The city of my dreams

Whenever I visit Bombay now, I'm a fragile vessel of conflicting and equally-demanding emotions.

Appreciation.  Of the architechtural quirks and delights that dot the old city.  A new-found, on-third-look, see-past-the-grime type.  I always liked and admired them, but I didn't really understand how wonderful they were till I spent sufficient time with the oh-this-pub-has-been-running-since-1793* Brits.

Wistfulness.  Due to the growing realisation that this appreciation has come too late.  A reminder brought forcefully home as I decide to go and properly observe a vaguely-remembered colonial-era building, only to be confronted by a concrete block of unimaginative dullness.

Desperation. Borne of knowing that even if I were to win the biggest Euromillions jackpot possible, I would be able to buy and restore just about a dozen of the few villas still remaining, thanks to the city's insane land prices. A mere dozen.

Claustrophobia.  The city was always narrow and the existence of some parts felt like you had walked into a Tardis, and now it's going vertical in a way that would make ol' Jack scold his beans for being so slow to grow.  Walking down some roads now, it feels like they're all listing towards each other, trying to crowd out any little sky, and are waiting to come toppling down on you.

Despair and disbelief.  At the sheer levels of filth and infrastructural decrepitude. A decade ago, a dozen years into the liberalisation era, there was such belief, such hope, such ambition that the city was headed for so much better, given its already-established position in the country's mythos. There was hope that the sale of the mill-lands would create new open spaces and educational institutions and hospitals and cultural hubs and help de-congest the place. Instead, other cities have overtaken and sped past it, with their shiny new airports and metros and wide roads and innovative schools and massive spaces for arts. And Bombay ... well Bombay just crawls on, with its poorly-planned, rushed-through transport projects and a citizenry that just does not care anymore, that has lost the will to fight, that is so tired from having to try and claw back the merest and tiniest of necessities.

Nostalgia.  When remembering that wada pavs used to cost a rupee.

Shock and denial.  That the cheapest one I could find this time cost twelve rupees!**

Simple-pleasure happiness. When lazily dunking a bun-maska into a cup of sweet chai at one of the few cafes still left. In the middle of the morning.  While watching the crowds scurry scurry scurry along.  And then ordering another round.  Because you don't have to scurry anywhere.

* Of course it has. Do you people ever stop drinking?
** I sound like my grandmother now ('We used to get a dozen for the same price that
just one costs today'**). 


Space Bar said...

Ok, wait. You were in Bombay recently? Like, over the last weekend? (I am sad you didn't come to my reading).

Also, the success of other cities is wildly exaggerated. In Hyd, the roads get wider and that sentence cannot be completed in any meaningful way. The roads get wider. That's it. No huge arts spaces, no cultural revival, nothing. Just lots of energy-munching glass and chrome and fancy cars.

??! said...

Recently, but not last week, else I would have made it there of course! Despite my well-avowed aversion to book readings.

What you say is true. But Bombay just seems to be regressing instead of even maintaining status quo. The state of the roads, while never good, is beyond abysmal now.

km said...

Someone ought to develop a Kubler-Ross model for grieving over Bombay. I went from denial to anger to nostalgia to outright erasing Bombay from my mind. (But look at our - hubris? stuck-in-the-past-ness?: calling it Bombay.)

So you hit the Irani joints in downtown? (Or are they all gone?)

??! said...

Nostalgia, for certain. To my mind, it's the Bombay-that-was and the Mumbai-that-is. Till the turn of the millennium, they were still somewhat interchangeable, but the character and flavour of the city has distinctively altered.

I only managed to stop in at Stadium (awful tea), Kyanis (still the best), and Sassanian (variable). But surprisingly, quite a few remain (although some have an expanded menu) - Britannia, Excelsior, Military, B Merwan, Ideal Corner, Yazdani, Universal, New York, Light of Persia, Koolar, some others.

km said...

Oh, Britannia. So many sweet, sweet memories of Hungover Brunches there (followed by the obligatory movie and books-and-records browsing).

And you're right about the Bombay-that-was. Though, in my mind, that change came about in 1992.