Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's a cliche for a reason

The Bombay spirit.

It's a cliche because it has become a desensitized phrase make us Mumbai people look like roaches. Oh look! They'll survive everything. Yet...

Today, there were blasts at Dadar, Opera House, Zaveri Bazaar. At the time of the blasts, I was close to Dadar with a friend. We'd spent a splendid day in town, collected our freelance moolah (always a day of joy) and then spontaneously decided to do a few things. We tried out a new restaurant near Phoenix Mills called China Land. My vegetable wonton soup was quite nice but the starters, Peppery Tofu, was brilliant. It was soft and smoky with some really interestic flavors. I think smoked garlic with coarsely crushed peppercorn.

After that, we caught 'Delhi Belly' at PVR. We then we walked through Worli village to get to Worli Seaface and saw this beautiful little garden we had noticed before. We sat by the sea, our back to the splendid sea-link and talked for hours. Then we got close to Dadar, got into a small Udipi and got our snacky fix. Medu wada doused in sambar and really good chutney and two cups of kadak chai.

Suddenly the murmur around us got thicker with names like Opera House being bandied about. "Arrey, it was here in Dadar also", someone else said. I felt some kind of alarm build up in my stomach. I had a sense of what they were talking about. That's why I craned to look out the window. I was hoping, sorely hoping, they'd be talking about incessant rain somewhere and trains running late. But it was drizzling lightly.

So I turned to the man next to me and asked him to confirm what I was saying. My friend had this expression in her eyes that suggested it has happened again. The man told me about the blasts.

Within 30 minutes, we were in a bus going to Bandra. My friend would take the train to Mira Road. I would take the bus to Vashi. In the restaurant and in the buses, people were freely offering phones to strangers to make a call. My Reliance Network was surprisingly working. (It doesn't when I have to return an important call to a client but well...) In the bus, men promptly stand up and vacate the Ladies Seat they inappropriately occupy. The conductor continues to crib about no-one giving him any change. And then the bus takes a route quite close to the kabootar khana area in Dadar. That area is cordoned off because blasts have taken place there. Poeple have spilt blood there. People have died there.

But in the lane right next to it - not in a suburb far away, not 25 days later - right next to the affected area within 30 minutes of the blast, people have gathered around showrooms with TV screens watching the news. Some people are snacking in restaurants there. A vada pav stall does brisk business while giving spicy tidbits, I imagine, of how loud the blast was, whether he had an inkling about it, etc. The traffic was under control. In the bus, calls were being received from frantic family and friends. The response was, "Yes. I was there or I wasn't there exactly and Don't worry, re. I'll reach home aaraam se."

And my friend and I did reach home. Aaraam se. Taking in the liquid streams of traffic against the pale purple nightsky. Talking to the person next to us, maybe. Sharing news of the earlier blasts maybe. Giving confusing information about ways to get home to people unfamiliar with the city. Quarelling with a co-passenger maybe. Asking the conductor a hundred times if he knew exactly who this large tote bag belonged to. Humming a song. Looking out dreamily at a beautiful night. Planning dinner over phone. And yes - more so than anything else - planning the tomorrow.

This is why I screw up my pedestal several notches higher than before and place my city there. Yet again. It's because this - this casualness, this innocence of continuity, this flair for being bizarre while also being busy and also being afraid and also being angry, this messiness - this is what Bombay was, Mumbai is, and (whatever it may be called in the future) will remain. A million news features and dejected comments and wry humour about the city's spirit will not diminish it ever.

We do all this, not because this is Mumbai. But because that is life. And you can kill people. But life? It's a pretty big thing to get down.


Tamanna said...

Just when I was losing out on the spirit of Bombay, something here touched a chord, M. Bombay is bizarre, beautiful, brave, crazy, weird, funny, awesome - all at once. Bombay is the one city that comes closest to being a human being. That's the spirit of Bombay for me. Know what I mean? Stay safe, stay well.

Anonymous said...

well said n well written mukta!

crab said...

Salaam Bombay!? (don't know what else to say .. you've put it so nicely here)