Zen And The Art Of Living In Bombay
(Disclaimer: This article is not inclined towards Buddhist Zen philosophy, neither is it too informative about living in Bombay.)
Beside Goregaon station on the eastern side of the suburb sit remnants of what used to be an old Tabela. A man named Ramnath uncle always sits there with a pack of Shivaji beedi and a cutting chai. I often sit with him as he tells me stories about how the city has changed over the years, about his village and his childhood, a much simpler time, and about how the tall buildings remind him of our short lives.
I always tell him he must go back to his village.
He says he’s too in love with the city to leave her. He says one doesn’t look back.
To the uninitiated Bombay comes as an assault on all the senses. Colours and noises and music and fragrances and odours and sensations all flowing in to consume the soul like some wave on a deserted shore, too many people walking on the same road. Noises so loud one loses track of one’s own thoughts. And the constant teeming crowds. More often than not, I find people who live in other cities ask me how one could fall in love with a place where one cannot find oneself?
I have not yet shared an intimate, breathless relationship with the city to know it’s core; I linger on the outskirts. I have learned her ways, I have learned what train to take, what would take me where, what would the appropriate auto fare be to reach somewhere. But I cannot imagine the deep relation that old writers and filmmakers shared with this city built on the sea. I visit cafes, libraries, cinema halls, and often stroll through the old lanes of Girgaon where my grandfather grew up, or by the sea at Marine Drive- but end up feeling a perpetual outsider, I wonder if it’s my diction or my attire.
In Bombay, the people have to constantly reach somewhere. They leave their houses early and complete their fill of sleep on the trains, if luck favors them with a seat. For breakfast, they have Idli at some roadside stall and a cutting chai, often with a cigarette or two. The “hereness” and “nowness” of places has disappeared from everywhere, even their very own homes. People constantly have to arrive somewhere and to depart from somewhere. There are some who try to breathe between the travels from somewhere to somewhere, and there are some who like better to travel than to arrive. But nonetheless, everyone has to leave and arrive- an endless circle that consumes years at a stretch, even lifetimes. A person here is fed the same story about life and marriage and career, and some ambitious dream that they stretch their arms to hold but eludes them and year after year they keep running, with hopes of clawing their way up to the golden dream that eludes them so mercilessly. Everyone keeps running, and nobody knows what they chase after.
Amidst all this rush and chase and constant chaos, there is serenity in Bombay. The air reeks of indifference. The people do not care what you look like, where you come from, or where you go to. This serves as an equalizing factor. When everyone is busy chasing their own fragment of the grand common dream, they do not care how you chase yours. If you can find the balance between keeping yourself close and not giving up on the ways of this city, you can not only survive, but thrive here. After all, we're like Darwin's fishes, crawling our way to adapt and survive. When all claw their way up, nobody looks left or right to see what others do. It's easier to be yourself when nobody is looking.
In any case, I have become one of the many other faces chasing behind the very golden dream that maddens countless others, constantly reminding myself to breathe.
Often when I return from college I share tea and exchange stories with Ramnath uncle. He has many tales to tell, all of them include his mother and his village. I implore him to go to his village again, to walk on the streets he grew up playing on, and bid farewell telling him, that I have to go somewhere.
He always asks me, why am I not already where I’m going?
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