And like most great cities’ history, Mumbai’s history is fascinating. And most of these conversations often become a rant about how bad things have become, and how the city is doomed. We, the all knowing, take prophetic stands, based on all the wisdom those conversations bestow upon us.

Alas, I knew not much.

As you flip through pages, the first few pages worry you. It seems like Naresh is building up on a rant about a depressingly true facet of the modern Mumbai– the real estate prices and the emerging “townships”. However, the deftness with which it starts unfolding layers after layers of the city’s evolution is remarkable.

Naresh takes you through the key moments in the coming together of the seven islands that form Bombay, the reclamation of land that’s still not complete, the cultural and ethnic evolution, the insiders and the outsiders, the haves and the have nots, the current and the forgotten, and the now and the future – with stories and anecdotes that only someone who’s done extensive research on the subject can provide. It manages to avoid the possibility of the book becoming a long rant about the current state of affairs. At the same time, it never gets stuck so deep in a piece of history which has become irrelevant that it remains of interest only for people who love history. The book is surprisingly contemporary in its coverage. One of the fun references in the book – the average speed of cars in Mumbai often is less than 10kph, which is about half the speed of the winner of the annual marathon in the city. And yeah – all the digs on the real estate adverts are fun.

As he navigates from the then to the now, you understand better what he means by the city being adrift – a tiny goal-less, direction-less, vision-less, rudder-less speck in an ocean of humanity – and a terrible heartache is all that you are left with. Like the cliche goes – beautiful girls marry dumb jokers. Mumbai has had her share of administrators and politicians.

Pick it. Read it. Enjoy it. Great investment if you want to understand the uniqueness of this city… And the uniqueness of its challenges.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

2 Responses to Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

  1. Glad you gave City Adrift another chance! I quite enjoyed it. 🙂

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