Mark Alan Hughes
is a Philadelphia writer and the city's director of sustainability
I love Bombay - or
, as most Americans probably know it these days. I have roots in the city through marriage, and I've been visiting since 1986, most recently last summer.
But these days Bombay is a source of heartbreak, as I have watched familiar landmarks burn in a wave of terrorist attacks.
Every time we visited, my family stayed at either the venerable Taj Mahal hotel or the glamorous Oberoi. I've spent hours wandering through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, formerly Victoria Terminus or "VT." One of my fondest memories is asking an usher if my toddler son and I could peek inside the fabulous art deco Metro movie palace. All of these places were assaulted last week.
As many have noted, America and India have much in common as the two largest daughter-democracies of Britain. We are both diverse and chaotic and young and bewildering.
India is such a great destination for American travelers because it is simultaneously exotic and familiar. It's full of spices, colors and sounds most Americans have never experienced, and yet it's an English-speaking democracy where everyone wants to be rich.
I've also enjoyed the similarities between Bombay and Philadelphia over the years. Much as Philadelphia is one of the world's great repositories of 18th-century housing, Bombay features the greatest collection of late-Victorian civic buildings (including VT, but also many others) and art deco apartment buildings that I've ever seen. (It makes Miami's South Beach look like the sticks.)
Bombay's civic buildings were built about when construction began on our City Hall. In both cases, the architecture refers to other people's glories: a British Empire style in Bombay, and a French Empire style in Philadelphia. Until they break through with styles of their own, young countries often look elsewhere for styles powerful enough to express their ambitions.
Walking through the shadowy staircases and pavilions of City Hall always reminds me of Bombay - a faded magnificence available to all who see. The main difference is that the best parts of City Hall - the grand stairways of the north, east and south portals - are now essentially abandoned behind padlocks. In Bombay, meanwhile, every hallway, staircase and lobby teems with people and life.
Bombay is a glorious place, a kindred city we should be proud to stand by. I hope we remember the solace that we enjoyed when the world grieved for us after 9/11 - the singing of the national anthem and the genuine sympathy from all quarters. These days, we are all Mumbaikers.