Posted in Mumbai, Quick Thoughts, Life

Empty Swing

I recently moved in a new building away from the heart of Mumbai. Even though it’s a beautiful convenient residential complex, it was an unpleasant change for me. I am away from the sea view, my favourite bookshops and cafes. Over the years, I had mapped a set of routes for my morning and evening walks. I wouldn’t go every day, but there was always somewhere peaceful to go when I needed to break away for a few moments from life.

My new apartment is near a highway and next to a construction site. There is a constant cloud of dust and noise of machines. After long day of work, the only tiny break I could get was a walk in my society near the pool and a small garden.

This building has more children than anywhere I have lived before. This is a pleasant change with all the positive energy they bring. But at times they can get annoying also. There are three play areas near my walk route.

My evening walks coincided with the play time of kids, that hour of restless energy just after the sunset when the sky is still blue, the kids are well rested after their afternoon siesta and excitedly waiting for the parents to return home from work. The playground is filled with joy and cheer.

One fine day, I met the 2-year old daughter of a family friend in the playground. She showed me around her play area and her favourite activities. We spent a few fun moments before she went back.

She started to recognise me after a couple of days. I would meet her almost every alternate day in the playground, mostly just following her instructions and trying to ensure her safety. It soon became the favourite part of my day. She would almost always start with the swing. She is an adventurous and courageous kid. She flies high and fast. I can see the swing from the lobby of my building. Even before I enter the playground, I could see her flying and hear her laughter. Often I would directly go to the playground on my way back from work.

On my difficult days at work, I wouldn’t be able to wait to reach back and hear her laughter. Her childlike wonder and joy opened my heart. She gets excited just looking at the water fountain or jumping in the pool or swinging. She walks around with not a care in the world. I learned to laugh more and smile more.

Every time I come back from work and she is not there, I take some time to recover and fill my evenings with other activities. I dread the days when I come back from office to find an empty swing.

 

Posted in Life, Mumbai

Trapped in City Noise

Honking cars. Drilling machines. Knocking of hammers. Train running on tracks. Flight taking off. People screaming. The sounds of a city. Noise. There is a constant screeching in the background. There are no pleasant sounds. There is no music. There is an incessant never-ending assault of loud unpleasant sound bytes. You can only choose to distract yourself with something pleasant. But the ears are forced to take the abuse. The noise never stops.

All Day and all night. Every moment of my city life. I hear noise and painful cries. While my ears are abused, my heart is panicked. I feel helpless and frustrated. A part of me cries continuously asking for a release and screaming for help. I wonder if the noise drowns out my prayers. I wait, search and pray for a moment of peace. At least one moment. I haven’t yet become comfortable with the noise. I have learnt to ignore it while I go about my daily life. The moment I take a break from work, the ever-present noise reveals itself. The noise has become so deeply embedded in the fabric of city that life cannot escape from it anymore.

Sometimes, in search of silence, I even avoid contact with other humans. I don’t even want to hear myself talk. I don’t want to hear pleasant music or a soothing prayer. I don’t want to hear a baby laugh or a bird sing. I crave for silence. I crave for peace. At least one moment. A moment when noise cease to exist. A moment when I can hear my breath and my heart’s beat.

 

Posted in Life, Mumbai

Homemaker

I am not much of a homemaker. It’s not news. However, it feels like a new version of my reality because it cannot be ignored anymore. I think on some level deep down, my family and I had hoped that some day perhaps I might be able to make and maintain a beautiful home… perhaps some day I would be able to walk down the path acceptable for women, especially Indian women. It wasn’t meant to be.

I prefer outdoors over indoors. I like open spaces. I am closer to villages than cities. I like gardens more than high-rise towers. I don’t like to accumulate things. I don’t like elaborate furniture and furnishings. I like minimalism because it’s convenient. It suits my mind for the peace it provides and my heart for the beauty of open spaces.

Most of my friends are at a place in their lives where they are busy setting up their homes. The conversations often revolve around buying houses, furniture or planning interior décor. I contribute excitedly for the first couple of times and after that it’s just a fake smile. I find the whole process boring.

It’s a task for me to set up a home… a task that I enjoy only for a day. Next day I like to get on with my life. I am not very fond of housework. I like to keep things clean… at times obsessed with cleanliness. If the home is not cleaned and organized within a day, it bothers me. My usual window of setting up a new house is one day… mostly one night given that I would need to go back to my job next day. This is one of the special advantages of living on rent with minimal belongings.

I don’t own a house. Every new item I buy feels like a burden I will have to carry with me. I would rather spend this money on experiences during my travels around the world. I like to reuse waste to craft interesting items for my home; and change it every time I move to a new house, which is an average of ten months. It also brings a variety to my life. I don’t like the monotony of similar things around me day after day.

