N spent six important years of his life in Bombay; I say important because, those last few years leading up to 23 marks your entire outlook to life. It moulds you and sets you up for the rest of it and there is little your mindset can change after that! And even though I may never confess to him, I totally envy him for having spent those years in the clamorous city with a labyrinth of secrets. For, I am sure, I may never be able to live there hence and in a way I am glad she will remain my fascination and passion from a distance as I have always held her all my life!
All this coming from a girl who believes she is a part mallu, part hyderabadi and part chennaite might be sacrilegious to a staunch bombayaite I bet! My passion comes a lot from appa, who having spent a good part of his traveling job in Pune, can banter like a local in marathi; appa and amma have also told me wonderful little tales about their life as newly weds in Pune and a rural beautiful place called janjira murud, by the coast. I for one have never visited their adobe in Pune nor been to janjira murud. But I have vivid images of the aayi who made chapatis to the height of a drum everyday and the farmers who came for loan to appa’s office, all like reading RK Narayan’s description of malgudi’s characters.
So when did all this stem to a fascination for Bombay you ask? Amidst these tales, appa once told me about a man he knew who was one of the many wayfarers who traveled the Pune-Bombay stretch for work. He owing to obdurate love for Bombay always sat facing Bombay-wards in the train. Something so subtle and even comic at many levels, it had struck a chord. What is it that this city does to its cohorts, it made me wonder?
That is when I began my quest to figure Bombay at all levels. You are not in the dark; there is a myriad of literature and movies to kindle that type of quest. But I chose to hear about it from the people I knew or read their experiences. I heard tales of someone being caught in the mad rush within the ladies-compartment for she didn’t know how to push aside when her stop came other than whisper a little “excuse me”, a cousin who when followed by thugs ran for his life, of someone who spent fourteen hours walking to get home on a monsoon evening.
I have devoured Bombay through the eyes of these anecdotes. I have also preserved the glimpses I have had when I visited her; the typical Bombay experiences of bhel puri and vada paav at andheri station, amazed at the ever bright full of life suburb like mulund even at 12 am, standing in “line” for Best Bus.. being stuck in traffic for over five hours to get to VT, gawking at nareman point, of taking pictures and loving the Taj building even more than the gateway of India, being almost touched up by a hijda while traveling in the auto and how my cousin prompted me to hold a namaste to let him pass and that strange feeling that still wells up when i remember the miles of blue plastic sheets that form a view to anyone landing at the shivaji airport; it is as if poverty put its foot down and wasn’t afraid to stay forever!
Similar passions were kindled last night watching Dobhi Ghat. A typical Bombayite felt the movie showed the underbelly and bad neighbourhoods as i heard from whispers around me, similar to reactions from slumdog millionaire. But to someone who is still holding Bombay at the bewitched levels, I felt the movie was a treat. As I watched the nuances unfold in the form of the rat killers who keep the city clean and outgrowing into a plague, the perfume seller merchants, the street food during muslim festivals, it was as if the stories I heard from N and others were coming together in front of my eyes.
I watched with awe on how he hinted at the bored house wives’ sex drives, meticulous sorting minds of the Dhobis who without any excel sheets and the rest remember which clothes come from where and go where, of the sultry neighborhoods and unrelenting rains, of disparity between the rich and poor that was almost fluid. And just like the aayi who never talks, but watches it all, the movie sends the message many many novels and movies before have – for a city giving space and dreams to billions, she cannot stop to care for anyone or anything anymore. For she is her people – wicked and passionate and nothing can stop her from moving on…….
Until next time… when N has a promised me a trip this summer to Bombay for a few days and I hope another post beckons !!