Of Monsoon, Mumbai and Love

Part 1

The word monsoon comes from the Arabic word mawsim

When the Arab sailors would come looking for riches in our lands

The winds of the east would change directions holding them back

Forcing their ships to wait – pining for Ihla Da Boa Vida (the Island of Good Life)

The Dutch would do the same after four months around Africa

Chasing stolen maps, they’d reach these shores only to find “moesson”

The trade winds of the east making them wait

For these clouds to change their hues

The British would time their deaths to it

Claim no one survives two monsoons in this godforsaken island

Yet they stayed – for death in Bom Bahiya – the Good Bay

Meant they were war heroes – in their battle for a British India

***

Do you ever think about me – your poet?

Everytime you look at the monsoon slashing at your windows

Do you stare at puddles in potholes

Imagining a different reflection of me with each ripple

I’m a lot like this island, you know

I’m not a part of the whole

I show my love the same way

By longing for you oceans away

You’ve tried reclaiming me from under the sea of solitude

Many times at your own expense

Yet you fail to claim me

I am and will forever be submerged in my silence

So – you wait out my monsoons

And descend with your ships of thoughts

When the clouds in my mind have cleared

You bask in the glory of sunshine

While my thoughts like stones drown me in my procrastination

Your love is a silver lining

And my love – the cloud

While you sigh at the smile on my lips

I just want to rain my words on your joy parade

Part 2

The brave they landed

The Parsis, the Jews, the Iranis – the Runaways

The British they were just a rubber stamp

This was and is an island of rejects

I often wonder how does the city not burst into flames

When every one in it is a firecracker?

Instead its lights from the sky,

Quietly guide our souls home every night

***

I like this, city keep my flames inside

Quietly burning from the inside out

While you – are always on fire

Forever warming my cold feet

You celebrate my empty rooms

Win my silence like a trophy

And I keep my longing for you packed in boxes

We will love like this forever I suppose

The Ballad of the Labourer’s Daughter

Have you seen the nests they are building with everything we left behind?

Can they see our broken homes from their heights?

Do they not feel the resentment plastered on their walls?

Can they not smell your sweat flowing in their drains?

Or feel my mother’s tears wetting their streets?

Those happy faces I see through the glass windows

Seem like ghosts stuck in the peepal tree rooted in your stories

The crane came in the night

It always comes in the night

Raising its head like a snake ready to bite

This wall that lies ruined was the face of our fort

You built it yourself brick by brick

“That way our house will be just as strong as the tower next door”, you said.

It was a tiny palace behind the castle, but it was ours.

On days when you’d be too tired to tell bedtime stories

We made up stories out of the crevices in your hands

Those scars you won in a battle

Those scratches were from crawling through the trenches

Your bony fingers were hiding your superhuman strength

My father was a war hero everyday

In the mornings you’d be gone before our dreams ended

I never once wondered if you’d dreamt anything at all!

Our school was beyond the railway tracks

You would help us cross them every day

A shepherd flocking his herd

“They’re making another building, next to school” I’d say

You’d just smile and say

“That’s for you to stay in when you grow up”

I’d look up and wonder

All that hard work just to be locked up in a tower?

In the nights when our palace was silent

I’d hear your whispers through the walls

I’d touch them so your words would flow through me

Your stories of everyday valour

Some nights I even heard your laughter

It was rare but when it came

It beamed like lightening through the walls and touched my heart

The night the crane came in

You picked me up in your arms

You couldn’t see but I was staring at my books in the corner

My only friends at the time

I tried very hard to hide my tears on your chest

You thought it was the heat of the night making you sweat

I didn’t know then but my dreams that night were my best

The hum of the machine pierced through the night

As if singing a chorus to the lament of our crumbling walls

You held me tighter with each thud

You were turning yourself into my fort

Suddenly I heard nothing, not my mother’s sobs or the crumbling walls

I looked up and you were smiling down at me

“Time to build a new nest”, you said.