After years of nomadic living in a zillion rented apartments, I have lost all interest I ever had in setting up a home. Every minute I take away from my work, painting or writing to set up a house feels like a waste of my life. I moved in a new ‘demanding’ apartment last month. It’s taking me forever to clean and set it up. And I dislike every part of the process. That amount of wasted time feels criminal. I can’t help but imagine all other fruitful things I could have done with this time. As I grow old, I value time more. The time spent in futile avoidable activities feels wrong.

Every year, I search for a house, do the paperwork, clean it, buy sundry new articles for every day use and set up a new ecosystem of maids and other utilities. Especially in the last four years, my life has been filled with temporary unstable housing. I do the work sincerely every time instead of seeking help or hoping that someone would just take care of the work for me. There was never a someone to help… family or friends. Not that they don’t exist in my life but none who would encourage me to be lazy about my life’s responsibilities and take care of me with no questions asked or no favours unaccounted for.

Now I am exhausted. I understand the responsibility of an adult and the absence of a personal genie in the non-magical world. However, I also see the futility of it much more clearly now. Life is temporary. Every subsequent home is temporary. Then why bother! I am happy with the basics. I feel uncomfortable with avoidable luxuries and stability.

I refuse to stay obsessed with home. The absence of obsessive time, money and effort to ‘set-up’ and ‘take care’ of my home is found ‘odd’. Especially because of my gender, there is an unrealistic irrational expectation from me to dedicate sufficient time to my house. The same behavior exhibited by my brother or male friends is discounted by everyone.

So perhaps, it’s wrong of me to say, ‘I am not a homemaker’. ‘Wrong’ is for a woman to spend a day thinking about ‘being a homemaker’, pondering on the disapproval of family and writing almost 1000 words about it to make sense of things. ‘Wrong’ is for most men to go on with their lives expecting some genie (or a woman) to make their living space comfortable and beautiful assuming it to be their birthright.

I understand it’s just a matter of personal choice in life but I find it quite uncomfortable to be questioned on some behavior pattern because it’s ‘unacceptable’ for women.

As an afterthought I realized perhaps problem is with the popular concept of a well-set home and a homemaker. Everyone likes a clean and comfortable living space. But unlike most other people I know, 1) I do not absorb myself in homecare; 2) My preferred style of interior décor is different from the popular one; 3) I choose to spend lesser time on home decoration than others.

So I guess I can be a homemaker but not the more commonly accepted popular version.

 

Posted in Mumbai, Nature, Places

Nature Reclaims. Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The history of Mumbai is strewn with unplanned inorganic growth. More than a billion people now inhabits the city, most of them being migrants from all over the country.

With changing face of commerce, government and population, the city’s infrastructure has developed a very unique architecture.

Every neighbourhood and commercial district has a very interesting story. But I doubt if there is any with more colourful and painful history than Lower Parel. I must admit my knowledge is limited to Internet. Also I am a little more interested in the story because I worked there for about 5 years. Back then, I cribbed about the travel woes and garbage dumps on the streets. But the story of Lower Parel still intrigues me.

Apparently, it was a posh area sometime in the 18th century after the official residence of Governor shifted in Lower Parel. It went through a facelift over the next few years and gradually turned more industrial. For larger part of the twentieth century, it was occupied by textile mills. In parallel, emerged a new habitat of factory workers. By 1980s, it had become a buzzing community where everyone lived as a tribe… an enlarged family with their own inside stories of love and brawls. Their festivals and celebrations were public. The streets were narrow, flanked by small community buildings with one-room houses. Their life revolved around the community. The infrastructure from houses to shops to streets developed around a community life.

And then one day, everything changed. The workers went on strike in 1982 and mills had to stop operations. After the strike lasting almost two years, community fell apart. Cotton mills shifted out of Mumbai, workers went out of job and the factory premises were abandoned.

Today Lower Parel tells a different story. The old mills were taken up by new age offices bringing in glass and steel. Builders made high-rise residential towers for the new white-collar employees of global conglomerates, financial companies and media houses operating out of there. Streets and footpaths were taken by new slum dwellers. Some old mills were turned into fancy clubs and fine dine restaurants bringing in a very unique character to the party outlets not to be found in other planned urban settlements. One of the mill compounds was converted into a shopping mall, aptly named Phoenix Mills.

The streets are still narrow. Some chawls, old buildings with one-room houses, still exist. The entry to a few office complexes is through eerily abandoned mill compounds. New expensive residential apartments stand over small clearings near the slums.

The juxtaposition of new, old and refurbished in Lower Parel feels like a sore to the eye and baffles the confounded mind. This place has seen grandiose, flourishing jobs, happy communities, hunger, violence and dawn of a new world. It’s also a reminder of unplanned urban development in an ancient city of traders.

