Lanterns line sidewalks in Mumbai in the lead-up to Diwali, diffusing the dreariness of everyday.
Anyone who lives in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) presently will tell you that the living isn’t easy anymore. This vast, bursting-at-the-seams megapolis seems to be have put up its hands in resignation.
Mumbai is a city of contradictions, of inequality – children beggars clawing and tapping at the windows of gleaming luxury cars; ramshackle slums hugging the boundary walls of high-rise apartment buildings; an empty metro train whizzing above roads choked with incessant traffic; eight-lane highways with four lanes encroached by makeshift street-stalls and the homeless; fancy open-air bars in five-stars rising above the air dense with pollutants; women on their way to work jostling with women in burqas* on the train. This isn’t a city for the old, the incapacitated or the weak. Exhaustion runs high and patience runs low.
‘It wasn’t always like this.’, the old-timers will tell you; ‘The migrants came and ruined Bombay.’ They say ‘Bombay’, not ‘Mumbai’, as if referring to the city by its old name will restore it to its former glory. I’m not sure if it’s true or if they’re playing rose-tinted reminiscences in their heads. I wouldn’t know – because I, myself, am technically ‘a migrant’ in this ocean of people.
What does one do in Mumbai, when the chaos and the crowds become too much to handle?
On days that you can, you turn west and fix your gaze on the sea. The only empty space in Mumbai; without the restless honks of vehicles, the shoves of crowds, the non-stop din of construction work and hawkers. And you hope, that they leave first, or some of them at least; so you won’t have to.
Photo taken at Marine Drive (Queen’s Necklace), Mumbai (June ’14)
* usually, but not always, women from orthodox Muslim households, who aren’t allowed to work or step out of their homes without being covered head-to-toe in a cloak-like burqa
Read more about Mumbai/ Bombay:
Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts – a semi-autobiography of an escaped Australian convict who finds himself in Mumbai
Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry – the struggles of a Parsi family living in Bombay in ’70s India
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta
The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
(Admission – I’ve only read the first two of these)