Sketch by Daniel David Talegaonkar

Mumbai (The Canvas)

The sky is a grey canvas

On to which you claw your arms

Desperate to paint in flashes

Longing for a place in the universe

 

Do you not see

 

That woman on the side of the road

Praying for her child’s first meal?

That man hanging on the rails of a train

On his way to earn his house’s bread?

The millions of feet wading through a murky sea

To meet an enlightened merchant?

 

No.

 

Instead you throw yourself up

Painting pointy streaks on your sky

You are Icarus learning to fly

Too fast too high

 

You do not see

What happens in these small lanes at night

Where lost children hunt their latest fix

Dreamers stand outside celebrity houses

To get a glimpse of their Moses

Where a bad day at the stock exchange

Bankrupts a tea stall

 

Black.

 

As your canvas turns its shade

You fight its darkness with your bejeweled lights

You party, you drink, you dance

Pump up the sounds to SCREAM your existence

 

How do you not know?

You don’t need a mark on the universe

You are your own universe

You are the body and the spirit

The ethereal and the real

You don’t need your sky

You are your own canvas!

Mumbai.jpg

In My City


I am living what seem to be the last few days here in this city. And yes the reference to the Priyanka Chopra Hall of Crap was just coincidental. It has a life this place like those scary horror movies that claim houses have spirits. Only this city is not scary, in fact it is the contrary. It lives and breathes every day. It sits with you in empty auto rides smiling and hugs the ocean on the Marine Drive from sunrise to sunset.
You can choose to be anyone here because the city is like that old friend who doesn’t judge you. It branches out into parts you probably haven’t seen before and yet holds it back together. There is a reason why the city has been a victim of more terror attacks than other Indian cities. It has this troubling sense of equilibrium; like it is going to descend to chaos any second and yet it hangs on, like an eternal pause. I suppose the terrorists would probably just think it is easy target to bring a nation down but unfortunately every time the city just gets a little ruffled and falls right back into its place as if nothing went wrong.
Unlike Delhi (and mind you it is my hometown and I love the city), people are not looking to pick fights with everyone else. They are instead all about doing their jobs. No wonder it is the financial capital because the culture is that of being industrious. There is no time for laziness, no afternoon siestas (unlike Kolkatta). This city means hard work even when it comes to art and music. It celebrates struggle and gives a grand prize to ones struggling the most. It has so many faces, you tend to lose count. Some days it is that old friend driving you home safe post a night of relentless partying at 1 30 AM. At others it is the boss who works you till the wee hours of the morning. It is also a parent who takes care of you and on many occasions, it is an actor that pretends there is no chaos in this world. The city is like many one night stands rolled into one. Every night you think you know it one bit better and in the morning it surprises you with a new twist in the story.
It is, of course, the people who make this city. I remember a taxi driver telling me this one day he explained why Mumbai is so safe and Delhi isn’t. His logic was that the men in this city come from their homes and earn for their families and send back money. For them, their job is of utmost importance, people are too busy making ends meet to even consider a crime. In Delhi, however, there is no such transience. I have another theory. In the heart of Maharashtrian culture, there lies this inherent respect for women. Perhaps something that slowly erodes as you go up north. Mumbai thankfully has managed to hold on to everything that is good in each culture and build its own humanity.
I didn’t even realize when this city became my best friend until I was sitting alone in an auto, Muhammad Rafi playing in the background and the auto driver quaintly humming “Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya”. That’s what it does, this city. It has an eternal friendship with life and you don’t even realize it and it has found a place in your heart.

Cafe Samovar: the Artist’s hideout

Too much has been written here about the city (with people telling me I’m obsessed). But the truth of the matter is, it is the small things that make a big difference. On Sunday, I was introduced to this small place. Out on the edge of Kala Ghoda (which to this day remains the most mystic triangle I have been on in the city), there is a gallery that houses a tiny café called the Café Samovar. The heritage dates it back to the golden times of Indian Cinema and artistry. 

