Thoughts and other trivia...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Crowded house

In an earlier post, I had mentioned that we’ve been commissioned to make a 13-part non-fiction series for a television channel. By their own admission, these guys have an unusually long commissioning process. So unfunnily long that, I’m sure, it would’ve tested poor old Job’s patience. It’s long and unnecessarily complicated. It’s been more than the three months they said it would take and, annoyingly, we’re still some way off. Thankfully, though, not off by too much. If all goes well, which is a rarity around me, the project will formally roll some time this month. The end of the month, maybe early next month, seems the most likely time. But, who knows, it may happen earlier than expected.

We’ll be starting off with what they call a ‘developmental’ episode, which is nothing but a ‘pilot’ by another name. Should the programme then go to series, meaning the other 12 episodes, we’ll be shooting in many parts of the country, of which we’ve already decided on Ooty, Pondicherry, Jaipur, Kothdwara (near Lucknow), Delhi and Bombay. Bangalore and Goa are also distinct possibilities. The ‘developmental’ episode, however, will be shot in Alibaug, near Bombay. And that is what this post is about. Not Alibaug, not the ‘developmental’ episode but...Bombay!

We shall cross the ‘developmental’ episode and Alibaug bridges when we get to them. In fact, I may even post some photographs of the shoot, and the subject of the shoot, if that doesn’t constitute any copyright violations. For the moment, however, I will confine myself to what has often been described as the city of dreams.

I’m not envious by nature. If you live in Bombay, however, there’s a very good chance that you would be the object of my rather acute envy. I don’t know how to explain it but that’s how it is. There was a time when I’d been unable to go to Bombay for very long. During that period, I found that I would feel almost literal stabs of pain each time I looked at photographs and shots of the city. This is the precise emotion I feel each time I’m on my way out, leaving Bombay...that of near panic.

I don’t stay there presently and haven’t done so for a very long time. But, once, it was home to me. I’m not sure what my connection with the place is or why I long to be there but, and of this I have little doubt, that’s where I’m going to be for good.

When I went there in February last year, it was after a fairly long time and, yet, I felt instantly at home. In what was to become something of a pattern for the six or seven trips since then, I first went to Pune and then, from there, to Bombay by road. (The first time over, I just had to see the Expressway and then, having seen it, wanted to see it again. Or, maybe I continue to be fascinated that this distance, which I once spent almost seven hours trying to cover, thanks to August rain and the treacherous ghats, could now be covered in just about three hours or less.) When we reached Chembur, which is where my Bombay begins, I almost got out and kissed the ground. Rare better sense and, I admit, uncertainty about the constituents of the said ground and the ridicule that was sure to follow my humble but far-from-impulsive gesture, nipped the noble intention in the bud. Instead, I employed the less controversial expression of joy, taking in a really deep and long breath, inhaling the lovely, polluted air of Chembur and Bombay. At that moment, it really felt as though I were free again.

Apart from the inevitable and overwhelming flood of memories, the rest of the way to my friend’s house in Bandra was also marked by a sense of wonderment at how much the place had changed. And, at how much it remained the same. It was comforting and reassuring to immediately feel like a part of the Bombay crowd. To fit in and be one of the multitude. It was like I had never left.

My first trip to Bombay was with my colleagues from college, to participate in the drama competition at the IIT-Bombay festival. It wasn’t a bad trip at all but it didn’t reveal anything about Bombay that would either endear the place to me in any way or prompt me to plan another trip. Then, a couple of years later, I found my reason. In the eleven months after that, I made twelve trips to Bombay. The thirteenth trip, which was also made during the aforesaid eleven months, saw me move to Bombay for good. My two stuffed bags and I.

Admittedly, my initial love for Bombay had nothing to do with the city itself but with what it represented to me. Sure, given the nature of my work, that’s where I may have ended up anyway but I cannot be sure I would’ve had the courage, ambition or drive to do so on my own. Either way, there’s no telling now which way that cookie would’ve crumbled, right?

