I’ve been returning to India on a yearly or bi-annual basis my whole life. So I’ve had a great vantage point to see the changes over a 40 year span. It’s kind of like the time lapse photography you see in nature films - you know, watching roses bloom and eggs hatch in seconds. So not only have I got to see my friends’ kids whizzing through their childhoods into maturity, but I’ve also got to see Bombay, beloved city of my birth, boom into a bigger and bigger megapolis of slums and mansions.
Once my kiddie-sized foreign jeans were so prized that they were stolen off the washing line; and when asked what they wanted as gifts from abroad, friends wouldrequest bottles of the then forbidden coca cola; when beer could only bought at Leopold’s cafe by foreign passport holders.
Laughable concepts today in this city of sophisticates where just about any taste and whim can be catered for as long as you have the moolah to pay for it. Last week, during my most recent visit, I was taken to shopping malls that would have fit in better in Dubai or Florida than the Bombay sea front. Old chai and chaat stalls have given way to ultra hip boutiques and clubs, and the soft rustle of big money is constantly whispering in your ear.
Most western cities have similar services, but what I love about this in today’s Mumbai is that it indicates so many changes from the sepia Bombay of my childhood:
1) that there is a critical mass of people in the city these days who are questioning the kind of farming methods that are infiltrating from west to east, replacing a tradition that was always low carbon footprint and organic (think bullock carts and cow shit instead of diesel guzzling machinery and chemical fertilizers).
2) that there are enough of these people to make this kind of enterprise profitable
3) that smaller local farmers are being encouraged and hopefully this is a movement that can grow and encourage farmers away from the deadly cash crop cycle of debt for initial agricutural investments that don’t pay back.
It’s a small step sure, and it’s not like you see a Green Revolution in action in the city - certainly not in the mountains of rotting garbage in every corner, the plethora of vehicles on the monsoon clogged streets, the frightful wastage from the unbiquitous too-frigid air conditioning. A tokri of bindis and alus may be just a dot on the horizon of all this burn waste. But it’s a dot I hope to see grow and paint that horizon greener.