Thursday, November 27, 2008

Colaba under Curfew

In all my travels, one of the cities that has most wound its way into the sinews of my heart is Mumbai in India. I first travelled to India in 1994. Dad wanted to reminisce his journey with Mum back in '79, when he could afford to take her out of the country on vacation for the first time. They spent some three months roaming the length and breadth of the beautiful Bharat. In all my years, I have heard myriad stories of them traveling through the night, sleeping on trains and traversing the grand expanse of the land of their forefathers. We have been subjected to long hours of looking at literally hundreds of slides played on whichever of the walls of the house we happened to be living in was free of furniture or framing. These are accompanied by hours of commentary from dad, additions and or corrections by mum and the sound of Rafi Sahb or Kishore Da in the background just to make sure we captured the correct mood. My great-grandmother's were sisters. And so, back then, they went out to meet the only living third sister; they marveled at her tiny but incredibly clean living space and her wonderful charm and warmth. And so, fifteen years later, we were to make our first trip as a family, to recapture some of that ambience. What I knew about India was peppered with stories from Bollywood. I could sing-along to all of my parent's favourite tunes and quote from their epic oldies such as Mother India and Pakeezah. My first impression was implorable. The stench of the place, knocked us over in an all too eager greeting. The heat all but defeated us just as we got out of the aircraft. A taxi-walla carted us from the airport towards Colaba where we were meant to be staying. (Dad wanted to stay at the Natraj; this was before the Intercontinental revamp- Gladly shortlived by the rat parade). We had to stop for fuel at a petrol station. It was April. The sweltering heat played tricks with our vision; a steam seemed to rise out of the ground. And here and there, potholes were filled with murky water. All of this seemed relatively innocent. Stopped at the fueling place, I rolled down my window in a bid to give this place of many stories a chance to make its impression on my imaginative minds eye. I didn't have time to regret the decision or to make amends by closing the creaky glass. A swarm of mosquitoes quickly invaded the interior of the car. Air osmosis is such a thing! I was only learning about such things as a high school hopeful, not quite graduated from such institutions.
What did I want to do? Daddy, I want to go home! I squealed. Dear sweet dad was delighted at the entertainment. Welcome to India, everyone. Mum giggled. They exchanged smiles and glances. We rolled eyes.

But then we drove into the depths of this dark city. We saw the crumbling infrastructure and tasted the unflinching conviction of the people. We heard the cries of feisty streetchildren, some better entrepreneurs than New Yorks best. And we were humbled. We were hooked. I bet at that stage already, we were sworn devotees. Pilgrimage has become an affair of heart, mind and soul. Speaking of which, Haji Ali Dhargah and Mahim Dhargah are frequent visit sites. Each have a story to tell. But thats for another post.

Needless to say, I have been back to India almost a dozen times since. I have attended weddings filled with some seven thousand people. I have returned with armfuls of books and shoppers delights, memories and photographs of wonders shared and felt in this city of cities. I have walked its streets and rubbed shoulders with its vast populace. I have felt the seasoned Mumbaikar if only for a hopeful time. In this little love affair, I have ravaged the pages of Shantaram and Maximum City to quench my thirst for more about this pulsating place. I have danced in the scorching heat and brought back souvenir tans, and have been drenched in the monsoon rains numerous times. And I have loved every minute of it. A planned trip back there makes my heart skip a beat or two. I was due back there, save for a wave of attacks last night that has left a city of many heartbeats under a shocking curfew. Colaba never sleeps. Mumbai rocks on like the diva of energy that she is. Until now, that is. Colaba is under curfew. Schools didn't open today. Construction came to a standstill. People stayed indoors. A city grieved the communal death of the freedom to breathe in safety. Mortality stares us in the face, just one more time. Mumbai's heart has just skipped a very long beat. I never thought I'd see the day.

Just imagine if you were walking in Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, or on the Durban beachfront, or at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town or any of South Africa's city centres, and a range of grenades were spewed around you. Just imagine. What would happen? Violation is rife everyday, in every sphere of our lives. This sort of thing is that n-th dimension we don't want to think about. Rather relegate it to something that 'only happens in the movies'. BUT JUST WHAT IF??!!

9 comments:

Crimson Shimmer said...

you make me want to be proud to be indian :P
so sweetly written...

as far the grenades. i often think of it. i dont know what i would do, honestly. makes really admire our children in the middle east. i have alot of growing up to do.

Anonymous said...

Makes you think, doesn't it?

JT

KimyaShafinaaz said...

sigh :/

Fatima said...

i haven't travelled to india, but my parents have.
they loved it.

i don't understand the mentality of people that would want to kill innocent people. i don't know what benefit they perceive that they can receive out of it. it's mind-stumbling.

my cousin went off for 4 months jamaat yesterday, and my uncle is going to india in january to visit family. i'm currently really scared and i hope they'll be ok.

KimyaShafinaaz said...

Hey Fatima...

The way I see it, it doesnt matter whether we're in Mumbai or Johannesburg. The state of things suggests that this sort of thing can happen anywhere at anytime. We can never be prepared, but can the state crisis management be geared for it? Also, what is International Intelligence doing to curb or suss out such occurrences...

i mean how does a city get attacked in so many places at once? too many war games going on...

Azra said...

You know what Shaf's? I really think that the problem with all of us is that we are in denial...we think that these things cannot possibly happen to us...

But what about the Xenophobic attacks earlier this year? I never ever thought I'd see that, not after everything SA has been through.

We have to live in reality...and unfortunately, this is our reality.

greenlady said...

You are right to say that there is no religion implied in the cowards killing innocent people. These dastardly acts are nothing short of people lacking humanity.

KimyaShafinaaz said...

I am seriously thinking about these encounter cops being killed. It's too convenient comment. Mumbai's underworld has just removed a thorn in their side! Mujahideen is a fashionable word. Nothing more. Nothing less.

KimyaShafinaaz said...

Ok so the latest is that they came in by boat... What is this the movies? Is the Coast Guard asleep?!

And they're Pakistani and Bangladesh nationals...