Perhaps this is the difference between Bombay and Calcutta: Bombay doesn’t understand farewells and Calcutta, is the city of perpetual departures. Bombay is forever the new city, the daunting maze of opportunities and dreams; Calcutta is the respite from the maze.
My friend in Bombay told me, “Bombay fucks you over once.” I guess that’s the thing about Bombay. It’s the big bad world. Bombay is a racetrack. Everyone runs here. There is no breathing, only gasping for air. There is no sleep here. And yet, cafes fill up here. People sit around and share a meal, take pictures to remember. Sometimes, in rare places where the service is slow, people might even sit for hours to talk. Sometimes I wondered what they spoke of: was it only of work?
The sea is so close here. The sky-rises clog your lungs and then there is the sea. People are there everywhere. Bombay is a racetrack without any end. People run here to nowhere, just in their routines. How weird is it to imagine a life of running with no end! No one loses here. Sometimes, people win.
Bombay is the big bad world, but it is also the kind stranger helping you to get on the right train. Lovers walk here not in a daze, but in a full awareness of love. Love isn’t too much here, it doesn’t spill over. (The more I unravel love, the less I see of it. Maybe love is in its passing. It’s only here for a moment, for this moment. See it, pull it closer. It will leave when you open your eyes.) Love is present continuous here. You can see love pass by in Bombay, as Calcutta is witness to the passage of time. Everyone is alone in Bombay. No one lives alone in Bombay.
The sea is so close here. It saves the city from the ugly tall buildings crashing into the sky. Sometimes you can smell the sea without even being near it. It’s where time stores itself in this city. You can search for time in all of Bombay, but you’ll find it at the sea, in between those imported four-legged rocks at Marine Drive. Time is understood simply in Bombay; all of it is spent, every inch of its linear and circular existence. It is not a thing you collect over hours and weeks till it takes up too much space. Time here, is not wasted in the exercise of memory.
(Yet, why do I always go back to memory? Sometimes I wonder if writing itself becomes an imagined conversation. Who do I talk to? No one replies. There are no words from the other side, only indicators; as if reminding me of its presence.)
Bombay rushes in my memory. The local trains transition from their bitter heartbreaks to their surprises. The city keeps changing, rebelling against its own history; a part of which remains hung on the lanes of South Bombay. It is a city that has seen tragedy, no tragedies. Every leftover of a tragedy will tell you the importance of erasing memory. Have you ever tried it? Doesn’t really work, does it? Try to get on the train from Dadar.
I had experienced Bombay rains once briefly on an earlier visit. The sound of rain had penetrated the entire city, all of its traffic became soundless in the face of the monsoons. Monsoons change the vocabulary of sound in the city. Magic only exists in the city in the niches of the fantasies of Bollywood. The city stands as a testimony to reality otherwise. But when it rains, the airs twist in the city. Something changes. Nobody knows what it is. Perhaps there is a story to these rains. Perhaps it is lost with the old, crinkled man who knew all its details but lived his life in anxious haunts of conversations with himself.
Bombay never sleeps, its existence lays in the realm of simple present tense. Bombay is a simple city. It takes you in, and takes all your problems. Get up in the morning, make a cup of coffee. Yours dreams can come true. Bombay is a simple city with complex dreams. Bombay, never sleeps.
This time it didn’t rain much when I was there. It was almost as if the monsoons were waiting for something, as I was. What is it that I was waiting for? It seems that waiting was pointless. Some things never arrive in the city of arrivals. Two days after I came back, a call informed me that it had started raining. The sound had penetrated the entire traffic of the city.
Bombay fucks you over once. Remember that.