Anyhow, it’s funny that I should even like Bombay because I’m not comfortable with a lot of what it stands for, represents and is identified with. The crowd, for instance. The unending swarms of people who’re perpetually in a hurry to get somewhere. Even if it means having to climb over your toes to get there. The lack of personal space, except when you’re inside your home. The directness of some of the most awkward questions I’ve ever been asked. The dirt. The slush that the rains create and leave in their wake. The smell of rain-dried clothes that permeates the air during the monsoon months because some people don’t have the time or space to dry their clothes. The roads, which are not only small and narrow but are being dug up all the time. The ruthless streak in people. The constant struggle for survival that makes them less than considerate or even respectful of others. Life is pretty cheap here. I’ve been on local trains during accidents, when some poor folk have either lost their limbs or even their lives, only to find that people have grown immune to tragedy unless it involves them or their kin. Neither severed limbs nor lifeless bodies seem like reasonable grounds for delay, no matter how small. It is more important to reach Dadar in time to catch the connecting fast to VT at 8.43.

Maybe I haven’t travelled enough but, among all the large cities, I have no doubt that there are more unemployed and wasted people in Bombay than anywhere else I’ve been. I’ve seen more mentally disturbed people in Bombay than I’ve seen anywhere else. There’re more people here who depend on alcohol and drugs than anywhere else. I’ve seen more sadness in people’s eyes and in their faces, more loneliness and lack of hope, than I’ve seen anywhere else. The divide between the rich and the poor couldn’t be more apparent anywhere else.

It’s the last place you want to be in when you’re lonely. If you’re down and lack a support system, Bombay can be very cruel. It knows no mercy and keeps you pinned to the ground, its stinky foot jammed against your throat. I should know because I spent the worst year of my life there, finally abandoning it when it became emotionally impossible to go on.

Yet, I love the place and, at this moment, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. Okay, that’s pushing it a bit...but you know what I mean, right? And it completely baffles me...why does the place mean so much to me? Sure, there’re plenty of things to like and admire about Bombay. For instance, the same instinct for survival that makes it ruthless also instills in it the spirit that refuses to let bomb blasts and riots bring life to a halt. An occasional flood, however, proves too much even for the hardy Bombay-ite! :-) If you have a dream, it gives you the hope you need to pursue and achieve it. If you’re enterprising, there’s little you can’t accomplish. There is a certain work ethic here that allows you to trust the person you’re dealing with, within reasonable limits, of course. When you go and work elsewhere, you realise that the professionalism you had taken for granted in Bombay is actually a rare commodity. More often than not, one can rely on an autorickshaw or cab driver and not worry about being fleeced, either by way of being overcharged or by being taken to one’s destination through new, creative routes that you did not even know existed. I can still remember the shock I first felt when a shopkeeper returned the twenty-five paise that was due to me after I’d paid up for whatever it is that I’d bought. As I became more familiar with Bombay, I found that this was more the rule and not the exception I had initially dismissed it for.

I feel completely at ease in Bombay, as though I don’t have a care in the world. It’s all this and much more but is that really what makes Bombay so special for me? I wonder...

Or, do I continue to associate the place with what it first meant to me? Is it simply a desperate attempt to hang on to a memory of a time that was, without any doubt, the best time of my life? Of a certain time and everything that goes with that time, and which I’m never likely to capture again? In which case, shouldn’t I feel increasingly more miserable after every trip there? Because every trip should then remind me of my loss, right? And it does but, the fact is, I don’t feel miserable there...well, okay, only sometimes. But, most of the time, I’m fine. Moreover, if I’m not already there, I’m always planning trips to Bombay. Always looking for the slightest excuse to take off. And, as all my friends have got so used to hearing, if I could, I would shift there tomorrow. Maybe, then, it’s a combination of the two, my liking for the place and the memories it holds for me. Knowing myself, though, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it.

20 Comments:

Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

hey, there aren't enough things in this life to make one happy, so if something works for you, stick with it!

