As it ought to be

My earliest memory of Bombay is also the most amusing one. My mother and father taking turns holding my sister and I holding one of them by the hand, standing on the overbridge of Ghatkopar station, pointing our gaze at the far end of the rail tracks, trying to ascertain which platform the coming train will ply on. If someone ever tried to find out a method to Bombay’s madness, here was one. At that moment, when all of us, despite everything, boarded the train, Bombay was an overcoming of obstacles.

The usual journey that took us to Bombay from the suburb we lived in involved a 45 minute boat ride, a walk through the Naval dockyard, a taxi ride, a train to be caught from the majestic Victoria Terminus. In monsoons, it was mostly an ordeal — much before we could make our ways through the Bombay roads that were full of filth and mire, we had to deal with the rough seas. But this fortnightly trip was something that had to be undertaken, for we lived in a place that was much away from the mainland. And going to the home of my father’s aunt — our only relation in Bombay, was a journey that was very comprehensive and offered me the only glimpse of a world that was so different than the one where I lived, only a few miles away. Then, Bombay was a collection of life’s first few lessons.

But the most rewarding of all was when I used to go to Bombay with my mother. She loved to windowshop at Crawford market (deep inside she still does, I know). We roamed around the fountain area, picked up some casual clothing and windowshopped at the costly stores. During one of those trips, I was amazed, almost to an extent of being in shock, to the sight of two glass doors opening (and closing) automatically as I stepped into a (very posh) Vimal Cloth Store. It was probably man’s greatest achievement, I thought — a technical feat. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the reward involved — the “softy” we called it then, the ice-cream cone that my mother treated me to. It was nothing less than a bribe. Getting it was not so easy — I had to keep my mouth shut while mom took her time choosing clothes. And on the rare occasion that I was extra good at it, I got twice of what was promised. At that very moment, Bombay became rewarding.

Slums were to be seen for the most part of the train journey. And there were different smells. A sea of smells. The smell of dried fish, the salty air. The city still retains most of it. Ah yes, the slums. They were just there, as if they had been there always. I never thought of them then — See, I was coming out of my shell and what I saw then was my idea of the world. So there it was, that another world alongside the railway tracks. The two worlds, by and large, living coherently.

So it comes as a surprise to me when they continue to derive so many things out of the slums. Spirit. Coherence. Unity. Tolerance. Pick up anything. Any movie, any literature on this city and you will find something or the other of the just mentioned coming out. Midnight’s Children, A Fine Balance, Salaam Bombay, Shantaram, Dharavi and the most recent, Slumdog Millionaire –each one of them a masterpiece. But why do we need to be reminded, by these works of art all based in Bombay’s slums, that religious tolerance and staying together are lessons that can be derived from an ordinary life?

At that time, for a 10 year old boy, Bombay was nothing extraordinary. It was just as things ought to be.

5 thoughts on “As it ought to be

  1. There is an even bigger question here Aditya. As some hit Brazilian movie directors have centered social commentary about the Favela’s, their aim is admirable but the response can be perplexing. One outcome of this has been an an increase in the growth in “Favela Tourism”. A harvard professor explains his viewpoint at the following link:

    You and I would may actually view this voyeurism, but the west calls it awareness. There is a social justice element to it, but one needs time to foster that awareness – who in the world today, East or West, give themselves even a modicum of such deeper reflection, we who live in paradise are too busy making a living sticking our nose into other people’s business but yet all too ignorant to make a life and to notice our own.


  2. LOL. We are the same with this “first time” experience. I too was very shocked to see glass doors opening by itself. I whispered “where is the doorman?”

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