Sunday, February 10, 2013

Huxley's Map of Bombay

Mumbai, February 10, 2013

Yesterday morning I took a local train from VT (Victoria Terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji) in the heart of Mumbai, all the way to Panvel, the last stop of the Harbour Line in Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai.)  Almost an hour and a half, following the newest of the "tentacles" that Aldous Huxley mentions in his brief but precise map-description of Bombay:

"From its island body, Bombay radiates long tentacles of suburban squalor into the land."

When Huxley was writing in 1948, this Bombay as sea creature (like a squid or an octopus) was dominated by its southern body, with a population of more than two million inhabitants against only a few hundred thousands along the tentacles.  By contrast, today's Metropolitan Mumbai has more than 18 million inhabitants, with the bulk of the growth happening beyond Mumbai City proper.  And the squalor has turned into the most diverse urban conditions, from slums to exclusive high-rise developments.

And Mumbai keeps growing, its map dynamic and fluid, perhaps best represented in the lines of a contemporary poet, Arundhathi Subramainam, where she describes her city as a spool:

"City condemned to unspool
in an eternal hysteria
of lurid nylon dream."

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