“It’s Mumbai friend, etc etc etc.” say the politically correct persons I meet everyday.
There was a time I thought I liked this place – the blinding lights in the distance and the rush and screaming all over draped in smoke coming out of the sidewalk – it had its pulse rooted in discipline. Trains here were full to the brim with people, everyone moving in their own direction come rain or heat putting good old Chicago to shame with its gigantic lines spread in a labyrinth running through the heart of the city. It wasn’t difficult to say I enjoyed every bit of it as long as my wallet wasn’t picked during the long journey.
Then there was the question of the romanticism attached to the city, one look at The Gateway of India and I was floored, my relative’s sea facing flat on Bhulabhai Desai road brought me back to the old colonial era that deserves the documentation it gets. Wooden floors and high rise ceilings – throw in a chandelier and Bob’s your uncle. The Taj hotel looked so intimidating, I dared not enter in the fear of soiling the property with my dusty clothes and shoes. A long, long journey.
Back in the 9th grade in school, I discovered a different picture of the city through Rohinton Mistry’s writing – Such a Long Journey. At this writing, I am re-reading this and it makes me feel the way I felt when I first read it. My colonial school architecture comes to mind as the memory stands out sitting on huge stairs imaging what was Mistry’s version of Bombai, with its narrow lanes and gigantic freeways. Rooms with dusty books strewn all over, waiting for the year’s monsoon to come wash away their pain, and the bright bright sky everyday that turns purple in the evening – indeed a long journey from the slow life of Calcutta.
On one of my previous visits, my friend took me to Hajji Ali – the tomb of Pir Hajji Ali Shah Bukhari on the pretext of curiosity. I was told that my last life had something to do with the place, what more does a writer want to hear? It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my adolescent life. Quickly forgotten, a year later at one of the lowest points of my life I woke up before dawn.
It was going to be a sprint to the tape, a long long journey back to university for a 9 am class and I was as dark as the sky, desolate and mundane. Suddenly, as twilight approached I heard the dutiful call for azaan – I wept. Bombay was up to its tricks once again. Coming from a born “Hindu Brahmin” who denounced religion all his life, it meant something in the greater scheme of things. It was a sign that everything would be OK in the end. The snow does melt and summer does come – it was like being reborn magically – comforting and whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
Such a long journey indeed.
Late into night I sit, neck jarred like a pickle jar that refuses to open. The TV runs in the hall but I can’t hear. There is something special in the air in this city – just that it’s difficult to put a finger on it. Things that Bombay teaches you – after a point let go of emotion and and be practical. Sigh, I’m getting old.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey…
– T.S.Eliot, The Journey of the Magi