Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why this hurts...

When I first came to Mumbai, I was a student at the Max Mueller Bhavan German Institute, Pune, doing a scholarship course. I had no money. Since MMB gave a first class ticket fare amount, I bought a second class and kept the rest for any luxuries, including weekend eating (when we did not get any hostel food, so we had to spend from our own pocket). My sweaters had been bought for ten bucks each, second hand, from Delhi's pavements. So they looked sleek, rich-discard. So with no money, and to visit a big city like Mumbai?

My friend Anita Agarwal, from Chandigarh, and I decided to go up to Dadar, sleep on the pavement (or the station waiting room, if allowed) and wander about the city. That way we could save on accomodation. So that is what we did, sitting most of the night on the station chairs, feeling a bit nervous as cops eyed us (we did not quite like whores, so what were we doing, they must have wondered:) and then, bravely tried to visit the waiting room (toilets, clean, shower and wash, brushing teeth -- sheer heaven). Then went out into that merry havoc that is Mumbai. Right into the heart of the Dadar station, its hawkers. We went crazy. I bought pink shoes for twenty bucks (never wore it, but it meant something to me!!!).
Ate dosa off the pavement, licked our fingers. Then, to `tour the city', took a BEST bus, a double decker -- I have never seen one in all my life, and then to sit inside one!! My first exposure to Mumbai was a Sunday -- so I always remember it, empty, full of a latent, coiled energy. The buildings grey, rain-washed, moss-tinged, and saltwind-worn (depressing for one from Chennai where even a poor fellow like my dad bought white wash -- simple lime -- to colour the building facade every year. The year after my dad's death I did the same. But since I could not afford the painter to do the inside, did the entire bungalow in a span of four back-breaking days:)

And I loved the city: I had such a sense of freedom that nobody ever gave me. Here I was poor, with a dream and my own Chennai never gave me a hint of promise I could ever reach it. But in Mumbai, I knew I could hit on my dream, and it would be part of my enduring romance with life. So, when later on in life, I was asked which city I wanted to train in, I said Mumbai -- though that meant so much of logistical maneovring that it could have made no sense, being a pauper tha I was. But I came here, since it was the love of my life. A city that freed me.

Lately however I had seriously begun thinking of going somewhere else, since the city has become different from what I knew. And loved. And that was even before these terrible nights....

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