In this urban jungle with its complicated history of human colonization, I found a forgotten citizen living in oblivion… a tree trying to find a little space of its own. It makes its presence felt vehemently with the roots spreading all over the wall in what appears to be a desperate attempt to live.

On my way back from office a few months back, my colleague’s driver pointed out, ‘doesn’t this look like veins in a human body?!’ Beautiful.

 

dsc_0440

dsc_0438

dsc_0445

Posted in Life, Mumbai, Nature, Painting

Nature Reclaims

During a discussion about a new project on environment, someone shared a few online pictures of nature reclaiming its space from man. They included some shocking images of trees and shrubs growing through abandoned cycle, cars, ship and railway line. Most of them are interesting and amusing. It might feel unnatural initially to see a cycle embedded in a tree trunk. A moment later, it feels silly to call ‘nature’ unnatural.

The image that moved me the most was of tree roots growing through a pavement. It’s less dramatic but more impactful for me. I have seen similar growth in Mumbai many times before and I used to be fascinated with the natural pattern of tree roots. That image felt much more real than the almost unbelievable surreal images of man-made vehicles buried in a jungle of dense trees. It was closer home. In an inconceivable moment, it was easy to simultaneously see the joy of growing life and the agony of life fettered in chains. The growth of these roots finding their way through the pavement is an example of the struggle for survival. Life finds a way.

When I saw a whole bunch of these pictures last week, something changed for me. I kept thinking about a tree I used to see almost every day on my way to work last year. The roots of this tree are spread over a huge wall like a network of veins in a human body… a grotesque yet incredibly beautiful piece of art created by the forces of nature. Now wherever I go in Mumbai, I see more trees with roots sprawling over pavements, roads, fences and buildings. That’s all I see now every time I step out of my home. It’s beautiful and gloomy at the same time.

There are so many of these trees all over Mumbai trying to find their space in the sun. I could easily imagine a forest covering this land a thousand years back that was gradually cut down to make space for traders, capitalists and warring kings. The trees then were happy and healthy. They lived as a community. Now they are restricted and separated. They are alive but slaved. I felt like we took away their home. The spreading roots aren’t a form of revenge; they are attempts to get little more sunlight and space required for survival.

I found this tree growing through the boundary wall of an old building near my home yesterday.

dsc_0363
Tree roots sprawling over a wall of an old building (Mumbai, Sep’16)
dsc_0376
Trees roots sprawling over a wall of an old building (Mumbai, Sep’16)

 

My head is spinning with multiple questions. Is Mumbai even a fit place for humans? Is the environment of Mumbai meant only for a jungle to survive? The city is a port and significant for traders. We grabbed the land, its resources and started to flourish. But in the process, did we create an ecological imbalance we were not supposed to? Do these stifling trees exist in other urban settlements across the world? Is this something to be worried about anyway? May be that’s just how its supposed to be. Perhaps this is the harmony of jungle and city. Perhaps this is the best way for us to coexist. As a city dweller, I want the roads, buildings, railways and other infrastructure. But it bothers me to see the trees being tortured. We took their home. And now they are trying to take it back in an attempt to fight for survival. I wonder what the trees are feeling.

I have never studied biology after school and have no knowledge of the environment. I don’t know much about the trees of Mumbai and the ecological implications of human’s treatment of trees in urban areas. I don’t have answers today. But I can’t get the images out of my mind. Trees and the ever-growing roots are now my latest theme for art. I am fascinated by the patterns of tree roots and the conflict of our coexistence.

While I try to learn more about ecology, I took some time off to paint.

Dusk in a jungle (my imagination of the land of Mumbai just before humans took over… healthy and happy trees soaking in the sunlight)

fullsizerender
Dusk in a jungle

Roots bleeding through the walls (trees trying to breathe in a city with ever growing concrete and cloud of smoke)

fullsizerender-6
Roots bleeding through the walls

Last leaf (Is this how the future looks? Burnt dry tree retaining semblance of leaves only through our imagination)

img_0201
Last Leaf

 

Posted in Life, Mumbai, Places

The city lights

 

img_20140222_225415

 

Deep in the heart of city nights

I find million flickering lights

 

I stand by my window at night and feel the pulse of city lights. Lights fade in and out. Lights go on and off. Shadows move quietly around the dim streetlights and dark corners.

The city lives. The city breathes. The city is awake. The city waits for sleep and a moment of peace. Drowned in sorrow, the city weeps. Sometimes the city dances with joy and celebrates life.

The city hides behind those tiny lights. Who are the people looking out of those tiny windows? What are their stories? Why don’t they sleep? Do they dream with open eyes? Are they away from their loved ones?

Billion stories hidden behind those tiny lights. Billion awake or dreaming. Billion counting the stars and wishing.

Billion tiny lights. Billion stories.

