In many movies old and new, like the Raj Kapoor classic Shree 420, the theme mostly is of the village youth arriving in the big city to find a job and chase his dreams. In Shree 420, Raj Kapoor as Raju asks a beggar in Bombay why no one listens to him: “Is everyone deaf in Bombay?” The beggar replies: “Deaf and blind. They hear nothing but the jingling of money. This is Bombay, my brother, Bombay. Here the buildings are made of cement and the heart of stone.”
This pithy scene and dialogue could be true of any city in the world, then and now. The city is where people go to change their lives. “Playing on the classic nationalist exaltation of the village and the representation of the city as corrupting and alien, Raj becomes a cardsharp. He conquers the city with the tricks that it teaches him and enters a world of wealth and glamour,” US-based academic Gyan Prakash writes in the terrific history of the city, Mumbai Fables.
Cities have for long been places to go to or aspire to go to. The village on the other hand, despite its salubrious climate, its rural idyll and its memories of innocence and joy, is something to be left behind. This is the what modernity has done to us in a process starting in the mid-nineteenth century.
So the city grew out of all proportions and became the engine room of modernity which drove society and countries forward, unimaginably. The city is where everything was planned and made. The city taught us to be incredibly rich and that is at the root of the success of the city. “The jingling of money”, as the beggar in Shree 420 says.
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