Mumbai Fables

Mumbai Fables

Mumbai Fables

Mumbai Fables


A place of spectacle and ruin, Mumbai exemplifies the cosmopolitan metropolis. It is not just a big city but also a soaring vision of modern urban life. Millions from India and beyond, of different ethnicities, languages, and religions, have washed up on its shores, bringing with them their desires and ambitions. Mumbai Fables explores the mythic inner life of this legendary city as seen by its inhabitants, journalists, planners, writers, artists, filmmakers, and political activists. In this remarkable cultural history of one of the world's most important urban centers, Gyan Prakash unearths the stories behind its fabulous history, viewing Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals--the history behind Mumbai's stories of opportunity and oppression, of fabulous wealth and grinding poverty, of cosmopolitan desires and nativist energies.

Starting from the catastrophic floods and terrorist attacks of recent years, Prakash reaches back to the sixteenth-century Portuguese conquest to reveal the stories behind Mumbai's historic journey. Examining Mumbai's role as a symbol of opportunity and reinvention, he looks at its nineteenth-century development under British rule and its twentieth-century emergence as a fabled city on the sea. Different layers of urban experience come to light as he recounts the narratives of the Nanavati murder trial and the rise and fall of the tabloid Blitz, and Mumbai's transformation from the red city of trade unions and communists into the saffron city of Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena. Starry-eyed planners and elite visionaries, cynical leaders and violent politicians of the street, land sharks and underworld dons jostle with ordinary citizens and poor immigrants as the city copes with the dashed dreams of postcolonial urban life and lurches into the seductions of globalization.

Shedding light on the city's past and present, Mumbai Fables offers an unparalleled look at this extraordinary metropolis.


It is just before two o’clock in the afternoon in April, the hottest
month of the year. A tiny speck appears in a cloudless Poona sky,
moving steadily toward the Tower of Silence, the funerary place
where the Zoroastrians expose their dead to be consumed by birds
of prey. It is not an eagle; nor is it a crow, for it could never fly that
high. As the speck approaches the tower, its outline grows larger.
It is a small aircraft, its silver body gleaming in the bright sun.
After flying high above the Parsi place of the dead, the plane dis
appears into the horizon only to double back. This time, it heads
determinedly to the tower, hovers low over it, and then suddenly
swoops down recklessly. Just when it seems sure to plunge into
the ground, the plane rights itself and flies upside down in large
circles. A bright object drops from the aircraft into the well of the
tower, illuminating the structure containing a heap of skeletons
and dead bodies. As the light from the bright flare reveals this
gruesome sight, the plane suddenly rights itself and hovers directly
overhead. The clock strikes two. A camera shutter clicks.

The click of the camera shakes the Zoroastrian world. The Parsi
head priest of the Deccan region, taking an afternoon nap, imme
diately senses that foreign eyes have violated the sacred universe
of his religion. Parsi priests, who are performing a ritual at their
Fire Temple, feel their throats dry up abruptly and are unable to

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.