Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Over the last five years, Mumbai has been blessed with two significant depictions. In 2004, Suketu Mehta wrote “Maximum City,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is one of the best books about a great city in recent years. In 2008, “Slumdog Millionaire,” a romantic tale of urban poverty and quiz show success, sold millions of tickets and won a bucketful of Oscars. Both capture the energy and diversity of Mumbai, but neither adequately captures the economic energy that makes the city so exciting.
Mumbai is not ancient; it is roughly as old as New York. It was a Portuguese port given as a Queen’s Dowry to the King of England and then rented to the British East India Company.
Like New York, Mumbai grew great by shipping the products of a rural hinterland, like cotton, to the markets of Europe. The connection between the two cities became particularly obvious during the American Civil War, when the decline in exports of Southern cotton provided a great boost to the commerce of what was then Bombay. Industry grew up around commerce in both cities, and poor people flocked to the opportunities that come from urban innovation.