What is it about this city that eases me into the realm of nostalgia? What is about this city that is so easy to hear, see and smell that all I have to do is close my eyes? What is it about the Arabian Sea that touches “Mumbai” that is so easy to transport to? Why not Kochi? Or Canacona? Or Mangalore? The majestic Arabian Sea touches these spots too, like many others. Then, why does my craving for sea equals the craving for Bombay? I put “Mumbai” in quotes, as I feel it is a pseudo name. Bombay, to me, is a filmy, melodramatic, slightly British sounding name. Perhaps this preference is reflective of the colonial hangover in me, as is the case with several other Indians (whether or not they deny).
Matunga was one of the first places/locations when I discovered and fully understood my love for streets and street spotting. Certain smells–like that of strong, filtered coffee emanating from Mysore Cafe, competing with the equally enchanting aroma of filtered coffee from its rival, Madras Cafe. Two cities, nay, two states competing with each other in a whole other state, with a whole other culture. Certain sights–like that of a lane of stationary store selling Tamil calendars, while yelling in Marathi to potential buyers to come buy it. Certain sounds–like the silent readings you hear from people picking up books at a bookstore. Let me reveal a secret: sometimes, I like to stare at the lips of people who come to bookstores. If you’d notice carefully, you’d find someone or the other reading a book moving their lips. I find that charming and oddly beautiful.
When I first got the opportunity to study in Bombay, it was for a pretty rad course: Women’s Studies. At that time, this discipline of study was a discovery, in itself, for me. But I remember rejoicing for Bombay more. To be living *almost* on my own (I had saved enough to partially fund my education) as a 23-year-old woman in Bombay elated me. I celebrated my entry ticket to the city much more than my invite to the course and the institute in which I was to study. Of course, I learned to grow into the discipline and pretty much loved it. But, Bombay remained the foundation of my delusional mid-20s bliss. Although I spent less than 2 years in the city, I feel I aged in the true sense in Bombay. I felt I learned more than a 23-year-old woman was supposed to. I felt I discovered more in that city. I had more glass shattering moments in Bombay than anywhere else. This process of ‘ageing’ never happened again, since I left the city for good.
But I am not blind romantic of Bombay, make no mistake. I remember the smell of the sea along with the smell of filth on its shore. I remember the sound of local train alongside the noise of my co-passengers. I remember the Marine Drive lanes as much as my memory of being catcalled by rich blokes driving fancy cars on Nariman Point.
Recently, I was thinking of Bombay a little too much–more than my own usual permit to get lost into the web of nostalgia. And I remembered quite an unforgettable photo:
I spotted this majestic goat one random morning in Bombay. The t-shirt says Chembur, a locality in the city where I lived for almost a year. I remember this goat posing initially and then getting angry at me for clicking the photo. I remember thinking of Bombay in this frame: an animal with horns– can be a meek goat and a ferocious attacker at the same time. Also, such a cliché.