Monsoon always makes me pine for Mumbai. When it rained earlier this month, I was nothing short of envious. No other rains are rains once you have met them in Bombay. I think that is what binds us. You are family if you’ve ever been greeted by them. Now, it feels like there is some grand event where I haven’t been invited.
A month into the city, Bombay was so incomprehensible that it scared me. But I also knew that if there was anything I was ever looking for, it was this.
On the first of the many rainy mornings that I would wake up to, I find an old couple sitting near the grilled window in the building across, sipping their tea, while their clothes on the line flutter in the wind, promising two more days until they will finally dry off.
The milkman makes his rounds, playing with his cycle bell. I play old blues on Saavn and we are all sad. The sun is out; it is drizzling. Don’t expect to see a rainbow, because the buildings are too high and too many and there is no terrace or open balconies where you live.
Autowallahs will advise you to study well and not get involved in relationships. “Where is the love today, beta? It is all money”. You will agree. Two years later, they will still be scolding you about not walking enough.
The restaurants across the road, where you have dinner on weekends will get you change for the Rs. 2000 note you hand them for the Rs. 50 dosa you had. Generously and without mentioning it, they will waive off your GST.
An old sweet faced woman will save you a seat in the local. And you will be highly obliged. In night locals standing on CST, the driver will stop for you, if you rush towards an already crowded 22:50 CST-Panvel, a Vada Pao in one hand and the dripping umbrella in another. The policeman inside will smile at you and stand up to give you his seat. And you will say, no uncle, it is okay. At Vadala, when everyone gets down, you will have space to stretch your legs and rest your head to catch up on reading.
Another local will slowly pass by, you will lock eyes with someone and suddenly you will not be alone. It is pouring now; the lights will go out. The train will stop and you will be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Out of the dead silence, someone will start to hum a song, reminding you of home and long chats with your family. When the lights come on, the singing will stop and you will be left looking at faces around you, faces jolted back to their lives long ago.
You will be lost, looking for Yazdani Bakery and will hesitantly stop a woman rushing by.
“Do you know where Yazdani is?”
“No. Sorry I don’t”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Wait, I’ll ask someone for you.”
“No, really its…”
“Bhaiya, tell this girl where that old cafe is. Explain the way to me. I’ll explain it to her.”
And before you know, your heart will be melting at the kindness.
Mumbai feels like a sad city to me. India’s Urbs Primus- content with the melancholia, with its speed and with its shortcomings. So much so, that if you pause at the station, everything slows down and you can catch snippets of conversations and expressions.
Someone catches your eye and smiles at you and two old uncles stop to ask if you’re okay.
“Are you lost?”
“Catching a train?”
“Yes, Uncle. Panvel.”
“Oho. So late in the night? A lot of rush, huh?”
“A little, yes uncle.”
“Travel safely beta.”
You are left smiling as they walk away into the sea of heads, looking like childhood best friends who have grown old together. And you realize that there is love in the city, hidden behind smartphones and double shift jobs, the hoard of colliding people and the traffic that won’t move.
When you get down from the train, the policeman waves you goodbye. Pandey Uncle, the watchman, hands you your keys when you reach home. You watch as a small boy from one of the houses comes rushing to him. Pandey Uncle holds his hands and makes him cross the road to the Vada Pao stall. Having bought one for each of them, you see them coming back. He waves. You wave back. You turn around to walk home and step into a puddle. Someone laughs from the window on the second floor. You laugh too. Fresh touches of melancholy make us happy.
Tuhina Sharma thrives on nostalgia. She tries to read one book per week and write about all things wishful. She has lived in Mumbai and is waiting to return. She works with children and is always on the lookout for stupid jokes and profound stories to share with them. Tuhina has previously published in The Hindu and India Development Review.
Photographs: Ragamala and Rewa are budding phone photographers. They like clicking pictures of flowers, friends and skies and everything else they find beautiful, which is most things.