In the novel Shantaram, Linbaba’s Mumbai is at once a place of glamour and destitution – a place where spectacular wealth and devastating poverty live side by side. This lethal mix cultivates a thriving underbelly that author Gregory David Roberts brings to life.
visitors can find these worlds converging in the area of Colaba, the focal
point of Mumbai’s tourist scene and home to the Taj
Mahal hotel, a target of the 2008 terrorist attacks. “[It]
makes for a great setting where tourists, drug-dealers, gangsters, fishing-folk
and businessmen rub shoulders,” explained tour guide Shriti
Tyagi leads Bookworming Tours of
Mumbai. Her most popular is the Shantaram
Tour, which follows the footsteps of protagonist Lindsay, an Australian convict
who flees to India after breaking out of prison. Arriving in Colaba, Lindsay
befriends a tour guide of his own, Prabhaker, who gives him the nickname
Linbaba. “Foreigners [visiting Colaba] can expect to be accosted by the
Prabhakers of today, offering drugs, accommodation and foreign currency
exchange,” Tyagi said. “Some
things never change!”
Shantaram Tour takes literature lovers through the bustling Colaba Causeway to
the now iconic Leopold Café, where Linbaba
spent much of his time. Leopold’s is often full of expats, tourists, and
locals, some hoping
to run into Roberts, who used to frequent the restaurant himself. Other
stops on the tour include the Colaba Police Station on Mandlik Road, where Linbaba was beaten after being arrested with no warning, and the
seaside neighbourhood of Cuffe Parade, where the slum that Prabhaker called
home sits adjacent to million-dollar high rises.
offers multiple points of view,” Tyagi said. “It has many layers and many micro-cultures.”
This makes it a fascinating place to write about.”
different account of the city comes from Gyan Prakash, an urban historian from
Princeton University. His compendium, Mumbai
Fables, delves into old newspaper articles, novels, academic papers,
tabloids, billboards, even comic books to get to the heart of Mumbai’s history.
It can double as a guidebook, as it describes the fascinating stories behind
such tourist attractions as the Gateway of India, Bollywood’s movie studios and
Prize winning author Rohinton Mistry has also written extensively about Mumbai.
His collection of short stories, Tales
from Firozsha Baag, and his novel, Such
a Long Journey, depict the struggles of working class Parsi communities.
straightforward travel narrative is found in Suketu Mehta’s Maximum
City, the subject of another of Tyagi’s Bookworming Tours. Mehta takes readers on an immigrant’s path through
Mumbai, beginning with the Chatrapati Shivaji railway station. Tyagi’s tour includes stops at Flora
Fountain, Churchgate Station, the Jehangir
Art Gallery and Café Mondegar (located in the Colaba Causeway).
many faces have given the city a strong literary culture. Tyagi said her favourite part about
leading book tours is watching readers interact with a world presented to them
as one author has experienced it. “It is interesting to see how they react when
the imagined reality and the ‘real world’ come face to face.”