A sense of nervousness had engulfed me as I was running away from home the sixth time. The stress and the overburdened feeling I had constantly suffered from working at a reputed private school, had bogged me down and had taken away my sense of freedom and independence. So, after I quit, I decided it was payback time. I couldn't wait to grab my backpack. And since the sense of adventure had been building up for quite long, I decided, it had to be Mumbai this time. I didn't forget to address a hurriedly scribbled note to Maa informing her of my madness and begging forgiveness for not telling her in advance. How could I? I was always tip toeing the 'to be or not to be' line and my chaos was already too hard to deal with, how could I drag her or even Daddy dearest for that matter.
I had barely spotted my seat on the airlines when my phone started playing Selena Gomez and I knew Maa was back from work and had come to know of my goof-up. I settled down quickly with people gazing at me and took the call. It was the first time I was travelling during late evening. It felt weird because I was always used to flying amidst the early morning or the late afternoon clouds. I pacified her telling it was more of my emotional and psychological need to get away and to get that sense of thrill, yet again, that I hadn't pre-informed. She chided but understood at the same time. It is always important for me to placate her before any information gets passed on to Baba. Maa is the buffer between us.
It was quarter to eight when the flight began the process of taking off. I felt scared because I thought I might not be able to catch up with the view outside as darkness had alighted and if the plane crashed, I would not be able to find my way through the sky. Big girls like me can be extremely paranoid at times.
In less than two hours, I landed. Getting out of the Mumbai airport barely took time but what held my attention for a substantial period was the décor and the architecture of the place. It was world class. I couldn't stop gazing. Needless to say, I kept comparing it with T3, Delhi. But I also felt saddened as I thought of the amount of maintenance it must be costing the Maharashtra Government on an everyday basis when lakhs of people go hungry. The humidity joined hands to give me shivers. I was quick enough to board an auto and was driven off to Powai which barely was a twenty minutes ride.
An old college friend welcomed me at a guesthouse and guided me to my allotted room which was small in area, but comfortable and cozy. The quick dinner was followed by a late night walk at Powai Lake. It was amazing and interesting that in the four hours that had passed by, I was walking on a different terrain. There was Delhi, the city of forts and djinns, largely dominated by Mughal architecture, surrounded by land from all sides with an occasional glimpse of water bodies, here and there, and there was this land boasting off the regal colonial British architecture, opening its arms to the great Arab Sea.
The water in the lake glimmered with the reflections of the skyscrapers located far away. It soothed me down. I felt calm and relaxed. School was, finally, over. I let the faces of the kids I had taught over the last one year pass through my mind. I was missing them. While at school, I had, literally, cursed them. The relaxation I experienced sitting and strolling by the lake made me take back those curses. I realized how difficult parenting was and how it could wear and tear a person's psyche. An hour after midnight I realized I should be in bed. I trod back and slept off.
The golden red, shiny sun greeted me at seven. I had missed watching the sunrise for the entire last year. And very knowingly I carry that sense of guilt around thinking I would be able to release myself at some point. My friend called up to inform that a chauffeur would be ready with a vehicle and will be at my service for the next two days as well. I jumped out of the bed and headed straight to the dining area and because of my multi-tasking abilities, a habit that was carefully cultivated and incorporated into my otherwise one-work-at-a-time system by the school; I got ready in no time. Back in Delhi I was used to travelling in metros, shared autos and e-rickshaws'. When I spotted the chauffeur outside my window, I felt like a queen of sorts. Instantly, I chose to address him as 'Driver Saheb'. That was my way of showing respect. I hopped in and decided to move a bit around Goregaon and then head straight to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). But then I remembered, one of my old friends, I had not been in touch with for a long time, had his workplace near Nariman Point. So, with a quick thought, I decided to surprise him. I called him up and there were uproars of laughter. We met at CST and settled down at a café nearby. He chucked his work and cooked up a story to his senior. The next five hours were full of coffee, gossip and laughter. Only after our bums had started hurting because of constant inertia, we decided to move on to a different place to satiate our taste buds. We then moved on to the famous Jehangir Art Gallery. The paintings put up for exhibition marveled us. We hadn't seen something like that in a long time. Back in the days of hardcore Literature, we could identify ourselves with Abstract paintings, as if they were, our own reflections. After college, reality had struck us hard. Neither of us were research oriented but we wanted to make it big in our own little world with our hard work. We never wanted to be rocketed into fame and glory. We slogged. We're still slogging. This consciousness went along with our appreciation of the Modern Art that was staring at us from all corners of the Gallery. We moved on to take a walk around the place. Though it was scorching heat, but the ever blowing sea breeze played the savior. The buildings were royal and intimidating at the same time. Cynical that I am, I could compare them to the buildings of Gurgaon (now Gurugram), imposing and tall with pride, looking down upon us, ever-ready to erase our very existence but at the same time standing for development, progress and ascent. What a paradox!
