Notes from Bombay

Borivali Court

The market area in suburbs is a bustling place, it is perfect as a study in human interactions with each other as well as the co-existence of plant and animal life. Fruit and vegetable vendors push their wares, customers choose good looking produce and both parties play the haggling game until a deal is closed. There is a hierarchy in their business too. Handcarts that are at hip height, stores with neatly arranged and labelled produce, mobile vendors with baskets on their heads and then those who simply sit with a cloth spread out with a few vegetables, mostly homegrown. It reminds me of those topics we would get assigned as school kids. Draw a market place or a festival etc.

The background score is a cacophony of honking, bikes revving, crows and the sounds of people. It makes sense to immerse oneself in this sea of sound else the volume is deafening. I stand under the shade of a jamun tree waiting for an agent to help me clear some paper work and watch the magic of yellowed leaves pirouetting in a spectacular last dance. The humidity is a thick 82% and people lower their masks to breathe. Except for the masks, there is little indication that a pandemic has enveloped the country.

There are flies, you can’t escape them, their light landings on sticky skin alongside the slow trickle of sweat adds to the sense of drowning in a humid hell. Rain must come. And it will. A downpour to cool down the restlessness and then the wet heat will rise again from the ground. In a market place, the ground sweats too, a rotting sweat that carries tones of decay and waste. The crows have a feast as do the strays that roam these streets.

This part of middle class Bombay has spawned lookalikes of my parent’s generation. A bespectacled lanky old man, rotund men, plump women and skinny young people. Rain begins to fall. The homeless family slides behind a patra, the young mother nursing her baby at her bronze breast. Elsewhere riders and pillions find shade to step into their rainsuits. A cyclist pedals hard with a load of tin cans that gleam, probably headed to the oil merchant. There is a line of notary officials, all of them seem to be doing brisk business. The space has a rhythm of thwack and thump as documents get verified. Against this picture of industry, there are a few rickshawalas who laze in their vehicles. Mobile phones make for a nice escape with streaming videos. It is hard to find anyone just looking out, most heads are bent in surrender to a screen if they are not actively engaged in transaction.

I realize that my walks have been so away from the city streets that I have lost touch with everyday actions of people. Inevitably, my feet turn towards the patch of forest land and I amble there. The trail is green now and there have been additions to the trees. A group has planted some native trees at one end, I hope their enthusiasm doesn’t cover all the scrubland, there is a lot of life in its seeming barrenness. They have the blessings of the forest department who have also provided some protection for the young saplings.

Pune Streets

Bombay is nicer as an out of towner. Back home, I know I have the quiet of a little wild just a couple of hundred metres away. Even the neighbourhood has its cool, empty streets lined with gorgeous trees. But the city of dreams was home for over two decades. There is something about the sheer energy and fatigue one can experience in its swelter. I happened to be at a shoot on one of the days and it was in the middle of a small wadi on the outskirts of the city. While the production team was inside a shed, I sat outside watching a tree full of nests and teeming with life. A decade ago, I might not have been able to remain as still and watch, I’d be engrossed in whatever activity was immediate. It is easier to have a long view now, the lens is one of time rather than space. In slowing down, it has been possible to live in more vibrance, one with the space rather than separate.

2 thoughts on “Notes from Bombay

  1. This is beautifully written.
    I have never known these realities you describe – that intense quality of heat and humidity, the hustle of the market… Your writing brings me into this reality. You have the heart, the eye, and the words of a kavi.

    Liked by 1 person

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