Thursday, June 02, 2005

Altarless Churches and Waterless Fountains

Today a casual call to my friend Aparna soon turned into a probing concern. I was asking her about her recent visit to Mumbai and her narration soon assumed a tone of disappointment as if her visit to Mumbai was incomplete this time. It is, because she missed the joy of plunging into the ocean of books in the Chruchgate and Fountain areas of Mumbai. I too was a bit taken aback when I heard that and soon I was caught up with the thought that there is nothing much to look for in Mumbai on my next visit. It was just over 2 months ago I had been there and spent an entire afternoon cruising through the book lanes and I am going to see them empty next time, like an erstwhile river with no water now!

All their attempts to give Mumbai a face lift seem to only tarnish the image she acquired over the years. I have always found Mumbai as an infinitely compassionate mother with a heart to accept every one. The mighty and the meek eat from the same way side junk food corner, travel inhaling each other’s sweat in the suburban trains, wear similar looking outfits- one could be the expensive designer wear and the other could be its exact replica from fashion street, I have found Mumbai much safer to travel at odd hours, I have seen girls traveling alone at 2 am as well - something I could not imagine even in my home town.

The gushing forth, the rushing back and the ‘ chill out’ outlook of Mumbaikars is quite a celebration of life- a good blend of the struggle for survival and the joy of existence.

But a few things that add to the dimensions of existence seem to be fast vanishing.

It was when I was there last time a big furor on closing down the dance bars stirred up the whole place. Those who dance for a living are stamped being whores, but the ones who go places with their ‘ casting couch’ magic are seen as dignified dames! Dance bars removed- the end result thousands of women became jobless over night, and now they will be forced into a trade they perhaps they dreaded and stayed away from so far. Sheer helplessness could push them into becoming puppets in the rituals of the dark.

Is Mumbai becoming sensually malnourished?

Now, all the pavement booksellers driven off , the footpath must have become much wider to walk along and the joy of walking around much narrower. It was sheer joy walking around looking for books, finding books I thought I will never be able to get. It was also getting to know people better, learning to negotiate better too [ :-) ] . Fixing an affordable deal with the bookseller was also striking a friendship too and I am amazed at their knowledge of authors and books, may a time it is they who introduced me to a new author or a book. Unlike other places where they see the thickness and glossiness of the book to fix the price, these booksellers on pavements they read your eagerness and excitement in your eyes and moves, as you browse through the book, the difference is that others know the weight of the book and they know the value of the book.

Looking around for books was also an exercise at getting to know at a more subtler level, the intricate pattern that connects. There had been many instances when I stumbled on a book I was desperately looking for a long time, that too after I had given up searching for long time. The writers who long to read seem to be led to your eager hands, a respite for them too from the dust and hear and humdrum.

Now that joy too is not meant to be.

Mumbai seems to be getting intellectually malnourished too!

Intellectual and sensual malnourishment would eventually lead to emotional derailment, while the Temples and Churches and Dargas and what not will stand as a mute witness and continue to thrive in the spiritual malnourishment that is the eventual follow up.

Am just reminded of these words from “The Paradox of our Time” written by a school kid :

“ The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings,
but shorter tempers;
wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.
It is a time when there is much in the show window
and nothing in the stockroom.
These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare;
more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.
We've split the atom, but not our prejudice.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.!”