Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Unchanging Cities

Last week, we were talking about one of our colleagues who has been posted in London for the last six months. She hates the place, thinks it is unfriendly, and wants to come back to Mumbai. One of us concurred with her sentiments saying that London is exactly as our colleague said it was. New York, she said, is way better (Of course, Mumbai, is the best). A few others agreed too.

I am presently reading Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse [from the omnibus: The world of Psmith] and I came across this passage:
It [London] took no notice of him. It did not care whether he was glad to be there or sorry, and there was no means of making it care. That is the peculiarity of Londin. There is a sort of cold unfriendliness about it. A city like New York make the new arrival feel at home in half an hour; but London is a specialist in what Psmith in his letter had called the distant stare. You have to buy London's good-will.
Psmith in the City was first published in 1910.

It is amazing how the character of a city stays the same over such a long time. For example, there are so many people (ancient, old, and young) from Pune who talk about its unique "puneri" character.

Is it the same with our own Mumbai? Was Mumbai always the same?

What is it that decides a city's character? People? Institutions? And do, over a period of time, new people coming into the city buy in into the city's "known" persona? Does a city's character gradually become something similar to a "self fulfilling prophecy?"


Sanket said...

WoW! My thoughts exactly! :) I am happy to identify with the ideas you have expressed. In fact, I have always had this notion that each and every place exudes a single most prominent flavor . I have always thought of things like this - what is the colour that best describes this place? what song comes to your mind when you think of a particular place that you know well? what feeling? what smell? what image? And so on. In fact, I had once written a piece on this.

Oops.. sorry for the long comment. You have an interesting blog here. Will be visiting. :)

mandar talvekar said...

Thanks Sanket,
Wonderfully put.
I often associate places (an incidents) with smell. Whenever I think about a place, I "recall" the smells of the place and time quite vividly. And of course, snapshots -- what you remember of the place. I think all of them go to build your impression of the place.
What I would also like to know (or give deeper thought to) is if our reactions and what we recall of various places are defined by the advertised "persona" of the city. Do most of us instinctively hum "Yeh dil hai hai mushkil jeen yahan..," (or "mumbhai") when we think of Mumbai because that's the popular image (or maybe even the image in our cultural consciousness) that we carry in our minds.

Sanket said...

Talking about associating smells, I am thinking about Saleem Sinai who could do it to people and feelings.