Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sensory Overload

What is it about Bombay? There's more of everything per square inch than you could imagine: more waterfalls (as you pass the tunnels between Pune and Bombay), more trains, more sweat, more potholes, traffic, people, and a stronger urge to resort to cliches to contain the experience.

I love Bombay only because I know I can leave it in a week and regain my sanity elsewhere. I can sit in buses that take three hours to get to town with equanimity, only because I know everything is temporary and therefore wonderful. Two days on the 84 and I recognise Elaben Bhatt's clinic as I cross it; I know the building in Khar, next to a nursery - the only one I've seen in Bombay in years, that has grass growing in its walls. I wonder whose building this is, because I can't help thinking of it in terms of Property. The other building somewhere else, where the High Court Receiver has planted signs some time in 1982.

On trains the handles sway and creak and the women talk and position themselves at the doors well in advance. Everyone knows Bandra because of the nala that continues to stink, though Vile Parle - Parla - no longer has the warm odour of biscuits as you approach the station.

The Sophia lane has an intimidating sign saying the side entrance is only for staff and students who have id cards. The way is marked by two railings painted white. The apartments on that road used to be that shade of white when I was at Sophia. I used to stare though the windows, hoping to see a life inside those rooms that was as vivid as in my imagination. The building is now an indeterminate grey. The roads are cleaner, and the hole-in-the-wall vada pau person has disappeared. Instead, steam rises from a dosa cart that seems to have been displaced from outside PMGP in Andheri East. No one is smoking - not even the boyfriends whose cars line the road leading to the gates of Sophia; not even women sneaking out during the break, away from the nuns' sharp eyes.

Everything in Bombay happens at once. Everyone in Bombay needs a tele-lens to make sense of the wealth of detail, to pick some things out and lose to a shallow depth of field all the other things: the pigeons that shit, the tipped over garbage can on the stairs, the newspapers piling up at the window, the kid in the red t-shirt who, every morning, climbs up the ladder to the sintex tank to check the water level. The chld in the flat on the ground floor whom you know only from his wrists that reach out for the katori, or the plate. The two pink floribunda roses that have lasted all week. The bricks in the subway that you need to step on carefully lest you topple over, which must be red but look only a lighter shade of grey than the walls.

And the things that you can't remember any more because other experiences have replaced them before they even registered: faces on streets, odd signboards, things people said. If it comes to that, people whom you knew ages ago, whom you ought to recongnise but can't and at whom you smile vaguely, hoping that's the end of the interaction, but know with a sinking feeling that they will come to you and call you by name and ask what you are doing these days.

Bombay is too much. I love it!


anita & amit said...

hey sd, sorry about not meeting up. in fact, i had plans to at least try and make it to the reading but baby n fell ill. and i just loved this piece of yours. i was reading it this afternoon and was about to leave a comment when the net went off. and then i found your comment in the mail... yes, seriously wish we'd met up!

Space Bar said...

anita: never mind. next time we've got to meet. i saw surabhi after four years or so! hope n is well...

Cheshire Cat said...

Can you put up any of your poem readings online for those of us who aren't in one of the major Indian metropolises?

Space Bar said...

cat: that's something i've been thinking of...let's see. i'd like to put up a few.