The café is rather small which sort of spells itself to you like a modest little secret getaway from the rumblings of the city. On one side it has the trendy French windows of the gallery with lights decorated with handmade lampshades, on the other side there is a window opening to a garden. It was the first time I had seen Marigold being used to decorate the tables.

We walked in through the narrow doorway and the café opened our eyes to the varied cultures in Mumbai, from old parsi veterans of art to young groups of college going teens.  The conversations can just grow on with Hariprasad Chaurasia playing in the background (the patrons have good taste) The service is top class and you don’t have to wait for hours to get your food. The culture in this age old café is so vastly different from your regular CCDs that you almost begin to wonder who it was who said there was no culture of cafes in India before these chains came along. No, the culture was very much there, it just wasn’t pop cultured the way it is now.

The café is housed with the perfect intention, one gets to look at beautiful exhibitions of art and then sip a cup of mint chai and talk of what one just witnessed.

The only drawback is that the café closes at 7 15 PM. But having spent all of around 150 bucks and managed to have 2 chais, a coffee and the beloved find the mint chai and yummy and filling snacks, this café now comes on my regulars list. Definitely, a place I’d frequent much more. So should you! Who knows, you might just bump into the intellectually rich clientele it boasts of J

Maximum City

There are people writing books, some who choose to spam inboxes. I, for one, am speechless. Mostly because of the confidentiality agreement we signed at the start of the internship. But what is not confidential is my view of the city. It’s been a year in Mumbai and I am almost attached to it by now. I say almost because attachment with anything is always fleeting for me.  India has a sense of poetry so deeply imbibed in its core that every city seems like a verse but Mumbai, Mumbai is a poem in itself.
Yes, the infrastructure is awful and yes, rains add about 45 minutes to your travel time. But face it, no other city would treat you like its guest every single day. You don’t really belong here, but the city makes you feel at home. It’s a weird middle path between the two emotions. One of excitement over visiting the city for the first time, and other of standing up for the city in front of the critics as if it were your own.
In no other city would being a writer fetch you this many brownie points, and no other city treats its artists with such love and respect. Public transport in Mumbai provides me with that which Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai couldn’t provide – safety! And those who are now going to go up in arms about how Chennai/Bangalore is safe for women, just know that I have indeed lived in these cities and know what safety means and they do not provide it.
Mumbai was once rated the rudest city, clearly, the majority of people who took the survey were rude Delhiites who for some reason just cannot digest the fact that despite of the amazing infrastructure, people still rate their city tad lower than Mumbai. Here is the reason to that, there is no scare of leering men in Mumbai, no scare of the policemen ending up harassing you more if you complain to them, there is no running home at 10 PM scared of venturing out post 11, and most importantly, there is no rudeness likes of which are found on the streets of CP. I have had more number of strangers help me out in Mumbai than in Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai.
Now don’t get me wrong in my heart of hearts I am still that rude Delhiite who tries to (in vain) to find faults with the maximum city. But as my beloved city of Djinns is slowly turning into a true face of capitalistic selfishness, I find peace in the independence Mumbai has given me, an independence that evaded me at the capital. This is the only city where I don’t care whether I have company to watch a play or not, I just go anyway. A city that embraces you the most when you are alone is in its true nature the best gift to civilization.
Be it the walk down Marine drive, or a quiet evening at the Worli sea face, the million malls across the city or the classiness of NCPA or Prithvi, the city lets you live in constant entertainment. Even a daily ride back from the office to the hostel is full of eventful surprises. The city brings out the best and the worst in people both at the same time. It is close to the dark underbellies of slums and yet lives ruthlessly for the rich. Mumbai in its heart of hearts is what a capitalistic society should be about. A society that automatically in spirit, heals itself and grows everyday in its worth, in its value and in its life.