City of seven islands, guarded by eight-armed Mumbadevi,
of the Dravidians, Marathis and Gujaratis, your name
alludes to the Portuguese word bahia, meaning a fine bay.
City of slum redevelopments and Arabian Sea penthouses,
the homes of divas, impresarios, fashionistas. City of hedge
funds and investments you teach me to forget the present jīva.
City of muddy shores strewn with litter like tissues clinging
to the naked mangroves, I’ll wander your streets that smell
of pomfret, kolambi, dried dog faeces and Bombay duck.
City of rags, overflowing drains, sacred graffiti, I’ll lose myself
in bazaars where the Koli women haggle sharply. I’ll step out
to cross an anarchy of traffic like Aravanan guided by Krishna.
City of taxis tagged by freewheeling touts selling copies of copies,
I’ll pity your beggars who drift into wanderlust and blockbuster
deliriums on a road that belches dust clouds, bitumen, gravel.
City of spivs, sadhus, acronyms and dual-use accents, I’ll miss
your ennui after the Colaba hostage scenario, after a river
of blood washed the platforms of Chatrapati Shivaji station.
The pundits pronounce blanket claims against the slogans
of democracy. The victimised moan about Moguls, mobs
jihadists, anti-Zionists, Al-Qaeda but I come home to Mumbai.
Today, I’ve woven your hybrid threads into a present warp.
Walked past Anglican churches, gardens splashed in hydrangea,
jacaranda, agapanthus. Empty of composure, inside out,
I drift from gardenia-scented evenings to ante meridiem,
half-aware that it’s ineffable to love a city that was never
really my home, or a home whose walls are flaky as paratha.
Fathomless to sleep in rooms watched over by the Virgin Mary,
by saintly relics and faded portraits of deceased relatives.
To endure dogs howling beneath jackfruit trees, a dark raga
lingering in the nightmares of chary spinster aunts. To find
in this quiet enclave of gymkhanas, terrace parties and convent
schools that dawn breaks tenderly, a half-remembered prayer.
City of nostalgia, I’ll miss buttercups, halwa, holidays in Goa.
City of dubious promises your people feed crows by the freeway.
In the smear of sunset’s human river, your pilgrims make pūjā,
buying and selling divine paraphernalia. Time is measured by
the metronome of a bullock’s tail, by night’s amphetamines.
I’ll sit on the steps with David, Sharlene and Lima; get stoned
on home-grown as the ceiling fan unsticks the liminal moments,
as tradesmen render another curtain of cement over the walls
of a shaded, crumbling bungalow I can’t yet abandon to memory.
City of divine deliriums, the dogs are chained. The Laughter Club
members fatigue their raucous morning bellows from a plinth
of recreational park. The auto-rickshaw wallahs doze in the shade.
First appeared in Vishvarupa, 5IP, 2011
Artwork by Kathryn Lamont.