During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Mumbai became the world’s chief cotton-trading and subsequently textile market, resulting in a boom in the economy that later enhanced the city’s stature. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 transformed Mumbai into one of the largest seaports on the Arabian Sea.
From a cluster of seven islands for which the East India Company paid 10 pounds rent pa and a mere 10,000 inhabitants in 1757 to a roaring megapolis of more than 20 million residents now, Mumbai has welcomed everyone with open arms – Portuguese , British, migrants to the docks, textile workers; to become the financial capital of India. The British invested heavily to develop the infrastructure by reclaiming the land to connect the 7 islands. As a result Mumbai has a few firsts to its credit. Mumbai Was The First City In India to get a Bus Service. Mumbai saw its first bus run on 15 July 1926 between Afghan Church and Crawford Market.
It is also claimed that India’s first car owner, Sir Jamshetji Tata, the founder of the Tata empire, who lived in Mumbai bought a car in 1901. Everyone came to Mumbai leaving behind their caste and religion; only with one objective – to make a living.This has been very well captured in the song “Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan” from the 1956 Bollywood hit CID.
Since then, Mumbai has been known as the Land of Opportunities and also referred to as “Mayanagri” . Mumbai has got everyone to imbibe the “can do“ spirit of its fast paced life. Today’s Mumbai has also morphed from Bombaim to Bumbai to Bombay to today’s Mumbai. This has meant it is the cosmopolitan nature and not the marathi only nature of the city that is the true fabric of the city. It is the Big Apple of India. Commercial Capital and business is the only language that everyone understands. Anyone is welcome to try his hand at the circle of life here – be it Bollywood aspirants or budding cricketers or anyone with a business idea or anyone who just wants to flow with the tide of people going about their daily chores.
Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India. It is also one of the world’s top ten centres of commerce in terms of global financial flow, generating approx. 5% of India’s GDP , 70% of maritime trade in India (Mumbai Port Trust & JNPT), and 70% of capital transactions to India’s economy. The city houses important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India, the SEBI and the corporate headquarters of numerous Indian companies and multinational corporations. It is also home to some of India’s premier scientific and nuclear institutes like BARC, NPCL, IREL, TIFR, AERB, AECI, and the Department of Atomic Energy. The city also houses India’s Hindi (Bollywood), Marathi film and television industry. Mumbai’s business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a higher standard of living, attracts migrants from all over India, making the Mumbai a melting pot of many communities and cultures.
The various settlements such as the Parsee colony at Dadar, the Tamils at Chembur – Matunga, the Sikhs at Sion GTB Nagar, the Hindus at Hindu colony , Girangaum, Vile Parle , Dombivali are representative of those who left their native place to settle down and make Mumbai their own. Now for over 2-3 generations, these families have been staying in Mumbai. I have friends – a Murthy, a Venkatramani, an Iyer, a Shah, a Jain, a John, a Naidu, a Sindhwani , a Sodhi or a Vaidyanathan who have either been born and brought up in Mumbai or work has brought them to Mumbai and they have made Mumbai their home. They have integrated into Mumbai’s cosmopolitan fabric and are proud to be called Mumbaikars.In the early 1970s, in my school, the IES Eng Medium school, I had friends from across communities. All of them understood and also spoke their own version of Marathi. So much so even the medium of instruction veered towards Minglish (a fusion of Marathi and English)- Over the years, this integration has continued as I have realised my friends enjoy the works of author and play write P L Deshpande as well as Marathi films like Sairat (famous for it’s Zingaat song). Mumbaikars, have adapted in their own way to the local language of communication, I call it “Bumbaiya”. This is just as unique as another area where Mumbai has its unique concoction which is its snacks – be it the Vada pav (poor man’s burger) with it’s fusion variants such as the Schezwan, cheese, and grilled Vada Pav.
Actually the word “batata” which is the key ingredient in the Vada Pav, though it has been Indianised by the Maharashtrians, has its origins in Portuguese who occupied Bombaim between 1534 to 1661 till it was handed over to the British in 1662. Take other instances such as roadside quick snack items like the Chinese Dosa or Pav Bhaji Dosa or Cheesy Pizza Dosa , Paneer Pizza Dosa , the Chinese Bhel or even the cutting chai or (also known as Ahmedabadi chai).
One very interesting fact of life which stands out as a simple example would be the Vada Pav wala & the Bhel Puri wala of what makes Mumbai a land of opportunity – any individual with a certain amount of gumption can make it big or at least elevate his life / lifestyle to become a benchmark for the teeming millions. Where else in the country would there be a contest in awarding the Best Vada Pav & the Best Bhel puri wala. The TIMES group conducts this and well known celebrities like Shabana Azmi, Jackie Shroff are judges to this contest. Needless to add this authenticates success, creates more business.
