So you think that Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts defines Mumbai? Got what you need to know about Mumbai from the novel?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but that novel is only one adventurous aspect of Mumbai.
Mumbai has many layers. It is definitely more than Marine Drive or famed iconic restaurants. Mumbai may have been all about the town till about the 1980s but believe me it has mushroomed and mushroomed since then.
Yet, mostly Mumbai novels are centred around the town and do not speak of suburbs. While, recently, there have been newer novels that go beyond South Mumbai and explore other neighbourhoods, there is still a dearth of novels about the city from a suburban point of view.
There should be stories written about the constant monsoon flooding, about Aarey Colony, about SGNP trips, about picnics to Elephanta Island, about architecture other than the Art Deco, about leopard attacks, about the migrants, the dabbawallas, the overflowing markets, about the fishermen, about the Worli Sea Link, about the new metro travels, about communities other than Parsis and so much more.
Why limit your idea of Mumbai to only one single stretch of sea facing pavement? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Marine Drive and have spent good fun and thoughtful times there! But still there is more to Mumbai than that!)
Nonetheless, let us wait till such a novel is written, found and published.
For now let us look at books that go beyond the Taj Hotel, Gateway of India and other such symbols that stereotype the city!
- Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale: Milk Teeth is the latest addition to the many stories written about Mumbai. This is also one of the few titles by a female writers in this list! Set in post Babri, post liberalisation 1990s, it is the one novel about our recent past seen through city reporter Ira’s point of view and her flashbacks.
- Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar: Set in the now disappearing chawls of Mumbai, this book by Nagarkar traces the growth and adventures of two boys, Ravan and Eddie, as they grow up in No 17 Central Works Department chawls in Byculla in the 1950s. Read my complete review here.
- Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto: This heartbreaking story is more about the relationship between a mother and son than the city but set in Mahim, it portrays a beautiful, ordinary life of a family that deals with the mother’s mental health problems.
- Window Seat by Janhavi Acharekar: This is a collection of short stories chronicling ordinary incidents of common Mumbaikars. It is quick read and wonderfully realistic. Any Mumbai person would relate to these everyday events. Read my review here.
- Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry or any other novel by Mistry: A very relatable story about Gustad, a middle class Parsi bank clerk living during 1971 war with East Pakistan, and his sons, Darius and Sohrab. Such a Long Journey is one of my favourite novels. Check out my review here.
- Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani: One can argue Dahanu Road is not Mumbai. But that still does not take away from this novel’s lovely tale of a Parsi family owing chikoo farms in Dahanu. A tale of three generations has its own secrets and flaws. Some travel advice: to get a real life glimpse into a similar way of life, a must visit are towns on the coastal area beyond Dahanu Road such as Bordi.
- The Last Song of Dusk by Siddhant Dhanwant Shanghvi: This ornate and luxurious writing style remembers a similarly decadent past that revolves around a pristine Juhu area (that is hard to imagine today!) and the love between Anuradha and Vardhaman. Check out my review here!
- Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra: Like Acharekar’s Window Seat, this is also a collection of short stories so beautifully evocative that they are bound to linger on long after you close the novel. For Sacred Games fans, you can spot the first appearance of Inspector Sartaj Singh in one of the stories here! Go figure!
- Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil: This drug infused novel set in the 1970s Bombay shows the city’s seedy side peppered with seduction, gangsters and eunuchs.
- Kari by Amrita Patil: Set in Bombay (Smog City), this graphic novel talks about the lesbian relationship between Ruth and Kari. It also focuses on Kari’s relationship with the city.
Do you know any other Mumbai based book? Do share in the comments!What is your idea of a quintessential Bombay/Mumbai book?Do share!