Posted in Mumbai

After the attacks

Yesterday’s bomb blasts in Mumbai reminded me of the terrorists’ attacks of 2008; I was in Mumbai back then and the whole experience now came back to me. Instinctively, I went back to my old folders and opened my entries from November 2008.

While reading it I realized that even though I got some comfort in venting out through words, I was restless. Both entries were incomplete; before I could finish my thoughts, I got overwhelmed by grief, despair and an inexplicable discomfort. I was overcome by this weird feeling of suddenly being exposed to violence and extreme pain. I felt insecure and unsafe; I felt sad for all those who suffered; and worse of all I felt almost helpless because I had to put all of this aside to continue my work which paid my salary at the end of every month.

Now that I have a blog, I want to publish what I, as a resident of Mumbai, felt when my city was under threat. What follows in this post is a culmination of those two entries from my private folder.

—————————————————————

After the attacks;   Mumbai;   28-Nov-08 and 29-Nov-08

 

As the day went by, it became gloomy. Fridays have never been more depressing. There were fewer people in the office; many more left within an hour after lunch. ‘The final assault’ was still on as highlighted by one of the multiple news channels covering the story of terrorist attacks since Wednesday night. The only topic of conversation was the post-analysis of the attacks. Like many others, I left the office a bit earlier than usual, around 6 in the evening. The traffic was relatively faster, the roads relatively empty. I reached home, changed into more comfortable clothes, switched off the lights and lied down on my bed. This temporary rented flat that I called home in this city had never felt so welcoming and secure. In the safety of my home, in the comfort of my bed, the terror stories of the past two days kept ringing in my mind. The wild assortment of news headlines and the day-long discussions of my colleagues and friends kept me disturbed. To distract my mind away, I played some light music. Lying there in the dark, I felt a teardrop fell down my cheek. For the second time in my life ever, I felt tears in my eyes. I couldn’t help feel sorry for the people who died, for the people who were still fighting and for the destruction of the much loved city.

 

Next day my colleague mentioned about how she cried while driving back from office. Another colleague, born and brought up in Mumbai, said how for the first time ever he is actually scared of going to a theatre or a mall. The event has left a deep wound and possibly a permanent scar on the citizens of Mumbai. Not just the ones born and brought up here, but many others like me, who have come from all over the country to find their dreams, enchanted by the city and try to find home in the chaos.

 

I was tired from a long week of work and upset with these attacks. Around 7, I went to bed, in no mood to do anything else. My friend called up to ask for a dinner. He was at Café Mondegar during gunfire at Leopold. Despite the gloomy mood, I agreed to go out since he was leaving for Delhi the next day. On my way to the restaurant, the auto rickshaw guy kept talking about the attacks. Like every Mumbaiker, he also had his story to tell. He was at the signal when the taxi at Vile Parle blasted. He then asked me, in a very casual tone, if someone I knew died. I simply replied no. He then told me about the two of his neighbours who were killed, one of whom was supposed to leave for his village to meet his family the very night.

 

I reached the restaurant, completely disgusted at the utmost inhuman act and sorrowful for those who lost their families forever. My friends were waiting inside, upbeat about meeting after such a long time and recounting previous night’s ‘adventures’. I was somewhat surprised to see happy faces and light mood around me. I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed over their complete oblivion and disrespect to those who lost their lives or families or to welcome the happy mood like a breath of fresh air after a gloomy day. I was most surprised at the rather casual behaviour of my friend who had a pretty narrow escape the night before. For him, life moved on by the next day. But many others, who were not that lucky, would remain under grief for many more days to come.

 

Life would never be the same again. Not just for the ones who have lost, even for the ones like us, who watched the drama unfold on the TV screens from the safety of our homes. Mumbaikars will not feel safe in their own city for many more days to come. My colleague remarked that he might just avoid going to movies theatres or malls for some time now. The leaders up there say that Mumbai’s spirit will make the city bounce back and zooming with life in no time. But while walking down the roads, talking to the people on street, I find that spirit missing. I think everyone is tired of bouncing back; many are scarred for life and in grief. Most of us want to lie down quietly for some time and cry for the loss of our loved ones, for the sorry state of our beloved city. But we also know the professional city we live in, does not give us time for a break. There is work to be done, with much more urgency because we lost almost two working days over this mayhem. The work can’t wait, the business can’t wait, the world will not wait for us to get over our misery and move on. It’s not the spirit of Mumbai that brings it back with all its life and action; it’s the need of Mumbai. We will all be back to our work on Monday, the roads will again see heavy traffic, and the people will be running to catch the trains to their work. The attacks would reduce to a news story. But the pain and gloominess would stay with us somewhere during those free lunch hour conversations or the gossips around evening tea or even while driving back alone to home from work. This time, the pain refuses to go; it refuses to get overcome by the spirit of Mumbai.