Since I also needed to be on my own, by four in the evening I bade him Goodbye. I roamed the streets of Colaba gazing intently at the carefully crafted buildings. Grabbing a sip here and there, I felt like a foreigner roaming the streets of Paharganj minus the backpack. Although the comparison doesn't stand because the former has wider and uncluttered roads while the later boasts of encroached roads and narrow lanes but I could relate myself to the quintessential traveler. Then Driver Saheb suggested taking the Sea Link fearing incessant jams. I heeded. Driving across the Marine Drive I wanted to just stand and stare at the setting sun. I soaked myself in the mild and soft rays touching my skin as I was being driven away to infinity. It was dusk when I reached Goregaon. The architecture of the dingy, dungeon-like Chawls against the background of the hi-tech buildings mushrooming all over the city presented a stark contrast and spoke volumes about the socio-political-economic dimensions of the state. And this was just the capital. I hadn't even ventured outside it. Upon reaching back to the guest house, I rested for a while, refreshed myself and started out for Powai Lake. It was still early twilight. It was pleasant and the air tasted of salt. Couples thronged the place and one could see them in their most intimate moments.
An hour long stroll along the banks of the lake and my legs began hurting. It felt like sleep walking. A different city, a different place, different people and so was I. I was different. I had transformed. I had stepped out of my former self. I strolled back to the guest house, quietly had my dinner and went early to bed.
Before Driver Saheb could honk outside my window, having had my breakfast early, I set out for the day. I reached Siddhi Vinayak Temple around nine o'clock through the old land route to Worli. Located on the Swatantrya Veer Savarkar Marg, it took me around twenty minutes to reach the main shrine. The place was flooded with people trying to strike deals with our dear Ganeshji. I could hardly think of asking something. I just wanted to stand and stare. Barely two minutes I had stood inside the shrine when, one of the priests, gestured the lady constable to chuck me out of the place. I felt belittled. Not by the priest or the constable but by God himself. He was too busy listening to those who could offer more than a bare flower. Back home, I was quite used to telling Maa that visiting temples is just an obligatory formality, we carry our gods inside. We carry the heavens and the hells inside us. Visiting the temple, offering things to the deity wouldn't pull us closer to god. Maa dismisses me every single time. Ganeshji, in our Indian households, is the destroyer of obstacles and he is worshipped before a new venture or a project. The temple is of great religious, historical and archeological importance as it stands there for more than two centuries. Registered in the government records, it was consecrated in the year 1801.
I headed to Nehru Planetarium, located on Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli . I wanted to rediscover the joys of childhood. It is usually a family place. I felt a bit lonely, but only for a moment. I was super excited and was looking forward to be lost amidst the planets and the constellations. I did. It was an hour-long show and totally worth the price and effort. I gazed at the dome with the curiosity of a child whose childhood had been eclipsed in the process of growing up.
Next, I headed to the Taraporewala Aquarium situated opposite the Marine Drive. It took me exactly an hour to rediscover that although I had been a Humanities student all my life, I still had that streak of scientific temperament inside waiting to be rekindled. Being India's oldest, it houses many freshwater and marine water fishes. The large glass tanks were lit by LED lights. Apart from the exotic ones, the aquarium also houses sharks, turtles, sea turtles, eels, octopus and starfish. It was a delight to watch their movements, as though, NatGeo and Discovery channels had cometh alive.
