One of things that I miss in India is calling cities by the names christened by the British. I love cities being called as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. It can be argued that a name does not change anything. Ahem! Name changes everything. Bombay to me died the day it became Mumbai. Bombay was much more secular, patient and accommodating. Mumbai is a city now which is burdened with dreams and strained with the sweat of its people. Continue reading “What’s in the name?”
Dear Kanheri Caves,
Mumbai has always been a paradox to me, and I guess anyone who has lived here will agree with me. There are of course very few places where one would find solace here. Kanheri caves would always hold a special place in special place in heart. While Mumbai is considered as the modern-day city it has Buddhist caves dating back 10 century CE. Somehow these caves still define Mumbai.
If you were to see an ancient city and Mumbai, you would understand the city is not elegant at all. It has haphazard tall skyscrapers and chaotic slums. The suburban Mumbai is filled with unplanned resident buildings. Kanheri caves too are not very elegant structures. They are made of Basalt and nothing compared to Ajanta and Ellora caves, and yet when one sees the caves, they are awestruck.
As I said earlier, Mumbai is mecca of paradigm shift. It is in this cosmopolitan city one will find a shortcut to everything. You may find a shortcut to salvation too. Very few people know that there are still people who convert to Buddhism in Mumbai. People from distant villages travel to Mumbai and convert to Buddhism. The low-caste people find a way to feel like an equal in this city. Little did Buddha know that people would find his way of living as an escape to cruelty.
Amidst the muddled sentiments Kanheri caves stands tall to anyone who seeks amity in this confused era. The caves are away from the human habitation in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. When I first went there all I could think that how can this possibly be here in this city. I climbed up the hill and looked around and I could see the deep green forest. While I ate my energy bar I finally deduced, that sometimes things go well when they are not planed. As I leave this city, I will miss this piece of heaven- a holy cave inside a jungle and amidst eleven million people.
There are many times I have been at the brinks of your shore. Most of the times, I would be having coffee or would be chilling out with my friends. It was two days ago when I sat on the chair with my best friend and we looked at the sea. While looking at the sea, we saw people, people who were walking, sprinting, running, dragging, people who were old, young, pregnant, angry, hyper, poised. All of them had one thing in common. They went on and on like a routine which was compiled by the long stretch of the road. While looking at the sea one of the glaring similarities were the youth. There were the typical high-end breed, the pretentious kids and the shy suburban minorities. Everyone who passed by us spoke about the same things, but in different lingos.
Scene one: An extremely pretty girl passed by us- short skirt, hair tied up and sleeveless shirt. She was jogging. She was a complete diva without an ounce of make-up. A group of guys just sniggered,’Ladki bomb hain’. There was another group who passed and said ‘Man, looks good’ and finally few professionals who passed by just looking at the woman with the corner of their eye. And in a fraction of second, she disappeared and all the boys continued with their normal unchanging lives. The girl probably must have not lingered in any of their minds. Maybe no one would have recognized her if she walked the second time.
Scene two: The girl came back turned around for a second sprint. The group of guys had changed but the comments remained the same. She went back and forth and every time the men around simply commented.
Scene Three: By this time women in their thirties had also started walking faster when they saw the girl. We could see the insecurity seeping in the older women. In general most of the crowd in Mumbai does not care. The women on few benches with their boyfriend started either romancing with their boyfriends more fiercely or simply stared at her. Only one element on the street was disturbing the entire schedule of people around her.
Scene Four: Finally a guy had the guts and started jogging beside her. Everyone secretly looked to see the next move. The guy stopped and said, “Hi, new here?” By his expression we could understand he was expecting rejection. We all assumed she will have thick accent. An accent developed by Indians which is neither British, nor Indian and definitely not American. She stopped and stared for a while. She made a sign language, ‘Can’t speak’. She was mute. The guy looked at her apologetically. “Sorry. I am so sorry, and he disappeared. The girl again continued jogging.
Scene Five: For the next fifteen minutes, whoever had seen the incident had some new-found respect for the girl. The girls with their boyfriend looked at her sympathetically. The older women spoke about her in hushed tones. Everyone seemed to now love the girl. No one conversed with her, no one smiled.
Scene Six: We got up from our seat and thought of having some yoghurt. We passed by new bunch of guys. “Dekh teri bhabhi ja rahi hain”.The girl was still running ahead. Life at carters still unchanged.
I have been travelling in your lap for quite some time. I look at the city through your eyes. The debauched perspective of this city has rather changed over the past six months. They say ‘Your eyes are windows to your soul’. Well, I think the windows are the eyes of Mumbai’s soul.
The daily journey has been quite an adventure for me. Every day I find children, men and women pointing their butt out and having the minor pleasures in life. I sit and count the numbers and sometimes even wonder how many will I see today. Then I like the daily advertisements with ‘wanted women’, ‘wanted students’, ‘make money’ written in bold. I sometimes have the urge to call up these numbers and find out more about the job profile. I like the fact that I see the same woman every day and yet cannot remember any of them.
Just yesterday, I was traveling by train and I hit a woman on her head. We swore at each other and yelled to our hearts’ content. I got pissed and stood near the door. As the train moved from Bhandup to Kanjurmarg, I saw the same small buildings and chawls which I see every day. But I don’t seem to recollect any of them even after passing by them the past ten years. Then when the train halted, I could see dark silhouettes kissing each other though dark window panes. I cooled down a bit, thinking to myself “At least someone is having some fun”. The train continued on its way through the suburbs and I saw the small yellow freckles on huge marshy lands. The freckles must have been the beautiful yellow flowers. I started thinking “What breed are these flowers and is it me only who finds them so beautiful?” And then I felt someone looking at me. I turned back and saw an old school batch mate standing on the other side of the train. We smiled. I had forgotten her name and I am pretty sure she would have done the same too. Now that I think about it, I feel we were in the same scout group. In between my pensive remembrances of school life, the next station came and I saw her getting down. We waved a dubious goodbye. Then I saw the lady who called me ‘Kutti'(dog) getting down at Parel station. By that time we simply looked and acknowledged each other. Now I don’t even remember her face, fight forgotten and forgiven.
So there you are – a complete 45 minute journey. I think the number of emotions that we feel inside your womb is simply exhilarating and sometimes invigorating. You give birth to us every day. We die and are reborn like the phoenix. Only difference is that we take birth from sweat and not from ashes.