Mumbai - A Cosmopolitan City

by Ruby Maloni

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Summary from the Program

Mumbai originally consisted of seven separate islands. These, partly by the silting action of the sea and partly by human agency, have been made into one island, which narrows to a point of rock at Colaba in the southern extremity.

Mumbai has one of the finest harbours in the world. It lies to the east, facing the mainland. According to Prof. M.D. David, if Egypt is the gift of the Nile, Mumbai is the gift of its harbour. The English were the first to recognize its importance. Ovington, A Voyage to Surat as well as Fryer, A New Account of East India and Persia commended it in the 17th century. With revolutionized navigation, ships were of larger dimensions and required greater anchorage and berthing facilities. Mumbai had a channel deep enough for the largest ships to pass. The general absence of naturally protected harbours like Mumbai in the monsoon-lashed Arabian Sea coast was the distinctive feature which favoured the growth of the Bombay port and consequently the city.

The origin of the name "Bombay" may be traced to several theories. One view holds that it is derived from the Portuguese words "Bom" meaning good and "Bahia" meaning bay or harbour. According to tradition, the name "Mumbai" is derived from the name of Mumbadevi, the patron goddess of the Koli fisherfolk, the original inhabitants of the region.


Mumbai has been described not as an indigenous Indian city, but as a cosmopolitan city. It is not a planned city. Its growth has been impulsive and based on the contingencies of the time. In contemporary Mumbai, we find the presence of parallel cities and different worlds in a single space. Juxtapositions exist, of business magnates, the urban poor and rural migrants. But Mumbai is a mirror of the common cause of human enterprise. As a capitalist city, fortune-making mechanisms give Mumbai a natural momentum and dynamism.

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by giles