Haan yeh zaroori nahin
Jo paas hai, woh saath hai.
Na ye zaroori hai ki
Jo saath hai, woh paas hai.
This is a passage that I’ve always found to be remarkable and meaningful. It’s a beautiful lyric from a mediocre song which was written for a forgettable movie called Radio. It essentially means that whatever is close to you may not be with you, and that whatever is with you or beside you, is not necessarily close to you or at the top of your mind. It’s obviously more beautiful in Hindi than in English, but reflects many of my feelings on the transition between Mumbai and Vancouver.
There are experiences, people and places in our lives that will never be as close to us as we might have held them once, but may continue to keep an irreplaceable part of our hearts with them. Shreya Goshal’s syrupy voice in this lyric describes how a momentary interaction can be more influential than a lifetime of steeping, like a teabag, in the atmosphere of the place we were born into. Who we have always known doesn’t define who we’ve always been. Regardless of place, time or circumstance, we create our own stories by choosing what is of beauty and meaning in our lives. I would like to believe that there is no interaction that we have for no reason. I’m grateful for every person, situation and circumstance that created the ocean of meaning that surrounded me over more than two years in Mumbai and more than three years in India.
I’ve been back in Canada for two very full months now, walking a tightrope between remembering and longing for my life in Bombay and trying to create something new and wonderful here. This marks the end of little bird bombay.
I want to say a heartfelt, heart-full thank you to each and every person who has read, followed, written to me, or felt something from my writing and experiences over the history of this blog. You are the reason I’ve shared so much. Thank you engaging with me and encouraging me: you are so appreciated. Here is to continuing to seek, to learn, and to find beauty and meaning in every experience.
Both born and bred Mumbaikars and ex-expats will agree that away from Bombay, there is a lot to miss. These are the things I remember the most.
I miss my little kitchen at the Pali Palace. It was far from an ideal space; cramped and empty.
It was lacking in elemental kitchen resources, like a salad bowl and a bread knife. It was lacking in design principles: there was no counter, and no ceiling fan. It was enough for me. I miss coming home in the evenings, cooking barefoot; sweating and sticky from the heat in the room; eating on my bed that doubled as a dining table, couch and storage area; falling asleep satisfied after a long, exhausting, wholly worthwhile day. Despite the yells of the kids in the hall, I slept better in sound than I sleep today in silence.
I miss being surrounded by awe-inspiring people, especially women, who had surpassed their circumstances.
I miss the colour, design, detail and texture of everyday things.
I even miss the gross things, and there were a lot of them. Crows, butcher shops, fish markets and trash smells were only a couple of chapters in the novel that you could write on gross things in Bombay.
I miss being a Bandra socialite with other Bandra socialite friends, especially Maeve, pictured being glamorous at Eat Around the Corner.
More than anything, I miss the detailed beauty and inspiration in everyday things.
On the western express, the traffic is silent compared to the elements, the wind and rain, the shouting advertisements, the screaming of the minds of people around me. A verdant jungle edges on this concrete expanse; a gunfire of greenery on either side. Oil pools on the asphalt display glossy rainbows.
Drivers lean forward, lean back, lean out of windows. Graffiti glares. Billboard models stare beautifully, vacuously, unmoving, unfeeling.
Cars fall into rows like dominoes. Raindrops bounce off the pavement like oil on a tawa, in dance, in flight.
Moving through life, through cities, through emotions, through technology, through relationships: humans have been celebrated for being a most adaptable species for our ability to move through change. It’s a continuous swim against an unending tide.
I think that people treasure images and monuments of great beauty and history because they are the most timeless things around us. A monument’s lifespan exceeds that of a person who is bound to time and bound to change. It represents a constancy that doesn’t exist in the rest of our understanding of the world we live in.
The Taj Mahal is one of those monuments. While every visitor (including yours truly) comes with a specific lens, emotional history, and hope and desire for the future, the backdrop of the Taj and the intention that inspired it remains timeless, unchanging and beautiful.
April 9th 2012
Do you remember lying in your bed in Bombay, fan whirring, the grills on the whole building wearing their drying laundry coats over their rust coats? They were quivering like they were afraid of what you were afraid of.
This is right then.
Bombay will never leave me. She will stay as grit under my nails, as kisses from a lover from the touch of the overhead fan, as the desperate cry of a stray cat: so loud, so unheard.
There is a soft light, orange and warming on my closed eyes. There is a streetscape soundtrack playing on low volume. I’m in the sort of sleep that lifts so slowly that I may still be in a dream.
Standing up, I see that the blinds are open. The street soundtrack plays through my open window.
In the hallway where kids run like wild animals in the evenings is a neighbour from the flat opposite mine, a mother of three. She stands in her house sari, pallu tucked away, brushing her hair out on the doorstop. Strays fall to the cool tile. Her little ones are still passed out flat on their backs in the morning heat, on the straw mats that define the difference between the bed and the floor in their home. They are all splayed limbs and angles, chests rising and falling so gently. Hindu bhajans, sweet devotional songs are playing at full volume. The toddlers, born into noise, are unaffected. Theirs is a deep sleep.
In the middle of the stairwell on my way down, I nearly trip over one of the older girls, dressed for school. She has taken her small mirror and set it up on the steps where the bright outside light falls through the slats. Squatting, gazing into the mirror, she applies kajal to her lower eyelids and powders her whole face a shade lighter with talc.
At the foot of the building are the shopfronts of the cycle wala who lives on the first floor and the tailor who travels every day from Mira road. Each has unlocked the heavy padlocks, pulled their grates upwards, opened their shops to begin the day.
A young man with dark skin and beautiful forearms is collecting everyone’s garbage from each floor, hauling it all downstairs. Outside the building a watchman sits and watches me.
The fruit vendors wave. The street sweeper smiles. I am in the thick of it, yet none of it touches me. The sounds and smiles fade.
The searing light on my eyelids pushes through my dream. The streetscape soundtrack begins again. Standing up, I see that the blinds are open. Looking outside, I realise I am halfway across the globe and all of Bombay feels like a dream.
We carry all of ourselves to whatever places we go and give it to whichever people we meet. All of our habits and characteristics, all of our beauty and wonder, our frustration, our ache, our hurt. Our sadness and softness; our strength and our lostness. Everything that we think we know, everything we know we have yet to learn, and the vast and endless abyss of everything that we don’t even know that we don’t even know.
All of our aloneness. All of our hope.
All of who you are will follow you anywhere you go. This truth is startling. This truth is a gift.