When flirting with adolescence, I came to love Bombay because of its pizza. To an 11-year-old boy from Calcutta, the toppings here were too many to be true. The crust was, of course, thinner, and the delivery was a good 10 minutes quicker. Over the years, my innate materialism has helped me fall in love with this city even more. I have found delightfully obscure books in stores dotted around the south of the city. I am pernickety about the clothes I wear, and the ones I have bought in Bombay have always fit. Even for a picky eater like me, the food served by the city’s restaurants and cafés has always been abundant. Bombay, for the longest time, is where the cool has been for me.
Bombay grew up to become Mumbai, but its new name never found a place in my lexicon. The fact that it’s now referred to by multiple names only proves one thing—Bombay, true to its portrayal in the many novels of Salman Rushdie, becomes what you make of it. The great cities of the world all have this chameleon quality to them and Bombay—much like New York, Madrid and London—too takes the shape of the prism you watch it through. Its infrastructure might leave much to be desired. The traffic might be a nightmare, but the metropolis continues to shape-shift like the stars of Bollywood.
For me, no amount of pastoral beauty or wildlife can ever replace the charms of chaotic Bombay. It’s the city I miss when I am away and the place I end up defending in arbitrary conversations. Strangely, I still end up recommending it as a holiday destination to friends and relatives. Experiences, I argue, are more varied in cities like Bombay than in places where nature is, at best, monochromatic. The advantage of something man-made is that when making it, we would have made contingencies for specific comforts and luxuries. This April, our issue celebrates that man-made structure of the city—something we have invented, something that has the capacity to be sublime.
Often the yardsticks for our urban and architectural achievements, capitals invariably get much of our attention. The cities we focus on have proven their worth despite relative unimportance; none of them are the capitals or centres of their respective nations. We tell you the story of Shillong, a city nestled in the hills and one that defines its very own kind of urban. We bring you lists of American and Chinese cities that are on the rise. For that essential dose of antiquity, one writer recommends Florence. For shades more colourful and modern, you could spend 36 hours in Ho Chi Minh City or even a weekend in São Paolo. Our hope is our features will help start a debate. Cities are competitive, and much like Bombay and New Delhi, we imagine a sparring that is fascinating and heated. We know the champions, so we use this issue to highlight strengths of the challengers. This time, we present our brand new capitals of the world.
Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.