Decades back during my stay in Kolkata, we used to run away from the city during Puja holidays. Once it was to the lush green hillocks of Jamshedpur another time it was to Digha, the sea-resort, a few kilometers away from the main city. I still carry the jungle fragrance with me from the hills but my first love shall always be the salt spray of the seas. The long stretches of shore knew my footsteps by heart, the roars of the waves filled my eardrums, the murmur of the breeze was caught in my saree pleats and the dark stooping clouds peered into my eyes like stern preachers of austere habits.
The next rendezvous was in Goa where I once again was enchanted by the enigma of the turquoise waves dancing in rhythmic unison. And then there was a lull for years when my eyes could only scan dead landscape of people marooned in their own islands of isolation, solitary in crowd and gregarious in silence.
Years I defied the inner spirit of a vagabond. Years I locked myself up in the cold, distant, sky-less dungeon of an attic. Then a sudden spurt of sunshine. And I was again free like a soaring bird heading towards the blue expanse.
This time Mumbai.
Mumbai – the City of Dreams.
It is also the city which eyes you like a total stranger, a little contemptuous, a little distasteful and a little wary. The Best Buses, the all-powerful locals, the bewildered novice of a metro and the curving, sinewy sea-link, its imposing frame dauntless in stance standing tall over the sea bed calm on the surface raging underneath. Its sturdy pillars entrenched deep into the bottomless depths. Man can really work wonders if given to proving their might taunting Nature and grimacing at God!!
After a chaotic rush against time I board the aircraft, stretch my legs in the little space provided between the rows of seats so closely placed one after the other and promptly go to sleep! Wake up a little while after and smile at my own self. Am I the same who couldn’t move her limbs or turn her head to either side without getting a terrible bout of vertigo and nausea the first time I experienced a flight taking off or touching down! That was half a decade back. Life pampers you not without a jolt here and there. Once startled out of that suffocating clutch of dread, you know you’ve won over another enemy inside you – your own self-created diffidence!!
At Mumbai airport, it is pretty much the same – luggage gliding down the conveyer belt, a sudden recognition and a quick haul before it skirts past you….a few steps more and you are out of that diving board positioned on the tarmac within the bowels of a modern architecture of brick and mortar and endless corridors of swift strides and impatient carriage, the only difference being on this slim plank you are volleyed straight up in the air and not splashing down into the cool bosom of the all-enduring liquefied Mother Earth!!
Outside, my nephew refuses to recognize me, “Where have you left your girth?” He asks smilingly. I feel like breaking into a desi-rumba when I glimpse that appreciative awe mirrored in his eyes. He reverses his shining black chariot as I sink in the plush comfort while the maestro’s sonorous voice serenades in an intricate taan in Raag Hansadhwani; the sun, now bleak in grandeur, winks knowingly before retiring to the west wing of his sprawling indigo mansion now brushed with pale violet, dim orange and a raucous red, quite out of place, in that palette of receding colours.
His house is on an unnamed hill. The road goes lopping in and around and then a dash up the incline making me giddy. Then suddenly a dead end. Home! At last!! We spend the evening watching TV and exchanging notes sporadically.
“Auntie takes too much tension!” He drawls without opening his slumber-glued eyes. The allusion is to the innumerable calls that Nil……has already and about to make since she is pretty sure that the city is going to gulp me down as soon as I take to the roads. I attempt at bravado, “You know I am a Delhiwali (the wickedest place on the globe) and have travelled far and wide (all bullshit, have always been a home birdie!!); I’ll be able to make it.” “Have you ever been to this city before?” She sounds stern. “No,” I confess, “But don’t worry.” Again that brazen self-confidence which I don’t normally feel deep inside. Yet….I think it has something to do with the fact that her flat is on the sea-face and am over-excited to have a glimpse of the blue.
The auto-ride is fun and expensive. And as usual the driver breaks into a friendly chat. Why is it that everyone finds me so approachable? Perhaps, it’s got to do with the expression on my face. The auntie-next-door!! I surmise. He tells me not to be too late as it is the Ganapati Visarjan day. I make a mental note to come back home early.
With the ring of the bell, I hear hurried steps towards the door. A moment later I am lovingly ushered into the most aesthetically cluttered living room that I have ever found myself in my life (Sorry! Was too mesmerized to take a pic :( ) . Surrounded by priceless artifacts collected all over the world, the ornate décor flows seamlessly into a covered balcony overlooking the Arabian Sea. But what’s this?
I stare dumbfounded at the blue sky arching into an ever-stretching bed of dark, restless, muddied waves.
“Where’s the blue gone?” I cry in astonishment and anguish.
“Oh! It’s the pollutants which have lent their hue to the endlessness.” Came the unperturbed reply.
The sumptuous breakfast which is laid after a while is a nutritionist’s delight – a bowl of boiled Moong Dal with crispy multigrain toasts coupled with several helpings of delicious Saabu Daane kii Khichdi with a big, hot mug of green tea to sooth the palate.
A long walk down memory lane thereafter and I bid goodbye to my friend with a promise to reunite again in some other city some other time.
