From colonial history to pointless mass murder; from cultural secularism to religious feuds; from luck injected success stories to unknown tragedies that have escaped into dark forgetfulness. I have seen it all. I have always been there. I have seen majestic glass buildings of the rich shadowing and contrasting the ‘dirt and grit’ huts of the unfortunate. I have seen the brave and lucky soar from the oblivion of uncertainty to the comfort of luxury. I am inspiration. I’ve inspired the cult and the commercial, the creative and the practical. I am a celluloid star with enough tributes films to last for a lifetime and more. I am influence. They say, if you want to make a living, I’m the one you should meet. I am a secret keeper; charming and wise on the outside, revealing the ugly happenings of my underbelly to a strong few. I am safety. I protect my weak, but sometimes I fail. But then, even God himself cannot protect every soul he has under his watch. I have nerves of steel; they’re called the locals. When I say people get on my nerves, they literally do. My people use it to commute, like bacteria commuting in a human body. But what was once meant to be a logistic lifeline is now just a system overburdened with responsibility. I have seen my people turning me from what I was to what I never wanted to be. I am dying, but I’m immortal. I am tired, but I have grown wise. I have stood the test of time. I live through my people. I am second to none. I … am … Mumbai.
It was a cold and moonless night. A light breeze carried the cold straight to your bones. I was on my way home from the district market, where I had managed to make a small fortune in exchange for my skills in pottery. Darkness had swallowed me and a longing to see my family again clawed at me. Being alone on a forest trail in the dead of night isn’t the best situation to be in, but as fate would have it, I chose to walk home that night. Darkness often gives us a feeling that we’re being followed. But it was not just a feeling this night. I heard them, the heavy shuffling footsteps, and whipped around, praying. It was an old lady; withered and ancient. She reached out to me; a sign to wait for her. “Will you accompany me to the next village, son?” A part of me wanted to refuse, partly in fear of consequences that might pursue, but turning my back on her wasn’t the best choice either. I agreed and we strode together, side by side.
She was amazingly fast for someone her age, strong even. My mind was a plethora of entangled thoughts, some of which were desperate courses of action and fear of what would happen next. A couple of things caught my eye; her bushy white eyebrows, her red sari which was torn in places, black bands on her ankles and wrists, abnormally large grey eyes and the fact that she walked bare feet. “I’ll be taking the left ahead. I have to visit someone in the neighboring village first.” I blurted out, overwhelmed by fear. She turned slowly and looked at me without a word, her large grey eyes penetrating me. I felt a shudder. Then she nodded and the silence resumed.