The City

It speaks a little of how much it has been on my mind that two consecutive posts are about the same thing. In a way. Is Bombay just overwhelming me? Or is it just that my love for it makes me want to talk about it, but I feel that most people don’t see what I see. 

I wrote here, some time back about how Bombay was a bubble, which helps you forget what the real India is like. 

True to my form, this post will probably take a completely different side. 

I have been feeling this city a lot of late. Maybe it is because driving around it is such a different experience. I can feel the roads, feel the tarmac, the bumps, the repaired bits, the potholes – the skin. I can feel the warm, wet wind as flies past my face and through my hair. I can see all these buildings, and trees. And they all speak to me. The dirt lined windows of some, their architecture, their shabby, making-ends-meet grayness; the hollow, artificial  spiritually empty gaudiness of others, glistening towers in homage to how cities are built – over the graves and homes and gardens of those who have either gone, or surrendered to the economy. The curtains and their patterns. The pigeons. The sea, sometimes gray, sometimes blue-green. The policemen, everywhere the policemen. Some visible, some invisible. Marking us, watching us, herding us. Or are we herding them?

And then there is the night. With its yellow light, and the streets empty of prostitutes, just as it is empty of road-side booksellers. 

And the homeless, inspiring in their will to survive. Eking out a permanent existence in the slave-ship to nowhere. With the children’s eyes empty when they look at me, already masters of their emotion. I was too young to know much from much when I first got here. I would take the 83 BEST from Nanachowk to A-Road. And the buses that plied that route helped me befriend what was then to me a terrifyingly giant scape. 

But even then I recognised what this city was. A city on the brink of a giant upheaval. Something that has been coming a long time, and when it does, the earth will shudder and rattle. A city hanging on by the thread of production – giving them just enough to do everyday, and the day after that, to keep them from being able to rise above it. A city happy to have people leave it, only to lighten the air, except not enough do. Our collective memories hold it together and we refuse to let go. Of 26/11, of ’91, of the everyday pain of seeing the invisible ghetto walls get higher and higher. In the vicious circle of communal hatred and retribution, which sees our unborn children pledged to the war. Of the stories of parents who torture their own little babies to death, and we all read about it in the next morning’s tabloids. Of the fragility of the safety we offer not just our women and children, but everyone who is just a little disadvantaged in some way or the other. Of doctors who do what they can to ‘survive’ while Hippocrates is long forgot. Of ‘co-operative societies’ and ‘housewives’ who uphold the moral integrity of the Later Vedic Age with all its virtue, tolerance and piety. Because like every dictator and Mad Kind, the followers who only do what they have learnt is their ‘duty’ that are the most violent and oppressive. 

And yet the opposites exist. Love, manifest everywhere. If you know where to look and how to see. Patience, kindness and tolerance. 

Like most people around me, my own life and its experiences is what I feel the city to be. So for me, it is the city of hope, of progress, of sweat and toil, but equal reward. Of peoples and conversation unlike anything else before. 

But that does not mean I cannot feel. And the wails grow louder every night. 

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