An archive of ideas and dissonant thoughts.


Bombay, Schizophrenic Global City

June 08

An ode to the many faces and layers and sides of Bombay, a city that embodies every kind of contrast and contradiction.

Bombay is a concept as abstract as any other, even when it’s in front of your eyes. It’s the absurdity of 20-something million people in one place, all striving towards something, working towards dreams that so often slip out of their control.

Bombay is sticky heat and warm rain, an assault on your senses, endless honking and a stench you’d rather not think about, which you eventually won’t notice.

Bombay is the wide-eyed wonder of seeing the scale of the skyline or realizing that any service you can imagine, any business you think of probably already exists.

Bombay is the constant practicality in every interaction, the evaluation of status and potential and skill and money that inevitably becomes a characteristic.

Bombay is the fancy Breach Candy apartment where London restaurants and hedge fund investments are discussed, and the crowded rooms where six people sleep side by side with no furniture.

Bombay is its own slang and range of accents, where everything is insane and heavy and kadak and sahi, where language is morphed by origins, class and a million other things, bro.

Bombay is late night drives and cab rides and walks, where things seem unfeasibly quiet and you realise there are only men on the streets.

Bombay is morning breakfast at Madras Cafe or Shiv Sagar or lunch at Britannia or Swati or dinner at Jai Hind or Bombay Canteen or any of the amazing options you have. Bombay is the familiarity of waiters and the overpowering flavours and the feeling of being too full to move.

Bombay is the guy who is stealing water out of a truck that is stuck in traffic, bottling it so he can sell it, as well as the Audi driver stuck behind him, too busy on a call to care.

Bombay is the thirty-odd cleaners who clear the mess of a million people passing through CST. It’s millions more who service every office and restaurant and apartment complex and skyscraper without being noticed.

Bombay is couples on Marine Drive and Bandstand and Carter Road and couples in taxis and rickshaws and cars, quietly whispering their problems to each other or arguing about their families or making impossible promises and trying to steal privacy where there is none.

Bombay is where nobody gives a fuck about your problems because they’re nothing compared to what is all around you everyday, the sunken stomachs and severed limbs and empty eyes and endless suffering at every traffic signal that permeates up through everything.

Bombay is two girls in front of a crowded slum, holding hands and spinning round and round in the first rains, while the traffic and activity and chaos continues to rage around them.

Bombay is work, all the time, even when it feels like nothing is getting done. It’s everyone asking for work, from window cleaners to maids to advertisers to lawyers. It’s cigarettes at midnight and chai at 3 AM, all in the service of giant networks of business and industry and policy that are too daunting to understand.

Bombay is the millions who leave, certain they are going to a better place because nothing here works like it should, but still teary eyed at the airport. It is the lakhs who have returned with fancy foreign degrees to be asked why they came back, who are stuck somewhere between countries, carrying the weight of expectation and growth and knowledge.

Bombay is always competitive, in small and big ways, from rent to jokes, everybody struggling to impress, everybody selling themselves in some way or another.

Bombay is the beat of a terrace party, mixing with the Bollywood sounds of a Ganpati truck from way down below. It is the call to prayer punctuated by horns and weddings and shouts and the sea, the ineffectiveness of windows against noise.

Bombay is single girls and bachelors and non vegetarians and minorities not allowed under some pretext or another, but still finding their space. It is Bihari and Northeastern and Tamil and Mallu and Parsee, but especially Marathi and Gujju.

Bombay is addicted, to the strange mixtures at every tapri and paan stall, to booze and rich food, to chai and chaat, to maal of every kind and especially to money.

Bombay is vegetables being unloaded at five in the morning while late shift workers are going home and the heartbroken and insomniacs and fitness freaks are contemplating the space between night and day.

Bombay is tiny even though it is huge. It is everyone knowing everyone, people promising to get in touch without meaning it, people arriving and leaving, it is new connections always unearthed.

Bombay is unforgiving and cruel and absurd and corrupt, and the opposite as well. Bombay is all the stories which you don’t expect along with the millions you do. Bombay is more than can be captured by a few words or even a few lifetimes, like every schizophrenic global city today.

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