Mumbai has a 24X7 element to its life as its speed is determined by the local train which is the lifeline of Mumbaikars with the first local starting at – Western – 3.25am; Harbour – 4.03 am; Central – 2.35 am and the last train Western – 1 am; Harbour – 12.40am; Central – 12.31 am. A parody on Virar Fast very well captures the role this lifeline plays in the life of a Mumbaikar (click here to get a glimse: https://youtu.be/KEEbRlzBVB4).
Mumbai’s famed dabbawalas’ who have won fans world over from Richard Branson to Prince Charles for their management skills known for their zero error deliveries rely on the local trains for their network and punctuality.
Mumbai also has its own unique vocabulary which has its own grammar – apunko v/s aapko, shakkar v/s chini in chaste hindi. Bhai giri, hero giri are some of the other dialects very well captured in this song “Ye kya bolti tu” from the Amir Khan starrer movie Ghulam. I call this Bumbaiya . It is the middle ground wherein if anyone is willing to try, others are more than happy to meet you halfway. As a result, locals have also adapted to Bumbaiya as the language of commerce. Bumbaiya is just like its food- sometimes it’s a fusion of marathi and hindi (Mindi) or sometimes it’s Minglish or sometimes even Hinglish or any permutation or combination of any of these as well. As long as the communication gets done it’s all ok.
The cosmopolitan nature has also led to concocted words which you will not find in any dictionary e.g dadagiri, khisko, maara maari ( as in a orange- mosambi juice combo) etc.
Take another instance of its famed Ganpati festival which is celebrated across all communities. Mumbaikars across religions line up to go pandal hopping. Amongst the must visit pandals include Vadhabhai’s Pandal at Matunga,Lal Baug cha Raja. Times of India every year also runs a popular pandal contest. Round the year Siddhivinayak
temple at Prabhadevi sees footfalls every Tuesday from across the city walk long distances sometimes even barefoot for a darshan. Similarly, we also have the Novena at Mahim’s St Michael Church which goes back to 1534 when the Portuguese built it or the Makhdoom Ali Mahimi Darga which dates back even further to 1431 which is visited by Mumbaikars across all religions. So is the case with Navaratri which traditionally is a Gujarati festival but has over the years been embraced by Mumbaikars to be their own.
Just like Kolkata is known for its football clubs, Mumbai is known for being the cradle of Indian cricket. The impact it has had can be gauged from the sheer number of times it has won the coveted Ranji Trophy, a stupendous 41/85 times. In old times, the majority of players in the Mumbai team would be Marathi speaking and would go by the names Nadkarni, Hardikar, Mantri, Manjrekar, Wadekar, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar. Over the years, with maidan cricket providing access to everyone to pick up a bat or a ball and aspiring to make it big and the city’s character changing from a Marathi speaking to a Bumbaiya speaking city, this trend also changed. This can be seen in the trend right from Balu Palvankar in the early 1930s to Eknath Solkar (1970s) to Vinod Kambli (1990s) to Rohit Sharma (2010) to Prithvi Shaw (2018) to the latest sensation Yesheshvi Jaiswal is reflective of the transformation towards cosmopolitan fabric of the city . Today, even though almost the full eleven can understand, if not speak Marathi, hardly 8 out of a bench of 23 is probably a born Marathi speaking. As mentioned by Rajdeep Sardesai in his book Democracies XI – “In the 1970s, Gavaskar had given Indian cricket self-esteem, in the 1980s, in the 1990s Sachin gave it stature” now follow this up with Rohit Sharma all of whom are proud Mumbaikars.
Under the Sister cities project Mumbai has been mapped to 13 cities across the world of which the 3 major ones being London, Los Angeles, Berlin. A sister city, county, or state relationship is a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries which has no boundaries in its spirit. Each sister city project is independent but collaborates the activities and thematic areas that are important to them and their community including municipal, business, trade, educational, and cultural exchanges and projects with their sister city. A relationship is officially recognised after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement to become sister cities.Sister cities of Mumbai — sistercity.info
I have been a resident of Mumbai for nearly 50 years now and I’m even now amazed by the energy levels as well as the ability of the city to allow anyone and everyone to make it his/her own. Even though Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra State, as long as you keep political boundaries away, in reality it is everybody’s, just like the sister cities project it has no boundaries to its spirit and Mumbaikars will bounce back from the current pandemic. After all Yeh hai Bumbai meri Jaan , Cheers !
Acknowledgements : My Friend Ashish Parulekar and Sheetal Nagle for being a solid member of my blog support team.
P.S: To read my other blogs on Cricketing / Corporate Tales, Start up stories, Covid Times, Friends, Family and Marriages go to the Home Page
One thought on “Yeh hai Bumbai meri jaan !”
Excellent narration. Covers all aspects n life in Mumbai very well. I keep wondering how much more this city can take? And at times I fear that one day the entire machinery might just collapse under this pressure.