I was moving along Nariman Point when, accidentally, I spotted the insignia of Air India and hurriedly called my friend up I had met the day before. He came down and took me to a Parsi café nearby. In the maddening heat outside, a tall glass of Yogurt shake was a great reliever. We barely spent an hour and I started for the National Gallery of Modern Art located on Madame Cama Road. And for someone who had been used to visiting NGMA, Delhi for the last 8 years, NGMA, Mumbai was a big disappointment. Maintenance is a different issue; I failed to experience that creative satisfaction. I failed to get lost in the paintings. At times, institutions and establishments fail and at other times, a grain of sand seem sufficient to experience the world. Back in Delhi, to roam around and behold every piece of art alone would take me a minimum of three hours and here, I was out within twenty minutes. Skeptically I trod towards Hornbill House enjoying a small plate of Bhelpuri. Upon reaching there, I was directed towards the Museum of Bombay Natural History Society. Located on Dr. Salim Ali Chowk of Shahid Bhagat Singh Road of Colaba, the museum is an open treasure. One can loot that treasure with one's eyes and mind. The evident conservation and preservation of natural resources, the beautifully modeled animals, plants, birds, giant-sized paintings donated by Sri Ratan Tata, and other colonial belongings, was a treat to savor. Bordering on a limited time-span, I went on gazing at the photographs of Mumbai clicked in 1929. Trying to gulp each and every object at one gaze, I became the Collector of Oscar Wilde. It took me three hours to just remotely gaze at everything. The beautiful marvel of the British architecture can sweep art lovers off their feet and make them fall in love with the city. The most striking factor of all the other things is the sense of general cleanliness, largely missing on the streets of Delhi/NCR. Back on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, I bade 'Goodbye' to the glimmers of the sun and asked Driver Saheb to head to Juhu Chowpatty. At the very onset, the place reminded me of Digha, West Bengal. I saw Virginia filling her pockets with heavy stones and slowly moving towards the centre of the sea to drown herself. I let her go. The place was crowded with noise, laughter, food and love. I let the receding waves touch my feet and dirty my pyjamas at the bottom end. I looked around for sea-shells in that darkness but couldn't find any. I treated myself with Pao Bhaji and Chow Rice, hopped into the car and drove off to Powai. Back in my room I dozed off as soon as I hit the bed.
I was ready and steady and was set to get myself out of the guest house when Driver Saheb honked. Without losing a moment, I hopped in. He drove me straight to Gateway of India, only this time, through the Eastern Freeway Corridor. Early in the morning, it was one hell of an amazingly smooth drive, totally unthinkable in Delhi unless it is DND, of course. We reached in no time. The morning glory shone upon me as I was leaving myself behind and was yet, constantly re-emerging. It was one of those feel-good moments when I was just simply happy to be alive and breathing. I hovered around the huge Gateway and the Taj Mahal Hotel and remembered 26th November. The scenery was beautiful but the reminiscences surrounding it was ugly as it evoked violent memories. No, this was my first trip to Mumbai. But in the face of tragedy that had struck the heart of India, a collective consciousness generates similar response.
I bought a ticket to Elephanta Caves. I boarded the vessel that ferried me over. It was an hour-long ride. The waves were lashing against the lower part of the vessel, powerful enough to drown and destroy. Soaking in the sun and soothed in the breeze, I kept gazing at the water, the waves, the leaked oil from the rig that floated all over the sea killing unaccounted marine life, the ruins of an old ship, the mast of the distant ships scattered all over the Arabian Sea, the occasional Albatross reminding me of the Ancient Mariner. I reached. I was back on land, only this time, it was an island. Walking through the long strip of ramp, I remembered my painting teacher, who taught me Art History. I pinched myself with a sense of guilt for not carrying my sketch book. It had grown very humid and I got lost marvelling at the beauty of the caves. I remembered my teacher telling me how the caves were cut out of a single rock and so were the sculptures. It is a World Heritage Site. After suffering a lot of neglect, it is now being surveilled upon by the ASI. Hours passed but I couldn't stop touching and feeling the rocks, the sculptures, the caves. There were five caves in totality. I couldn't stop observing. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Art History and to what it said about these 5th-8th century old caves. Three hours passed. Hungry, I ventured into the MTDC restaurant, grabbed a bottle of beer, ate prawns to my hearts content, relaxed myself with the scenic beauty outside, interacted with the serving staff and set myself back on the ferry. Alongside the paths that led me to the ferry, there were markets and marketeers desperate to sell off their commodities which looked, more or less, like Paharganj, or rather, Janpath. I didn't feel like buying anything. I headed straight to board the vessel and went off. This time, the feeling was like that of Diamond Harbour. I almost dozed off. Just before reaching the shore, one could see the millions of people choking the fences of the Gateway, suffocating the very air around it. I felt goosebumped. Walking along the lanes crowded with people, I thought of seeking respite at Cafe Leopold. I did. The historical cafe had its own significance. Grabbing a bowl of Pasta along with cold coffee, I enjoyed the music and stared at the people around. Somehow, I feel, when people notice me, they tend to notice the absence around me, more. As if, I shouldn't be alone. That there must be some man around me, or there should be one. I love defying norms. Driver Saheb picked me up from Leopold and yet, it was time again to bid 'Goodbye' to the faint glimmer of the sun. Travelling was my way of meditation. Whether it helped or not was secondary. But the limitation of time made me go places and do things which otherwise I wouldn't. Having utilised my limited time to the fullest, I went back to the guest house in peace. Peace, that I hadn't experienced in the entire last year. I let it go. I let the trials and tribulations go. Every struggle is worth. It pays off at some point in life. That night I slept in peace. Day 5 Driver Saheb came to pick me up early in the morning. Only this time, I had my luggage along. I was going home.