Mehta starts with an anecdote about a stockbroker wounded in the bombing who receives a visit from Manmohan Singh in hospital and takes the opportunity to praise the prime minister for economic reforms. Huh? Okay, let's say this actually happened, and isn't a story someone made up because it sounds good. Is it anything like a mainstream reaction? Were the majority of Mumbai's citizens sitting around their homes on Tuesday night thinking, sure we got bombed, sure the economic reforms process seems to have come to a complete standstill, but because Manmohan Singh helped liberalise India's economy 15 years ago, we should all feel grateful? Come on. Mehta writes:
"In any other city, if the leader of the nation were to come to the sickbed of a person grievously wounded by a terrorist bombing, the first thought in the victim's head would probably not be to praise the leader's economic policy. But for the young broker—and for most of those wounded in the Bombay blasts...the admiration arises from the main reason why they live in Bombay: to make money."
Maybe I just talk to the wrong people, but I sincerely doubt that the first thought in most victim's heads was to praise their leader's economic policy. We weren't all sitting around Tuesday night thinking - but at least we're making a lot of money. And that, on the whole, is something I'm thankful for.
But it gets worse. Having talked about how Mumbai is the 'golden songbird' (who says these things?) Mehta goes on to gripe about the Reader's Digest survey which says that Mumbai is one of the rudest cities in the world. So important a point does he think this, that he dedicates a good quarter of his essay to cribbing about how people don't understand the civic spirit of Mumbai.
For God's sake - two hundred people just died. Is how rude the Reader's Digest thinks the city is really our top concern right now? Who reads the Readers Digest anyway? Who cares what they think? Are we really so desperate for external affirmation that the most critical thing we see coming out of the bombings is that it refutes the Reader's Digest survey ? Personally, I can't think of anything more trivial. Mehta writes:
"Readers Digest's editors should now eat the July issue of their magazine, page by page"
Get over it already.
Mehta then goes on to give us the usual cliches about India's democratic, tolerant heritage - Sikh Prime Minister, Muslim President, Italian Catholic head of the ruling coalition - the standard shorthand. But all this wonderful communal harmony is not the reason that Bombay didn't break into riots. No sir. According to Mehta, it's because the city recognises that rioting is bad for business. Does anyone else think this is being overly cynical? Is the reason we're all tolerant and civic-minded really because we all want to make more money? And if that's true, is it really reason to celebrate? Maybe I'm naive, but I'd like to think that a good part of the reason people behave decently is because they are fundamentally decent, not because they've done the math and figured out the exact loss, in basis points, that starting a riot will cause.
Finally, just so that you don't think that he's being too self-congratulatory - Mehta comes up with a litany of Bombay's problems - condition of roads, lack of sanitation and water supply, which he concludes with the observation:
"Perhaps this horrific tragedy will powerfully focus the government on the problems of the country's galloping urbanization, and the dire need to invest in infrastructure."
Huh? So because some terrorists bombed a local train, the government's suddenly going to wake up to the fact that millions of Mumbai's people live in inhuman slum conditions? Would someone care to explain the logic of this to me? Does anyone else happen to believe this?
There's a scene in Asterix and the Cauldron, where Asterix and Obelix are taking part in an 'experimental' play, and the director tells Obelix that when called upon he should just walk forward and say the first thing that comes into his head (Obelix's statement - "These Romans are crazy" - lands the director in prison, waiting to be fed to the lions). Someone should tell Mr. Mehta that such random free association is not a good technique to use while writing an article for the international press about Mumbai's reactions to the blast. His piece is meandering, irrelevant, petty and at least from what I've heard or read, a gross misrepresentation of the general public reaction to the blasts. I've been trying to get my hands on Mehta's book - Maximum City - for a while now, but if this is what it reads like then I'm going to stop looking.
 Well, Mehta for one. He's so fond of calling Bombay the 'songbird' that he does it four times in a one page article. Once was bad enough, but four times? Shudder!
 Which it doesn't actually - there's no contradiction between people being generally rude and coming together to help in a genuine crisis. I don't think that Bombay is a particularly rude city - I think it's largely a function of what patterns of behaviour you see as being standard etiquette - but the fact that people helped others after a bombing doesn't mean that they aren't generally rude to each other.