Friday, July 29, 2011

Bombay Letter -- 3

No, the emails aren’t becoming more frequent because inspiration has suddenly struck (that thunderbolt needs drier wood), it’s that I am fast approaching my – homecoming to? Vacation in? – New York, which has been a beloved city for so long that must be part of the reason I found myself unable to tear myself away from Teju Cole’s “Open City”, with so much of that novel set amidst the narrator’s walks and subway rides across the city, part of the reason I was sad when it ended. A good time to take stock – or as good as any; all the more so given the monsoon season is well underway, and I’ve had it on good authority that whatever the level of my affection for Bombay, it would be sorely tested once the rains started.

…And there is much to irritate about the rains, from the traffic (never great at the driest of times) to the puddles one steps into early in the work-day (and the dampness one has to live with for the rest of it) to the random drips, drops and leaks getting into and out of cars, buildings, or just standing around waiting for the roadside sandwich; to the fact that many of one’s colleagues simply won’t be able to show up to work on any given day, lending a whole new dimension to coordination.

But the prose of workday plans is banal. You feel it when you are woken up in the morning by the sound of rain so loud it registers over the drone of the AC; you look out your window, and you can’t quite believe mere rain could be this unremitting, as if the gods had decided Earth needed a shower (the sort you find in hotels in the US, enthusiastic and ready to beat you down at the first sign of feebleness). Not much imagination needed to believe Brahma’s warning to Bhagiratha, that summoning the celestial Ganga was one thing, but the earth would be washed away by the force of her torrents – except of course that Shiva’s matted hair breaks the fall, leaving the earthly Ganga as run-off. If we stay with the myth (and what fool wouldn’t want to, especially walking home from the gym when every last salty trace of fatigue and heat is washed away?) Bombay city, always unsightly and under-construction in the outer suburbs; its traffic, its railway lines, its tenements, its grilled windows, its balconies with their potted dieffenbachia plants and baby coconut saplings, its concrete, its stone, its trees, the underbellies of its flyovers, the always under-construction metro-to-come, are the mendicant god’s locks, drenched so that we might be spared. [Not completely, and not all of us: far too many scurry for cover from the rain for me to ignore the fact that looking down from my window on the rain hitting the ground is a privilege.]

“[S]orely tested”? Monsoons do your worst. Or best, I’m not sure which. I’ll be glad to be in New York in August (although, will scratching that itch help or hurt?), but part of me is sorry the monsoon season will be on the downswing by the time I’m back. They tell me not to worry, there will be a next year, there’s always a next year where the monsoons are concerned, but it’s hard to believe their cosmic force is renewable. In my mind there is a finality to the end of the season. But then, that’s why we’ve always needed myths, like the one about Shiva and Ganga – to rescue us from time.


KB said...

I have been following your blog for some time. Great writing always. Nuanced. Wish it was more often. :). Relentless rains in Mumbai (or anywhere) = too much of a good thing.
Thanks for your writing.
PS: Totally agree with your assessment of the dussheri mango variety in the earlier post besides other things.

omar said...

I posted a link to your blog at and one of our Bombayite readers sent this reply: Dear Omar, I briefly looked and it seemed that Qalandar has newly settled in Powai, Mumbai. If he needs any help and you are in touch with him, ask him to drop me a line.
That goes for all BPs as well. If you need a “Bombay Darshan”, be our guest.