Such is Life…
My nephew hurries me up, “Evening in Powai! Get ready.” We cruise down the not-so-congested highway past the Powai Lake where a few of the deities are ready to be estranged from their ardent devotees. I remind my nephew that we have to be back home in time to avoid the maddening rush of the immersion ceremony. He shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, “That’s way into the evening.”
Powai showcases the upbeat Mumbai. Broad undulating roads flanked by malls and glitzy outlets of the latest brands in town. But we drive past these and enter into a kind of a desolate heritage building which reminds me of those run-down medieval churches. Parking the car on the ground floor we walk up to the first to find a sprawling market heavily dotted with interesting food joints. “You get lovely maachh bhaaja (fish fries Bong style) here. Ilish, Pomfret, Bhetki… ” I am awed. Miles away from the Eastern hub we get what we crave for the most. It is at Hanglaa’s (the Bong word for gluttony) that we get our fries packed and walk down to have chilled lime ice soda at KFC crossing over to the other side of the road.
Our chariot swerves homewards just as the benign sky takes on a duller shade of greyish blue. Oh! Do I miss out on the name of the structure that stands tall and proud at the main crossing housing the local bazaar redolent with fish smells and noisy with cheerful chirps of weekending men, women and youngsters?
Wee hours of the morning! Am wide awake excitement surging up my veins. Though Ola makes me fret for a few hours by refusing to provide a suitable vehicle to transport an impatient traveler from Goregaon to Navi Mumbai, however, I don’t allow my buoyant mood to deflate.
It’s tennish that I finally relax inside the comfort of the four wheeler careening through peak-time traffic towards the outskirts of the city.
An hour and a half later I am watching spellbound the range of green hills fringing the sunlit skyline.
A spectacle unexpectedly serene and beautiful!!
Four or five? I know not the count. The stars are immaterial. Ibis, to my sensory perception, is posh, plush, caters to a niche clientage and lavish in its meal spread. But what is priceless is the bonding of three lone orbiters after light years. Three and a half decades is more than an epoch for a human life span. But we meet as though we were never separated. We laugh, talk and make merry till we forget that we have to lose ourselves again in the concrete jungle of urban survival.
Two days seem like a lifetime….
Every moment is history that we chronicle with our hearts moulded in love and joy. The will to live is exponentially compounded as we bask in our newly rejuvenated togetherness.
The three Musketeers. The three childhood mates. We scour the malls, gorge on fast foods, shop till we drop and share the untasted chunks of sweet and sour delicacies of the past when we had been strangers to each other’s happinesses and sorrows, without a choice, of course!
Parting is poignant. So is togetherness when we know it is short-spanned.
But we make up for the ephemerality of everything by making those nano-moments memorable. When we hold hands and sing in chorus, “Puraano shei diner katha bhoolbii kii re haai …” (Shall we forget those days of yore…)
And the silence in the room echoes, “Encore! Encore!”
Two more days in Mumbai.
Restive. Boring. Caged.
Am not used to lonely living.
I pray I don’t have to anytime in future.
We are again on road.
Dawn is yet to spread its smile over the shrouded face of Mother Earth.
Streetlights are still on.
The roads are empty.
And the booming mellifluousness of the maestro renditions a wishful chant to bring in a glorious morn.
The Bandra-Worli Sea Link that connects the Eastern and the Western parts of the city is a grand manifestation of human engineering and expertise. It’s impressive diamond shaped pylons bear down on us as we speed through the cable stayed bridge. On our left are the tall columns of sky scrapers rising up along the seascape. What wonders man can achieve if he is not given to destruction!!
A quick tour of the city. The helmet clad cycle riders, the morning walkers, the regular temple goers…the health freaks and the beach scouts. We breeze past Marine Drive.
The Gateway of India loses its charm in broad daylight.
A reverent salute past Siddhi Vinayak Temple…
Mahalakshmi Temple….the sea waves crash onto the boulders behind the sanctum sanctorum as the sun pours down its blessings on the city line.
Haji Ali…. an oasis of divinity paying obeisance to the sea.
Once again I try to figure out the love-hate relation that I nurture for this City of Dreams. The old world charm preserved alongside the jet-fast razzmatazz of a buzzing metropolis. The simmering underbelly of organized crime and the mirage-like magnetism of the tinsel town. Sapnon ka shahar indeed! A city which lures as much as it leads you astray. The dwellers wrapped in themselves and running against time.
Will I ever wish to come back where I feel not so comfortable and less confident?
Time will tell…
Later in the day the airport raises my heckles.
The unfriendly counter girls, the apathetic security, the congestion of fliers.
Someone informs that a second airport is under construction near Navi Mumbai to divert the traffic.
I am optimisticthat the next time we come to meet R we’ll take a flight straight to the suburbs so as not to lose on time..
Plans for the future up our enthue and add to our vision. Certitude is the greatest figment of human imagination.
Yet we cherish hopes …
Hopes to meet again
(Excuse the pics….compromised on sharpness as most of them clicked from moving vehicle :( )