(and - of course - there's no accounting for taste :-)

2:18 pm  
Blogger wildflower seed said...

Ghost
This is a really beautiful post. Having lived in New York for two years, I could relate at once to some of the downsides you mention. Unfortunately, for me, the upside is no longer self-evident. New Yorkers cannot stop raving about the city (I imagine TR rolling up his sleeves and flexing his muscles even as I write this!). but whenever I go back to NYC nowadays, I want to get out of there asap. Good tidings for your TV show. No Kolkata? :(

3:00 pm  
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

I think you got it at the end - the good memories work for you. I have a city like that too, for what I imagine are similar reasons. Except that I don't really feel at home there, I just think of those times.

Bombay? i can take it or leave it. Some days I wish I could leave it.

9:36 pm  
Blogger Prerona said...

the series for television reminded me of decalog - or maybe it was already in my head looking for an excuse to come out

i liked bombay when i used to go for brief visits as a child. liked it less and less as i grew older and older

:)

12:56 pm  
Blogger cactusjump said...

i hate bombay :(

2:37 pm  
Blogger km said...

Ghost,

I loved this post. That rhymes.

Why hasn't the most badass city on earth never found a mention in any rock and roll song?

6:38 pm  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

TR: Right. But, as with everything else, there's a price to pay for happiness as well, right?

About taste...yeah, yeah, yeah :-)


VB: Thanks, man! I guess a lot of it has to do with memories and happiness a place offers...just as we're able to accept people we like the way they are, warts and all.

No, unfortunately, Kolkotta doesn't feature in the scheme of things at all. But, you never know :-)


Arthur Quiller Couch: Hey! Good to see you!

Sure, but I was wondering whether we're simply able to enjoy a place b'cos of the memories it holds or whether a part of us is hoping for a re-run...


Prerona: So, have you given in to the excuse...do we get to read about it in the next post, maybe? :-)


CactusJump: Really? How sad :-( Any particular reason?


KM: Thanks. Didn’t Rolling Stones have a song?

7:25 pm  
Blogger Sonia said...

I’m not sure what my connection with the place is or why I long to be there - this is EXACTLY how I feel about Bombay too. I guess it might be cos of all the people I know from Bombay who speak so passionately about the place (like you have), or I guess it must be cos of what I associate Bombay with. I'm not sure really. All I know is, my next vacation is definitely gonna be there (if I don't go mad with all the waiting!). I've been planning it since I left India.

9:34 pm  
Blogger sattva said...

ghost, totally loved this one. like, totaly.

u recall our exchange on a poem of mine, where i said "you" is a place? it's bombay.

3:00 am  
Blogger sattva said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:00 am  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

km:
General scratches his belly and thinks
His pay is good but his company stinks
Guerilla girl, hard and sweet
A military man would love to meet

Bombs away
But we're O.K.
Bombs away
In old Bombay

- The Police

8:49 am  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

Sonia: Having just read your post, let me suggest a trip to Bombay right now. Get that 8-day leave and go :-)

Been there before?



Sattva: Oh yes, I remember that well :-)



TR: What is that Rolling Stones song?

10:03 am  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ach! it's sympathy for the devil. i just realised ... how could i have forgotten?! and then i come back here and see your follow-up :-)

"And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name"

what a song.

10:13 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:39 am  
Blogger Sonia said...

ooh i wish i could sooo bad! but things are crazy at work, and i can't get off work. :(

and yeah, i have been to bombay before. just once before

10:40 am  
Blogger km said...

TR, old chap, "Bombs away in Old Bombay" was creepily prescient :(

Come to think of it, Calcutta gets a mention by the mighty Zeppelin and in that awful oldie, "Ladies of Calcutta"!

9:29 pm  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

Brilliantly captured. Never been to Bombay but I guess any big city grows on you in the same way. I feel along similar lines for Kolkata.
Also heard about the blasts in Bombay today and then read this post. Coincidence, huh?

10:01 pm  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yes, creepy :-|

7:35 am  
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