My neighbours Divya and Sudhir have just returned to live in India after twenty one years. They left the city in the late 1980s when Mumbai was still called Bombay, when life was simple and the city had not been transformed to the maddening Mumbai it is today.
As I gaze at the moutains that I can see from my windows, I find myself rewinding into the past one decade. To a time when going to South Bombay by a double decker bus was a big thing, when the competition to get into a good college was not so cut-throat. Traffic riddled Powai was still a picnic destination. Chembur, a sleepy suburb. Most of these quiet, leafy lanes are gone now. The bungalows razed. Trees felled. The overflowing millions squeezed into stifling matchbox-sized apartments instead. Clothes were bought on the streets or stitched by local tailors. I was very envious of a friend who was the son of an industrialist who owned a pair of GAP T-shirts and Jimmy Choo shoes. His father had the opportunity to visit all countries in business class. Globalisation and mega mall mania seemed like the vagaries of another planet back then.
We spent hours gazing at local trains in Chembur station. Cousins used to come home regularly and we laughed over cups of coffee or tea. So many familiar restaurants are extinct now. Replaced by the swanky coffee shops where the complicated list of coffees confuses you. The good old South Indian coffee or Irani chai fail to find a place in their menus. Even poor Leopold Cafe is marred with bullet wounds. We chatted endlessly on our landlines and wrote long letters to each other. The postman was so important back then. Now even the local grocer has a mobile. Love is declared by an SMS. Sorry and thank you communicated via e-mails. The human hand has been replaced by an impersonal keyboard.
We went for long walks in Joggers Park, we cycled, we swam. We ate everything. No whole wheat bread or organic food. No olive oil or skimmed milk. People seemed healthier then and now so many friends have had heart attacks. We dressed up and went to the theatre to catch a movie. We spent enjoyable Sunday evenings eating idlis, dosas and drinking coffee while chatting with our relatives. Those were really innocent times. We hoped that someone's marriage should be fixed so that we could go to our native places in air conditioned train compartments. Even when someone used to go abroad, we could go in to the terminal, no gun-toting guards or metal detectors spoiled the view. When we saw an unaccompanied bag in the train, we would worry that someone had forgotten and tried to find the identity of the person. Now we run for our lives.
Still staring at the mountains, I worry for Divya and Sudhir. How will they cope in this new Mumbai? Suddenly, I hear a familiar cry. It's my laundry fellow who has come to collect the laundry. The laundry fellow who knew Divya passed away, but his son continues the tradition, coming at the same time his father used to. The flowers still emit the same smells that they emitted when they used to hang outside the doorframes. I suddenly realise that however much Mumbai might change, so much that it is Bombay, never will.
The road leading to my house and college will still get flooded in this monsoon. The spluttering three wheeler autos will somehow take me to my destination. Galli cricket will still be played on Sunday afternoons. The sound of Venkateshwara Suprabhatham will still be heard every morning at five a.m. sharp. As the late Busybee said, "Everybody has some place he/she calls home. This is my home, Bombay. I would not live anywhere else if I was paid five months salary in a lump sum." On behalf of fellow bloggers, welcome home Divya and Sudhir.