Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mumbai on the Back of Her Hand

Mumbai, February 6, 2013

Last night, after an exquisite and excessive dinner of typical street food, Shital Ghia (a friend of my former student Abeer Seikaly that knows her Mumbai inside out) took me for a ride around the city.  At one point we were on Mohammed Ali Road under the JJ Flyover and I asked her something to orient myself.  Shital looked at me, put her right hand on the back of the driver's seat, and with a few strokes gestured an amazingly precise map of Mumbai.

"Think of the tip of the middle finger as Colaba" she said.  Colaba is the southernmost point of Mumbai, so north is down, towards her wrist.  Then, running two fingers of her left hand over the pinky side of her right--her palm was down so she was indicating the wester edge of the city, along the coast of the Arabian Sea--she continued: "this is Nariman Point, Marine Road, Malabar Hill, Worli, the cosmopolitan Mumbai, where everything happens, where the educated people live."  Another stroke , this time along the middle of her right hand: "this is Girgaon--where I grew up,--Tardeo, Parel, the place of the markets, the factories, the chimneys, the backbone of the city.  All Hindu."  Finally, with a third parallel gesture over her thumb, she completed the map: "and this is where we are: all Muslim."  By then, the car was reaching VT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and I knew exactly where we were.

When I innocently asked her if there was any part of the city where Muslims and Hindus mixed, Shital grinned and said, not without a sarcastic tone, that her mother wouldn't tolerate living next to Muslims "because the kill their goats."

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