Today my mother’s friend came to visit. She was our neighbour in Bombay. Amidst the chai (tea) and pakaoda (snacks), what we were reminiscing were the four years we spent in Bombay.
I remember the first day I moved to Bombay. I was super excited because it was the big dream city. But there was pain that is part of any relocation. Leaving friends who were very dear, the familiar house, the neighbors – the supermarket, the parlour, the regular hang out joints that were part of our everyday life. I was also preparing for a competitive exam and had left my classes. Now I would have to search for a new set of classes all over again.
The size of apartments in Bombay is the first thing that strikes a person coming from smaller towns. Somebody had once told me – You find everything easily in Bombay – food, resources, maid, the only thing you don’t find is a house.
Mom and dad had gone out to get groceries and other things to make the house livable. Grandmother was used to living in bungalows in Lucknow and Patna. But she was not complaining about the size of the house.
“Where does Amitabh Bachchan live, let us go see his house.” was her first reaction.
The door bell rang. A nice looking Aunty who was dad’s colleague’s wife had come to greet my mom (who was out). The house was in a mess ofcourse – the entire household of a family contained in boxes labeled movers and packers.
Aunty was also from Lucknow. Grandmother instantly liked her. She offered to get us tea and dinner. I told her it is okay, mom dad have gone to get something.
“Are there any more unopened cartoons,” she asked. I tried to control my laughter at ‘cartoons’ and felt guilty at the thought of making fun of this kind stranger who was offering so much help.
“Five more cartons are inside the bedroom, Aunty, my books and clothes.”
Aunty told me about other neighbors. This complex was for people working in my dad’s organization so everyone knew everyone. There was one girl my age she said who could be my friend. She is in 10th standard, Aunty added.
“I am 21 Aunty!” I clarified. I blamed my short stature for this disastrous demotion.
Aunty waited for Mom for some time, then left as Uncle was about to reach home. My parents came back, struggling to make a home out of this place that was full of dust and dirt, inhabited by a bachelor previously it seems.
I kept complaining about being unsettled – how it would take me days to unpack and find all my books. How I would fail the exam because of this reason. How my entire life would be ruined because of this one change. What a brat I used to be those days! Instead of helping my parents I would be cribbing about everything I found wrong.
Dad had got chowmein and chilly chicken for dinner. We had a wholesome meal after a tiring day. After dinner, Dad said let us go for a drive. Traffic was relatively less at this time so we dared to go explore the city.
We drove to Marine Drive. Dad told me how it is called the Queen’s necklace. There were so many people walking there at this time. Young, old, poor, rich. Mom dad also started walking.
I stood there looking at the sea. And there it was – the connection I felt with the city at that moment. All my stress and apprehensions about this place seemed to have disappeared somewhere. The sea was welcoming me – promising me a beautiful life here.
This city has a lot of chaos. Everybody is always running around trying to reach somewhere. But there is comfort and solace here too, and it is right here in the sound of the waves and the sight of the endless waters where all worries take a standstill.
Over the next years I would come to know how people here function. I had heard that people in Bombay don’t have time for each other. Let me tell you what that means – they will not interfere in your life and poke their nose in your personal matters. They will not care if you are married or divorced or living with your boyfriend. But when you need them for any help, they are there. I have had incidents of being helpless in the rain, or in the local train not knowing where to go and absolute strangers have gone out of their way to help me. And the culture and spirit of the city – that celebrates every festival whether it is Ganesh Chaturthi, or Christmas or Eid.
All of that would be another blog, another time. For now I just want to remember the sea. The sea that I cherished, that comforted me, that gave me solace, that I miss. That would make no city ever good enough as Bombay for years to come.