India : Pride and parochialism

Bombay is one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities, and is the largest Southasian metropolis. Measured by the diverse cultures and plethora of communities – and not only from India – that make Bombay a tremendous melting pot, the city is as unique to this part of the world as is New York City to the West. Administratively, Bombay may fall within Maharashtra, but it hardly fits the definition of a 'Maharashtrian' city. Rather, it is a city without a state. Bombay's culture, along with its power and influence, makes it to India – not Maharashtra – what Berlin is to Germany: a city with its own unique resonances in myriad fields of human endeavour, untrammelled by the narrow and partisan.

Other Indian cities are inextricably tied to their surroundings: Delhi strikes one as a product of Punjab-Uttar Pradesh-Haryana; Calcutta is essentially Bengali, in its best sense; and Madras is very much Tamil. But Bombay is not bracketed as Maharashtrian, either in politics, commerce or the popular imagination, including that of the many migrants that flow into this megalopolis. Delhi may be the diplomatic hub and the 'power centre' for Southasia, but Bombay has an attraction all its own. This pull is very different from the similarities of language and culture that make for the affinity of parts of Nepal with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or of Bangladesh with West Bengal. Madras is closer not only to Sri Lanka but also to Malaysia and Singapore. India's neighbours, too, have a different, secular connection with Bombay. For Pakistan, and Pakistanis, Bombay is an irresistible magnet, as it is for Afghans, as well as Iranians and other West Asians.

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