This used to be my playground
This used to be our pride and joy
This used to be the place we ran to
That no one in the world could dare destroy
I know. Its not cool to quote Madonna since she started looking like a total tranny, but in the days when she wasn’t quite there, this lovely song was released and everything that happened on the 26th of November – not so strangely – brought me back to it.
This is not just a post about the terror. I am not going to ask the obvious and not so obvious questions that have been asked all over the blogosphere by qualified people.
I want to convey the plummeting feeling in the pit of my stomach when I heard the news from my mother after a punishing day at work. The achy, hollow feeling of watching my playground being torn asunder and blown apart like a sequence in a D-movie. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that Bruce Willis might muscle through the crowds to save the Trident.
I sat in the safety of our home, unable to tear my eyes away from the carnage; unable to stem the unravelling within, the incredible rage I was feeling. At some point, I was joined by the Viking and I vaguely clue into the words coming from him – terror, draconian laws, tightening of civil liberties. And then he says this, ” I would rather live in a society that has to deal with terror than one where the resulting panic will rob everyone of their liberties and rights.”
In any other context than this one, I would have echoed that sentiment. Now, I spin towards him, almost blinded by my sadness and incomprehension. “How.Can.You? You lost no one who meant the world to you today. Your life was not changed forever by some utterly arbitrary, hateful act. You haven’t lost the last shred of security you were feeling in a city you love and will never leave. Don’t you dare intellectualise this!”
So I’ve walked around, unable to intellectualise, feeling pulled inside out for the past 6 days, spending my time with people who are sympathetic to what has been happening, but who can’t really get the extent of my feeling for obvious reasons.
This is my Bombay. Not Mumbai. VT, not CST. The city which embraced me as I ventured out alone, giving me safe spaces to grow up, be independent, take responsibility and begin to be the woman I wanted to be. The year and half I spent there doesn’t sound like much, but it felt like a couple of lifetimes. We lived life with the kind of intensity and break-neck speed that would leave me ragged today. If we worked really hard, we always played twice as hard and there was no cooler, safer place to do it than South Bombay.
We wandered the streets at all hours of the day and night with nary a thought and Cafe Leopold, Mondegar, Three Flights Up, Martins – these hangouts were “ours”. The Causeway was our playground. Amazing friendships were born over pitchers of beer, relationships were cemented during long and neverending walks down Marine Drive, often all way down to Chowpatty beach. Confidences were exchanged over bhel and pav bhaaji at our regular shack across VT – a stone’s throw from Xaviers. I lost my heart, jostling and holding hands on the train from Churchgate to Andheri, only to find myself, a year later, sitting on the boulders of Marine Drive, holding the same hand desperately, unable to wave our love goodbye. My heart was irrevocably broken in Bombay and my innocence and naivete took a beating.
To fall in love in a city, though, is to fall in love with it, warts and all. The wide open spaces, the tree-lined streets, the little corners and crowded pavements of South Bombay will forever occupy a special place in my heart. (To this day, there are only two aerial views that choke me up and make my mascara run. The palm fronds and the rich laterite soil of Kerala, my first sighting of “home” from the airline, and the gloriously lit-up necklace of pearly lights that is Marine Drive. One look and I can almost taste the happiness and reckless abandon of youth.)
If you’re looking for warts, Bombay has about a 1000 glaring ones. Perfectly rational reasons to dislike the city. I have sworn up and down that I would never EVER live in Bombay and I have meant it. Too hassled. Too crowded. Too polluted. Too much. But darn it, I love, LOVE the city in the way that one still loves a particularly flawed, but flamboyant, gracious and irresistible ex-boyfriend. You see the folly of permanence, how the place can chew you up and spit you out, but how on earth do you dislike one so vibrant, so generous, so full of charming/rotten contradictions?
I can’t. As the song goes, ” Mera kuch saamaan, tumhare paas padaa hain”. As long as there are pieces of me there, I can’t help but love the place. I cannot distance myself from what happens there or NOT feel this pain personally. I am this close to punching the next person who says, ” Oh well, must move on.” I don’t even live there but I can’t begin to understand how people are expected to do this; to not feel controlled by the fear. But whaddaya know? Bombayites surprise you by doing exactly that. Inspite of the fear and inspite of the loss.
Bombay, you don’t know me, but I am a card-carrying member of your fan club.
And you can’t see me right now, but I’m giving you a standing ovation.
Edited to add: Links to two of the best blog entries I have read about this mess, two entirely different takes.