Monday, July 09, 2012

Bombay Meri Jaan

There are cities and there is Bombay! By no standards would you be able to compare it with any other city in India, or, for that matter, with any in the world! Among the first things one notices about Bombay are its stark contrasts - one of abject and desolate poverty and the other of incredible opulence. Perhaps, it is safe to assume that these disparities do not co-exist in any place else, if not always in such sheer scale and evidence. Yet, the more amazing of facts is that these opposites cohabit in harmony unmindful of one another and their way about within this hideously cramped milieu.

It is in Bombay that one would truly realize the value of space and the premium it carries. At any given moment, a good part of its 20 million odd inhabitants are constantly rubbing shoulders with one another seemingly restive and on the brink. It doesn't take long for one to realize that boundaries of personal space and individual realm are to be re-defined in the context of Bombay's standards.

There aren't many open spaces here, and the only massive open expanse is the sea that borders what once used to be the seven islands, now interconnected and once called the good little bay. It is quite another thing that it often tempts the articulating mind of mine to replace the word good with big, very big! And most certainly, it would be apt to replace the word places with spaces while referring to any part of Bombay.

Bombay is inimitable in its own sense, for there are sights and experiences one possibly wouldn't be treated to any place else. Massive edifices, relics of an era long gone, yet rich and elegant in splendour garland the popular financial esplanade along with corporate houses whose names one regular reads on the pages of Forbes and the like. Yet, not so far away a fishing community has made its home in the buzz of activity, hardly a furlong from where the Executive of the State claims to conduct its business!

If you could meet anyone from across the Earth on Times Square in New York, then on Marine Drive you could easily run into a Shastri, Subramanian, Saxena, Sheikh, Sebastian, Singh, Sharma, Sinha and many more all at once.

Walk eastward along the cobble-stone path and one would come face to face with Victorian structures draped in powerful stately appearance, a little away from the now worn, yet imposing £ 9000, Flora Fountain. Not surprisingly, each one of these super-structures, individually, make any other out-of-Bombay building unusually diminutive.

And then, there is the Kabuthar Khana, which if visited by Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, would shame his "Rats with Wings" statement and make Trafalgar look petty in the face of the marauding flurry of grays and whites with beaks and half-talons!

I'm beginning to take my baby steps in Bombay. My days begin at a time when any other city would perhaps be pondering over early morning thoughts during a semi-wakeful state, but by Bombay's standards I'm not so enterprisingly early in the crusade. Overpowered more by a feeling of awe than control, I set about and as I make my way to the nearest suburban rail junction, I am conscious of thousands more elbowing their way to begin their day. It doesn't take me long to realize that my ability to get on and off a train is more a matter of chance than will. Eventually, with experience, I'm told that this chance will become habit and routine, a routine that is best described as 'growing on you.'

Bombay is more of spirit than a place. It is a lifestyle far from any defined culture, and more of practical possibilities to ensure survival and eventually thrive. In this myriad world of high-rises, celluloid, furious monsoons, million-dollar corporate deals and sleepless roads, every person nurtures an ambition to make something out of life. Perhaps, Bombay is where one can come closest to realizing one's passion! Some visit and depart, while many others haven't ever ventured outside the city's confines, and yet some others visit and stay back forever!

Of all that has been written so eloquently to illustrate Bombay and its soul, it is the words of lyricist Javed Akhtar that stand out for their aptness. Quite like how he once felt, I'm sure, there are several thousands, like me, who wonder "what a large metropolis is Bombay and how insignificant am I? Once in a while even the bravest can feel fear."


Title, meaning Bombay - my life, adapted from the song "Ai Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahaan" sung by Mohd Rafi and Geeta Dutt, composed by O. P. Nayyar and picturized on Johnny Walker, in the 1956 Hindi film CID.

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