LONG BEACH, CA - The 13th annual Solanki lecture featuring Prof Gyan Prakash of Princeton University saw over 200 people gather at the Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach here on April 28, to hear him speak on his fascination, enigma and fantasy of India’s teeming metropolis, Mumbai.
“I am not from Bombay”, he confessed, “but I grew up with Bombay on my mind.”Growing up in Patna and educated in Delhi, the stories he heard, the prose, the poetry all pointed in the direction of the ever-increasing thirst called Bombay. Through the eyes of an immigrant, Prakash drew a parallel between ‘Bombay Dreams’ or ‘Mumbai Fables’ as his latest book is called, much like we hear of one chasing the ‘American Dream’. He referred to the city, as one which arouses ambitions and also doles out crushing disappointments.
He set the tone of the evening with clips from the 1956 movie ‘CID’ song ‘Ae Dil Hain Mushkil Jeena Yahan, Zara Bach Ke, Ye Hain Bombay Meri Jaan’ followed by the movie ‘Black Friday’ released in 2004, a depiction of the 1993 Bombay Stock exchange bomb blasts. These two clips posed as “the bookends of the city of Bombay.” He drew out the transformation from “Suno Mister, Suno Bandhu’ in ‘CID’ to the environment of conspiracy and terrorism in ‘Black Friday.’
This dark portrayal was not an isolated example. The novels of Salman Rushdie too went from ‘Midnights Children’ in 1981 to ‘The Moors Last Sigh’ in 1995 that pans out Bombay from a colorful city to one embedded with conflict. Prakash also talked about novelist Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Family Matters’ and the allegory it depicts about ‘ageing’ as a facet of the decline of Bombay to Mumbai. Speaking on the exploding population of the metro, he quoted Suketu Mehta fromhis book ‘Maximum City’ : if Mumbai points to the future of urban civilization on the planet, God help us!
Prakash spoke of the phenomena of so called growth in the garb of degeneration and what impact this has on the world at large. He coined the word ‘Slumbay’, which rhymes not pleasantly with ‘Bombay’ and showed how exuberant modernity has also led to unremitting horror stories in cities such as Lagos and Nairobi where the rich thrive amongst vast poverty.
In the ninety-minute lecture Gyan packed in information about all the elements that go into making of cities, their origins and transformation and how everyday life depicts the politics of survival and aspirations.
The hosts of the event Uka and Nalini Solanki were present with their daughter Kavita and son Harish. The Yadunandan Center for India Studies prides itself in bringing events of academic excellence that add value to the community at large in Southern California.