Excerpts from Chapter 3 – Modern Gods
‘How much, into church?’ I’ve never been certain with bribes. ‘As you like sir,’ the set piece response. I stall by fumbling with the money in my hand. The lady stares at me, then our cameras; obviously professional, obviously expensive. I stare at her keys, chance it, and give her Rs. 200. She stalls by fumbling with the money in her hand.
I’m tired. I don’t like this system. ‘More?’ I ask, my sigh echoing loudly round the church. ‘More? Rs. 200 more? Double?’ She smiles. I stuff the two blue bills into the Plexiglas collection box. She scowls and shuffles down towards the Alter. For the first time in my life I hope God is watching.
‘…sorry guys, but 5 minutes to go yaar?’ A runner has been cutting in all evening. It feels like an attempt to validate importance, his or the venue’s I’m not quite sure, and I am cynical in defense. Every table notices, every time, and joins Mumbai’s chorus of envy and disapproval.
Nerm disappears to the bar, whilst D Code and I talk to an MTV producer about dance music and my jaded old promoter opinions. ‘There’s no better city for alternative music right now. I mean, we have 25million people here. If we can reach only 1%, that’s enough for a Glastonbury festival. Right?’ I nod, at the truth of it and the obvious English comparison. Festivals are ‘the next big market’ in India’s events scene, and he’s right. Although 1% of Mumbai would fill Glastonbury twice.
Mumbai is built on old money, and maintained by those who protect it. Originally a dowry gift to Charles II, for marrying Catherine of Braganza, Mumbai’s coastal position made it an important port for trade. Trade, that along with the Opium Wars in South East Asia, enabled the British to establish their Empire.
Modern living deals in different commodities: politics, celebrity, communications and finance. And whilst the semantics of power remain the same, those who enjoy it can be radically different. Mumbai has a bigger film industry than Hollywood and more banks than Shanghai. From billionaires to bus boys, its home to some of the world’s richest and poorest.