Hey, Sweetheart!

People who go on about the city and have an unconditional love for Mumbai must be blind. Or just plain insane. Even careless, perhaps.

All the people who easily notice the squalor and shortcomings of this city must be thinking that. They must be thinking that about me.

Stay in a city in the developed world long enough to get even slightly used to its standard of living, and it is easier to relate with those who bash Mumbai about every thing that is amiss in this city.

There are many things wrong with this city – I won’t get into those – many have carefully analysed all those shortcomings. Traffic, weather, crowds, slums, roads, culture – bring in whatever – there is some issue with it all. I recently even read about the Mumbai class divide – as divided by the local trains; well presented. All has been highlighted and spotlighted. Even the media loves it all – when there is a lull in Delhi, Mumbai takes the brunt of the journalist’s enthusiasm to bare it all.

I finished reading Sacred Gamesa day before I was to come back to the city. Shantaram came to mind as I finished the book and wrote about it, hoping it will pass off as a review. Both these books had one character that wasn’t officially credited, yet it figured prominently in both the books. Shantaram described the smell of Mumbai when he landed here:

I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s a sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love.

I never noticed that smell, or any smell for that matter, in the city in this overtly philosophical manner. Perhaps, my olfactory nerves had been dulled by the constant fumes of all that this city can smell or reek of. I gave it a shot this time. I remembered to tune up my nose for when I landed. As soon as I landed out on the ramp, I took in a few deep breaths. Nope. No difference. Even after having spent more than four months in London. Hate, love, greed, perspiration – nothing.

Yet the squalor that most people, unfortunately, notice as the first thing about the city was obvious. After the four months, i.e. I noticed it, felt it jarring my sight, which had otherwise been used to some order and predictability of what you might see in a city.

There is, of course, much more to Mumbai than all of this and I won’t talk of the spirit of the city – which has been done to death (and yet survives).

While I didn’t smell anything esoteric on the ramp, in the immigration counters, or even as a stepped outside, I did feel love – like a huge bear-hug that envelops you in itself, have you ever had one of those? When you can’t see beyond the shoulder that your cheek rests on, when tears flow as a result of the constriction of the hug, when the heart behaves as it has never before, randomly beating and missing its litany as if it doesn’t know how to react to this new-found situation, when you don’t feel like slowly releasing the hug – wishing you could stay in that-a-way forever.

Feeling the love. The love that happens after a long courtship, yet not the teasing kind. The one that promises to stay true without making any overt romantic promises. That one love that will die only when your heart stops beating.

And you see that I fall in the same trap – attempting to cook philosophical mush by pouring in word spice to describe such an overwhelming and surrounding feeling. Words are treacherous – they confine you to a small world and put blinders and make you see one side of the story.

I would never be able to write a book about this city. I never experience anything so esoterically fine that I can describe as a characteristic. I don’t feel the throbbing of its heart resonating with mine.

I carry the city in my heart. It lives in my soul.

Related post: Hey Sweetheart – II


16 thoughts on “Hey, Sweetheart!

  1. “I carry the city in my heart. It lives in my soul.”

    Perfect ending to a post and an even perfect statement to hold on to in the love for the city…. cheers!


  2. the degree of love and hate for the city varies with the hour of the day. i have often found myself oscillating between being acerbic and romantic in a span of 6 hours.

    yesterday an old gentleman, a complete stranger, gave me a lift from worli to bandra. when i thanked him, he just waved and said, “i was looking for someone to talk to.”

    what can i say really?

    p.s. whats with the abbreviations left on my blog?
    f? cr? sorry i am on a dull note today.


  3. Echo your sentiments totally! I curse the city, abuse it vilely when I stumble at every step. But I look forward to come back here whenever I go out. I dream of changes that could happen to the city. But this is a city of contradictions, a city where nothing is really impossible. This is where I have been my happiest and where I have been at my worst. For this is home, this is where I am myself.


  4. its the way we see things. one can keep finding faults with this city or that.

    strongely for me, though i’ve lived the most part of my life in one place, i haven’t developed a special fondness for it. i don’t mean that i don’t like it – only, i like it as much as any other place.

    great post, as always. if they had a blogger award, i’d give it to you 🙂


  5. You’ve sold me on “Sacred Games” but I don’t know about Mumbai. As always, your writing is beautiful and evokes pictures in the mind.


    Peace, love and understanding.


  6. ==EU:
    Hehe. Didn’t mean to make you feel homesick. You think I use ‘em words well? Nah – them – they elude me – them are very cruel to me!

    Who would know better – you are the closest to her heart! Cheers and waiting for bloody August to end!!!

    Hour? Minutes!
    If anyone ever wanted to know the meaning of a love-hate relationship – this is the place. Her love is the ultimate test of your commitment – to yourself!

    Say it! You are learning this city – her nuances and her charms? 🙂

    PS: F is obvious – CR = chuppa rustom!

    Nice to have you back and how! Guess the city called you here? 🙂

    It does bring out the real human in us – I have loved and hated myself for it – but never the city. Each pothole is a reminder of smooth roads that “are” possible smooth roads and every expression is a reminder of how the world is becoming a difficult place to be in. In spite of everything, this honourable soldier of cities will fall last.

    You said it best – it allows you to be yourself – that is the gift of the true city!

    *bows* @ award – taken with all humility. I share this award with her however, if I had never moved out of the sleepy city where I studied – I would have never known who I am. She helped me know me. In a way – any place is like this – but only she can “evoke” that feeling in you. And, no, a one night stand with her doesn’t help knowing her – be prepared for a long drawn affair. You won’t leave after that. And mind you, she won’t let you down either



  7. ==Ruby:
    See the comments above? See how these ppl feel abt it? Even if I am not in Mumbai – ask any of these – they will show you, and talk to you of the true Mumbai. It is almost a religion.

    The believers, them.

    May every city, town and village be able to speak with you – remember to ask the right questions. 🙂

    I hope that peace envelops you! TC


  8. Pingback: Hey Sweetheart - II « Gaizabonts
  9. I must respectfully disagree with your post. I grew up in Mumbai, and am back in it now after years in Delhi and the US. I once adored the city, but no longer see why anyone should live in it if they have a choice. There is not an effective rubbish removal system in place (even the Harappans had that one figured out). Unrestrained construction has made the suburbs flood-prone in the last five years. The air has turned steadily more brown during the same period. A 2 km drive often takes 45 minutes. In such conditions, an 800 sq ft flat in an unfashionable suburb costs a quarter of a million dollars (with no guarantee of water in the taps round the clock). Not much left to romanticize, even!


  10. ==Moe:
    Welcome to Gaizabonts!

    And rest assured, your disagreement is well-respected. A friend recently sent a postcard from Cairo with a PS, “Cairo is another city that shouldn’t work, but does.”

    There are possibly more severe problems in Mumbai (which I haven’t delved into, in the post), yet somehow, I am unable to come to have a level of dislike for the city. Not to imply that I am blind to or support some of the things you mention in your comment, but I guess, love, in that respect is blind.

    To love a city for it’s cleanliness and order is a one thing. To be able to bond with a city in spite of its obvious shortcomings, another, altogether.

    Singapore city is a good example. 🙂


  11. Atul, You are right, it would be too difficult to write a book about the city. What comes up is always something that has already been said, larger-than-life characters, the bizarre. It’s hard to write something really, really true about this crazy place. You have managed to do it with some restraint in your wonderful post.


  12. Pingback: Halt Station India; Rajendra B. Aklekar | Been There, Read It, Seen That, Ate It

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