It isn’t that the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel looks like Healy Hall. If you squint you might find a passing resemblance, but this is to miss a much larger point: diversity.
We all celebrate it at some point. It might be at the Pluralism in Action program presented during New Student Orientation, or just in meeting the international students on your residence hall floor for the first time – mine includes men and women from Jordan, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. Diversity enriches everyday life. It teaches us that while Rangila may be beautiful, it’s nothing compared to seeing the Narial Purnima festival on Chowpatty Beach during a summer spent abroad in India.
Before I leap into a discourse on Georgetown, Bombay and diversity, a note on why I won’t call it Mumbai. In 1996, Bal Thackeray, a fan of Adolf Hitler and the head of then-ruling party Shiv Sena, renamed the city. He cast off its colonial name (initially bestowed upon it by the Portuguese as “Bom Baia”) to convince fellow Hindu fundamentalists that this would be a Hindu city through and through. He named the city after Mumba Devi, an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Parvati. Diversity was not exactly welcomed in Mumbai.
We in Bombay won’t spit in the faces of those who are different from us, and Thackeray renaming the city after a Hindu goddess was spitting in the faces of the city’s Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs.
So what of Bombay today? How is that riotous, raucous, tantalizing and turbulent city faring these days? As we observed over the course of the attacks last week, not so well.
I was born in Bombay 19 years ago. The neighborhood you saw on CNN, blood splattered across its dark and deserted streets, is mine. Glass shards from the broken windshields of Padminis, Ambassadors and Mercedes Benzes lie strewn across paving stones on which I have walked. The rumble of army trucks has shaken the foundations of centuries-old buildings minutes away from my birthplace.
And my birthplace is Bombay Hospital, just one of the locations besieged by AK-47 wielding youths last week. British businessman Alan Jones, as quoted by the BBC World Service, observed the attackers firsthand as they sprayed bullets across the magnificent lobby of the Taj Mahal hotel – a lobby which I can picture in my memory right now. And the leather sofas and the granite desk with its Husain mural and the new Louis Vuitton store and the carpet. Blood-stained? Bullet-ridden?
I was last in Bombay in June. That trip changed my life, and the city played no small part in doing so. Victoria Terminus, the Taj, the Oberoi Hotel, Bombay Hospital and Chowpatty Beach all made that week incredibly special for me. It hurts emotionally and physically to know what happened in those beautiful places.
We at Georgetown are familiar with the ominous shroud of potentiality that looms over campus. Minutes from the White House, the Capitol building and the Pentagon, we are perched over a city right in the crosshairs of terrorists. Just like Bombay.
We marvelled at the fortitude with which our city leapt up from that smoke-stenched Arlington morning seven years ago. Between Sept. 11 and today, bits of Bombay have been blown apart on three separate occasions. The city will rise again; it always does.
We celebrate diversity at Georgetown because cosmopolitan places like Washington, D.C. and Bombay are the greatest places on Earth. When we come here as ambassadors for our places of origin – be it Baltimore or Mirpur, the land of balti (a type of Pakistani cuisine) – we bring the exotic to one another. We enrich each others’ experiences with sounds, sights, spices and scenes from home.
Bombay blew up last week, so I’ll take a moment to look back at the city in which I first spoke, stepped and stumbled, and give my thanks for diversity. Because diversity – strength in variety, in commonality and in sharing experiences – is what will pick this city up from last week’s blood-stained memory.
Udayan Tripathi is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.