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