The Babu usually abjures the Economic Times’ irritating web format–it takes four clicks to read a smallish article, and there’s no single-page format–but we had to make an exception for Vikram Doctor’s interesting take on Rushdie’s Bombay, circa Midnight’s Children and now.
Bombay is there from the posh bungalows of Methwold’s Estate where Saleem lived, to the shops it overlooked (“Chimalkar’s Toyshop; Reader’s Paradise; the Chimanbhoy Fatbhoy jewellery store; and, above all, Bombelli’s the Confectioners, with their Marquis cake, their One Yard of Chocolates”) and the Breach Candy Swimming Club with its pool in the shape of an undivided India, but out of bounds for actual Indians, to Chowpatty beach and the tetrapods on Marine Drive (the obsession of Saleem’s doctor) and the Cathedral School that Saleem attends. Much of this was undeniably autobiographical for Rushdie, which added to the power of its feeling. …
Yet compelling as the Bombay of Midnight’s Children is, it’s also as absent as the missing Midnight’s Child from the archives. It must have existed, yet it only seems like fiction today. It was a singular moment, “a particularly beautiful and sort of memorable phase,” as Rushdie described it, when the city was uniquely cosmopolitan. … Rushdie knew this though and that’s why the book ends in a Bombay/Mumbai recognisable today, in the vast shapeless suburbs in the north of the city where Saleem ends up managing a pickle factory. Like many South Bombayites he’s ended up a North Mumbaikar, only occasionally buying a train ticket on the “yellow-and-brown local trains [that] clatter south towards Churchgate Station from Dadar and Borivli, from Kurla and Bassein Road.”
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