Nandita Das

Tug of two cities

  • March 1, 2010

Ever since I have shifted to Bombay I find myself dragged into a fairly meaningless debate about Delhi vs. Bombay. Oops sorry, Mumbai. As we don’t quite pronounce Paris with a French accent while saying it in English or Mexico with a Mexican accent, I will stick referring to Mumbai as Bombay while writing in English. In any case, the fear of offending somebody’s sentiments is not what I am writing about today. It’s more about the so-called debate around the two cities, as if no other place in the country is worth the battle. It sort of reminds me of the media created Cola war that became the cover story a few decades ago, in a country that doesn’t have clean drinking water for most of its people.

Having lived in the capital, in its more privileged parts for my entire life, till a few months ago, it was natural to develop a fondness for it. Wide open roads, lined with old big trees that in the season blossom with Gulmohar and Amaltas, old Mughal ruins littered around the city, adding a rather old world charm to Lutyen’s British architecture and the concrete jungle that is steadily expanding. Surely any place one grows up in becomes one’s own because of the familiarity and the people who make that world. For me too it was no different. My family, childhood friends, street theatre, dance class and college mates, parent’s friends, and all the other people whose paths I crossed meant Delhi for me. In the later years, with the nomadic life I led, I became much more of a home bound person when in the city. But knowing that I had the opportunity to meet the people I wanted to, and be part of various cultural events, and socio-political discourses when I wished was comforting.

From the time I did Fire in 1996 I would often be questioned as to why I have not shifted to Bombay. Most saw it as a foolish decision and my explanation that it was by choice and not a temptation I was resisting, did not seem to convince. I stayed on in Delhi not so much for the love of the city, but I found no reason to shift to a different place. In fact Delhi provided me a neutral space where I didn’t feel compelled to belong to any fraternity. Bombay was no more the city I visited my maternal grandparents as a child. In the last 10 years for me Bombay primarily meant the film industry. I didn’t quite feel I belonged there and preferred to continue to be on the fringes of it. The baggage of that life was enormous as one couldn’t be in the game and not play by its rules.

In short, Bombay was never an option for me. Also being a bit of a rebel, the assumption that everybody who had anything to do with films ought to be in Bombay seemed worth protesting. Time and again I would be goaded to shift to Bombay and my resolve to never move became even stronger. But the proverbial ‘never say never’ came true! A few months ago I fell in love with someone who lives in Bombay. He could have well lived in Timbaktu and I would have moved there if that was the only way we could be together. So all my arguments and reasoning were thrown out of the window and here I am in the city of sky-scrapers and slums, co-existing shamelessly.

I still resist liking it, even though the people are more professional and less aggressive than those in Delhi, but I still haven’t found my little comfort corner here. Talking about anything beyond one’s narrow sphere of work and life seems to be the norm. This could well be because the struggle of daily life and commuting that saps one’s energy enough to leave little room for any other engagement. There! I see myself again being dragged into the unnecessary debate of which city is better. In fact I have always felt more like a citizen of the world and the sense of belonging has been less and less important. If we are open to change and can embrace different ways of being, then no place seems alien. In all my travels, I have often felt the urge to make many different places my home. Love has brought me to Bombay and so this is my home.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11