Monday, July 31, 2006

Its a tale of three cities.... three cities that have for the past three years been the three legs of the tripod on which I stand and try and take a sneak peak into my future... till now there has been no luck.. I am still peaking and waiting for a vague image to appear.
However getting back to the cities: on a flight between two of them my friend and me hit the nail on the head on what these cities really mean to us.
Bombay: It is a magical city.... I fell in love with the city the moment I set foot in it the first time 10 years back. Unlike other love stories my love for Bombay has never waned... the more I stay there, the more I be want to be with it. The ubiquitous yet non obtrusive buzz that engulfs the city at all times.... is to me reassuring, always convincing me that I am not alone in my trudge back from office at unearthly hours. It tells me that though no one gawks at me and no one tries to invade my privacy in the most blasé and revolting ways possible, at the slightest discomfort I feel the city will come to my rescue. I feel at home.
To be fair to the other two cities, the vast unbound expanse of sea does add to a lot of the charm of the city. When I stand on Marine Drive with my back to the world the roar of waves drowns out all the silly noises in my head and the horizon I can’t see opens up a "sea" of possibilities in my confused mind. When I sit on a Sunday on marine drive with my book I see a mini India pass in front of my eyes. The Gujrati millionaire in his Merc eating bhelpuri by the sea, the wide eyed and overdressed auto wallah and his family from "ajamgarh" on a Sunday outing living the dream that is Bombay for at least that one hour. I also see a vague impression of the now infamous marine drive policeman probably lurking somewhere in my mind. The young groupies with crazy new fangled toys and crazier dreams having an animated conversation, the great Indian middle class family with arguing parents and squirming adolescents. Some athletic and some not so athletic people running with a mission.
And that brings me to the other thing I love about the city its “egalitarianism”. The lifeline of Bombay, the great local train is a testimony to the city's resolve to remain like that forever. Every time I am packed like a sardine with scores of other women I don’t know, as I see the train pull out of the station and cross contiguous blocks of high-rises and chawls I feel like one of the many women who board the train everyday. I cease to be Nandita Sinha and start sharing my journey with the bhaji waali, the sweat of strangers making me squirm uneasily, each station bringing me closer to home and each whiff of fresh air brightening my otherwise arduous journey. The manager, clerk and driver all take the same train; “the same connecting thread” between the otherwise very very diverse two ends of their lives.

But what I love the most about Bombay is that it lets me be. Though my heart belongs to Bombay, the city has never coerced me to belong. With its fair share of lifestyle divas, page 3 wannabes, corporate honchos, struggling artists, the hopeful homeless and the option less expatriate Bombay does its bit to accommodate one and all without the rigid diktat of fitting into a single bill. Bombay has never forced me to become one of many, in the maze that is Bombay I was allowed to assume the contorted shape I wanted to and still fit in perfectly in the mesh. The association was “unconditional”.

I could wax eloquently about the city I love, the quite walks in the sub-lanes of Marine lines, the innumerable vada pavs that have helped me get over hunger, depression and banality as the occasion demands, the anxious yet comfortable late night taxi rides, the late night conversations at Leopold, the random chats in my laughable bhojpuri with taxi wallahs, the frivolous weekends at Phoenix Mills, the brilliant plays at NCPA and the highly over rated music at “Not just Jazz by the Bay”, but its time to state the obvious now.

Bombay to me is the “paramour” you love, you have a crush on, you want, but you can never have. Even the grossest negatives become elements of adoration. There is always electricity and a vibrant spark in the relationship that comes and lights up your life for very brief moments of time but also a lingering sadness about the lack of longevity of the relationship. Every other relationship fades in oblivion while you are with that special someone. The twists of fate bring you face to face with your “paramour” time and again.. each time you leave with a steely resolve never to come back but as fate (and I suspect your own love) may have it you are thrown into his arms right back. Your pararmour doesn’t judge you, he lets you be , celebrates the unique quirks, encourages your strange tastes. The relationship is uncomfortable and defies all logic yet its addictive. Your paramour never laughs at you but laughs and even cries with you. Your paramour lets you go…. Never forces you to come back but welcomes you back (for however short the time) with an open heart.

That my friends (and also strangers) is what Bombay means to me.. I have spent a better part of the hour raving about my love and I desperately need to get back to my job.. but as I promised it is a tale of three cities.. I will be back with the other two. You may choose not to.