Chasing Stars, Fooling Dreams

Monday, April 04, 2016

I lost my Bombay virginity recently. Truth be told, there's hardly a few things one hasn't done/seen by this age. Losing virginity acquires a special form where you inner monologue goes all, "hey, another thing accomplished!" Doing/experiencing anything for the first time is usually memorable. I am trying to recollect all that has been filed as long term first-time memory, in this case.

That Time I was "in" Bombay.

The thing about the city is that it hit me when I was least expecting it. I was numb to the impact when I found out I was leaving in less than twenty four hours. Barely having recovered the whirlwind Pune stint, I could not grasp the intensity of the shock. It hit me when I was being transferred to my flight, standing next to a gang of skinny girls with decaf Starbucks crap. It hit me, when the lady, sitting on the window seat kept chewing Lays Magic Masala with her mouth open, making the co-passenger (ie, me) very uncomfortable through the turbulent flight. I remember coming out of the airport with wry smile across my face. "This is what everyone's been talking about." Half expected to come across familiar spots and signs, I avoided using my phone in transit from the airport to my friend's flat. To capture the first images of Bombay as much as I could, with just my eyes, I was glued to every sight, sound and smell on the road. Not the most pleasing thing to hit your sensory system with. I felt terribly claustrophobic. As if, someone cut my limbs and stuffed me in a plane toilet. Don't ask me how and where that image comes from. There was a sense of joy- of having made it, finally. Without anyone, without a plan and without any instructions, here I was in a city that everyone around me raved about. I've always gotten a whole lot of, "You would love Bombay! Everyone would love you there. That city is made for you!" from god knows, everyone who's ever been there and known me. Naturally, I had come armed up favourable reviews.

Now, if you're looking out for fables on getting robbed/mugged/losing heart etc, please close this tab and move out. None of that happened. Neither did random acts of kindness where someone offered me a shower and a room with clean sheets for each night that I was there. It was far less shimmering and definitely not as inviting as other cities have been. A part of the blame has to go to Pune, for making everything so warm and comfortable that you end up imagining, "Bombay must be a better version of it!' It isn't, sweetheart. Bombay is harsh. The weather is fucking awful. The city has a stench, similar to that of Hong Kong. For the record, I love Hong Kong. It's the kind of place where everything is out of your limit. Outside your pocket and boundaries mean you'll be inspired to work hard or go home. Something similar is the case with Bombay, only, I felt like going home.

Bombay isn't a city for dreamers or believers. It's a city for those who can follow a set of orders or a template for that matter. You remember the preparation for CBSE board exams? The kind where you've to follow those Sample Papers and keep practicing the format? Bombay is a city meant for those who would answer those question papers, without asking a question to themselves. It's meant for those who can continue to pedal daily, on the same route, in the same queue, wearing the same outfit and doing the same fucking thing. It's like a Metronome. Only so much can go down, rhythmically. Only predictable outcomes will lead to occasional splashes of happiness. Or sadness. The binaries can sustain without battling an eyelid because there is no space for the grey to thrive. The city lacks space, for an unrestrained flow of emotions, which spring from actions other than the ones programmed under the Ford model.

There were parts of the city that I loved, instantly. I took to them, the way fish takes to water. I never wanted to leave the filthy Juhu beach. Prithvi Café transported me back to the literatti alleyways of Habitat evenings (one up for Prithvi folks, for the delectable food). Colonial architecture in and around South Bombay makes you fall in love with the space, sure. But, those spaces are unreal for you, if you're staying near the fisherman's wharf in the opposite corner of the city. Almost like calling Greater Noida, a synonym for Connaught Place. Every city has it's charming corners and spots. This one had it tucked away, for those who can afford it.

I remember this sunny Saturday afternoon, I spent with a close friend in 'bay. He took me around to his favourite corners of SoBo (purely through the car window), only to stop at this residential area along the sea. We walked till the sea, after leaving the car at a distance and I swear on all things holy, that area smelt like Delhi. It did not smell of fish, or struggle or daily anxiety filled rides. It smelt of all things pleasant, a happy memory, an old photograph conjuring smiles and nothing else. Walking around that space made Bombay feel humanly, for once. All the things that people ever said to me about the city, came true. However, the illusion did not last very long. We got munchies post-sundown and as we came close to wrap the evening, I felt morose. Helpless, even. Anything to not get back to the fisherman's wharf. Perhaps, it was knowing that I wouldn't be with my friend for long, and that any contact with familiarity in that city was all that I needed to keep me going against everything.

Having said (mostly) everything, I go back into one January afternoon at my advisor's office. She's possibly the only one who maintained the notion that Bombay is hardly a city to live in. Her reasons for the same may exactly be the reason that would make a Delhiite stand against a Bombay kid (and I'm not going to give that here), but in all honesty, her version about the city is possibly the closest I experienced. No, it doesn't have anything to do with the fact she's written a whole damn book about Bombay, as the cinematic city. It possibly has to do with not falling for small nooks and crannies as treats and knowing that the spaces of illusions cannot hold the everyday experience. The people constituting the experience rarely give you a chance to sit back, look and enjoy it. Everyone out there is chasing something so unreal, and with so much straightforwardness that they no longer look out for magic or living the dreams. Bombay is all about the chase, and not the kind that gives you a rush. In all likelihood, you're not going to live opposite Marine Drive, neither are you going to chill at Cuff Parade and nor are you going to have a movie evening after shopping at Colaba. Bombay is about the survival of the fittest. In that jungle, if you aspire to dream then keep that dream to yourself. No one's got the time to hear yours.

Leaving this old number, that I found myself singing each time I visited SoBo. I find it ironic for a Delhi guy to sing this number on Bombay streets. But then again, I look at the Delhi guy and see that he's achieved it all. Perhaps, it's worth it. For me? Not one bit. Not right now. I think I'd forever be a pauper in Delhi than giving it all up for the chase. 

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