Coming back to Mumbai after ten years(2006 to 2016 I was away), I have wondered about my earlier stay in Mumbai form 2003 to 2005.
Ghettoed in a residential community that celebrated Durga puja, Navratri, Ganesh Chaturthi with equal fervour and buzz of cultural activities, I had spent my earlier two years in Mumbai like a Ghar-ki-Lakshmi who was too caught up in her own world to have time for any conisderation about the world outside. Everything seemed provided for and offered on platters, where I was the important busy-bee of the house doing groceries, getting kids to behave and grow up at the same time(no mean feat) and attuning myself to habits of cranky and strictly disciplined moods of elders in family, giving the marriage a bubble-of-happiness sense of existence.Then I left for foreign lands and Mumbai’s was a happily forgotten existence.
For the ten years interim I was not here I have one line to give–‘topsy-turvy turns life in face of freedom’–first fun, then passionate, then mad, and finally anarchy sets in. If apocalypse can be prevented, life goes on.
My return, with new eyes and aesthetics, make me look at Mumbai like a place I want to run away from into the lap of nature in a better planned city like Kochi, where I was; or Accra, with its protected, privileged life, where rains were fresh, plenty and absorbed in souls as much as by the good earth. In Mumbai I fear the rains–‘where will the waters run, where will they find absorption, where is the sea that welcomes the rivulets with paperboats, why is it so forlorn and withdrawn?’. As I commute, often the grey concrete landscape, much maligned in its browned existence, walls up my open ended approach to life and hardens my raw kindness even before it can ripen.
Then I spy a woman on a pavement, arranging and re-arranging bottles and polythenes, strange rejected paraphernalia on her 2ft by 2ft plastic sheet that she perhaps calls her home–‘a roofless, wall-less home with a dirty tiled pavement (which is public property) as hard ground reality and a torn plastic sheet with reject plastic or rusted metal materials as possessions’. Nearby, her man(if it is her man) sits drowsing with his skewed neck position on a three wheeler wheel-chair,a handicapped fellow who in the daytime may be peddling stuff or begging alms. Then, as the taxi jerks and makes its way through winding traffic I spot a couple of friends eating on a pavement from a newspaper discussing what the weather would be like tomorrow perhaps? Fit for labour and daily wages or not? I see some attempts at beautifying the city with art installations, plantations under by-passes, bridges, at traffic signals etc. The bridges shiver once in a while with firecrackers bursting in chawls under them and rising in dust and smoke to announce the underlings existence and small happiness in survival. The taxi driver harrasses me a bit by trying to transfer me into an auto or asking me a bit more than the deserved fare complaining of private cab organizations taking over the city.I, being a non earning member of the family, do harangue them for the extra charge but cannot help feeling guilty when riding the posh lift up to my home, worrying where they disappear into that night–the pavement dwellers and taxi or autorickshaw drivers, to mop off their sweat of disapproval about our privileged existence.
This Mumbai that I notice this time makes me want to change it, to visualise a better, greener future for it, to adopt it in my mind’s womb and invite a spring season for it that wipes off the dust of despair on the trees lining the foreground of my window’s view. Looking downcast, these trees and shrubs still flower orange, yellow and white as if to reinforce my hopes of better days planned for the city by people with visions that match an artist’s tastes and an activist’s sense of duty.The first step is writing about it. The next dreaming about it. The thrid motivating. The fourth mobilising. The next flowering. The final fructifying.
I want to dream of a Mumbai lined with fruit trees–jamun trees, mango trees, avocado trees, lemon trees, coconut trees, banana trees, papaya trees, gauva trees and olive trees. If there is no oil under the ground let there be oil in the trees to run this city of dreams; if there is no sweetness in people’s hearts in this rush hour traffic of human workers let there be sweetness on trees in this city’s small pockets of the good earth. Tongue-in-cheek ;-p “I hope I can rope in a ‘mota assami’ for realizing this dream of mine” 😉