The Bombay I Love…the Mumbai I endure

 


Mother Maiden Mistress

This month my book Mother Maiden Mistress completes two years.  I got a copy out and touched the cover lovingly. I double-check, yes it’s real. The book is still one of the nicest living dream, I have.

Every time someone asks me about the book, I tell them the nicest things; when interested people ask me about what’s in the book, I tell them step wise about the structure of the book. I tell them everything yet nothing.

What I actually want to tell him or her is about the day I thought it is not going to happen, about the journey which began with no publisher in sight and about the times I doubted myself. But who wants to listen to that? Probably the people who want to get their book published?

Yeah, I have become that idea that comes to my friends friend’s mind, my relative’s relative mind (pun intended), that random guy/girl who took my number at an event. They call to ask, how did you get the book published? But what they actually want to ask is – Can you get me in touch with your publisher so I don’t waste the time in finding one? At times I ask them if they have completed the manuscript. And they say that will happen but I doubt whether their idea has even touched paper.

They live in the bubble I call Bombay.

For a very long time, nearly 17 years, I didn’t realise or rather recognize the privilege of living in Bombay.

It could be that I had not yet travelled or stayed in any other place – I had no relatives to visit in my native place and traveling for pleasure was a luxury. I remember the first time I went to Bangalore and everyone I met distinctly identify me as Bombay-ite.
You are from North? Bombay…right?

For the South, everything above is North.

No, I say, I am from west of India.

No, no, Bombay is north.

A random rickshaw person asks me, have I met Amitabh Bachchan? Sachin Tendulkar? Sunil Gavaskar?

I would say no and he would say I want to come to Bombay just for that.

At that moment I realised that Bombay has more iconic things than Gateway of India and my house.

I loved the houses in Bangalore they were huge! I actually had to walk from one room to another. In Bombay just a hop and you are in another room. But still visitors from out of Bombay seemed to like my house and usually stayed longer than I had in their house.

I would come back home exhausted every day with day’s travel and work and they would be exuberant about how good Bombay is. I would wonder, we stay at the same place, but they seemed to be living in a different Bombay than mine.

Bombay was the key word.

They believed in the potential of Bombay. Of things happening here.

In Delhi, if your relative visits you, you can take them to say the Delhi Gate, Lal Killa, Nizamuddin, and Lodhi Gardens. In Bombay, I took them to Juhu Chowpatty, Amitabh’s House, Linking Road, Fashion Street, Taj Hotel, Oberoi Hotel, and walk up to the now non-existing Sea Rock Hotel, show them the revolving hotel. That’s Bombay. Over time we have added to this list Shah Rukh’s house, Salman Khan’s house, a bunch of new eateries, the free way, the Bandra-Worli sea link.

I didn’t know what they saw in Bombay but soon I was to realise that.

I was young then had just about started college when I was robbed of my distinct identity. Bombay.

One fine day Bombay became Mumbai.

And Victoria Terminus station became CST.

I was slowly losing myself. I was no longer from Bombay. I was from Mumbai which until then for me was a place where my father went to work. You lived in Bombay, but you worked Mumbai – which was for me – Masjid Bunder, CP Tank, Crawford Market, Mohammed Ali road. My father worked in Mumbai but yearned for a life in Bombay. Mumbai is where you earn Bombay is where you spend.
The first time I realised my love for the city was in 92 blasts. I was at Fashion Street and intended to visit the Stock Exchange later. Harshad Mehta phenomenon was a big thing in Bombay then. And the fact that he was from my suburb made me curious of what is stock exchange. As a kid, I had accompanied father to a small place where commodities were being traded, where one man shouted and others shouted more than him. But I was curious to see how a modern Stock Exchange worked and Harshad Mehta phenomenon was a big draw then.  But I got late bargaining on a skirt and I dropped the plan and decided to go home, better get the trains before peak hours.
Had I not caught the train, I would have been caught in the mob.

The images I saw next day were horrific but Bombay moved on. In a day or two when I went out again I saw billboards proclaiming 92% attendance in offices the day after the blast – Bombay is strong, Bombay is resilient.

I believed in that false hope then. I believed in Bombay then. I fell in love with Bombay then. I didn’t realise that it was Mumbai they were talking about. That Mumbai went to work to because they could not afford to lose a day’s wage. It was not resilience, it was about survival.

Bombay is the city of dreams.

Mumbai is the reality I have been dealing with.

I hated it, when the announcer at my railway station would tell me that Platform No. Char var Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus la jannari jalad local  aiyat Aahe.

And Under my breath I would mumble, VT, VT!

Bombay was the dream where good things happened.

Where dreams came true.

Where there is a chance of Amitabh Bachchan standing next to you.
You see the crowd that stands outside Prateeksha and Mannat, they love Bombay; you see people make their way through the crowds and at times get angry about the time wasted, that’s Mumbai.

When I became a worker bee I realised there were more people who were here to stake a claim in the city I thought belonged to me. But Bombay is city of immigrants my colleague said.

But I grew up here.

And she laughed, Bombay doesn’t belong to anyone.

Yes it’s a dream that many were having alongside me.

Things happened in Bombay of my dreams, but I struggled in Mumbai. Mumbai made me work hard, Mumbai made me adjust with things, Mumbai made me wait the longest for things I thought I deserved.

In the Bombay I grew up in, I had a bankwala Aunty. In Mumbai I meet different bank personnel every time.

The Bombay I knew Sachin didn’t have to tell that he is an Indian first and Amitabh didn’t promote Gujarat.

The Bombay I grew up in didn’t have marked areas for communities and had fewer temples.

The Bombay I grew up in had more faith in themselves and the line was shorter at Siddhivinayak.

There are times when I have to mandatorily write Mumbai I prefer to write as Bombay alias Mumbai. A dream that is lost.

But Bombay springs up again and again. Like that time when Sachin was in my flight, the time when I was standing in a crowd with hundreds for a book launch and the author calls out to me for help and I realise that she actually meant me to help Amitabh Bachchan who was to launch the book. I wanted to call that Bangalore rickshaw wala and tell yes I met him, I spoke to Amitabh Bachchan.

People then were in love with Bombay, people now are critical of Mumbai. A city that is so old and trying so hard to be so new. Nobody is worrying about her soul but is stripping her layer after layer for new things.
I shifted from Mumbai to Bombay the day my necessities were met. I started living in Bombay as I left the trains for a car, the street food for hotel and bank Aunty for a relationship manager.

I thought of doing a book on cinema in 2000. I didn’t know anything about publishing but I had a partner who believed in it. We started a small content providing firm. Mumbai made me work on my deals, made us take up assignments that we didn’t want to, met nice people, adjusted with bad people suffered the stepping over us, stepping on us…but the dream was alive.

And then the book happened in 2007. The idea was put on paper and a structure was created. The journey started without knowing that it would ever reach its end.

Sweat, papers, movies, DVD’s, articles, books, people, negativity, despair, hope, loss, emotions just about everything was happening with us. But we hung on to our work like the person hanging out on a fast Ambarnath local hoping to get in sometime. We did.

18th April 2012, the book was officially released.

Just a day prior there was a scare about the launch not happening.

Just a month prior the book was to be rescheduled.

Just a year back the book was put on hold.
But 18th April, 2012 the book came out.

And someone asked me, when did you start working on the book?
In 2000, I said.
Jigna Kothari

The Finale