I found the boundaries of my home last year.
This should never be difficult for an island dweller.
Where the land ends, don’t you?
Yes, but when every step is a question of mud or water,
concrete or leaves, mills or malls,
home lives on shifting sands.
I’ve been an Andheri girl my whole life
and that means being the starting point of the 84 Limited bus,
residential address of Bollywood strugglers,
the tarnish on the tinsel,
scraping rustle of notes,
of yuppie executives inching south Mumbaiward climb
and close to the airport
At 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning, I was on a Harbour Line train when the announcer said,
“Next station, King’s Circle”
My train drowsy eyes blinked open, in that synchronised perfection of a seasoned train traveler and I thought, from here on, I’m on my guard. Because this is not home anymore. As the train pulled out of the station, I saw a familiar signboard pass me by. Vileparle and Bandra, already passed were markers of my student life. Chinchpokli and Vikhroli had mailed me paychecks. But Mahim, halfway house between town and the suburbs, Mahim is where I felt my island end and the rest of the city begin.
Let me pause a Mumbai minute, that time between two stations, when a train traveler is on high alert, but not relinquishing their seat as yet. Let me pause on Mahim because Mahim is full of stories.
It’s hope for the barefoot pilgrim that Siddhivinayak is not too far.
It’s Tuesday novenas even for the unbaptized of faith.
Iftaar at the local police station to honour the cops who tended to the holy man.
Mahim is not big enough for a vote bank but this tiny strip of land still stands peace treaty to three religions in a city that has burnt over their wars. Mahim is pepperoni pizza, beef chili fry and masala baath all within walking distance. It’s also cream puffs flavoured with a culture welcomed from Persia centuries ago. Mahim has all the freedom Bandra promises but never really delivers as well as the cultural comfort of Dadar without its saffron propaganda.
This Mumbai minute slides back ten years
to this quiet place of many gods and sumptuous food,
where an aetheist you and a food-indifferent me are finding our common ground.
We’ve already fought such devastating wars,
maybe Mahim is the only place that both of could ever have called home.
And though we live there for but 6 months,
Mahim is the home I build with fingernails chipping
as I scrape off memories of previous tenants from windows
and replace it with a pudina plant, framed on either side with my favorite stories.
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince to the left
and to the right, the orange of Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya.
You’d always know my home from the books doubling up as home décor and your spaces from their political symbolism.
Our newsrack is covered with a silkscreen print – gift from your ex-girlfriend, the one you cheated on, you tell me later. And facing that, a Tupac Shakur poster with the words,
“Only God can judge me”– Tupac Shakur
Our homes must reflect us in our dysfunctional glory and also our healing pieces. I have never forgiven you for letting us shatter. But that day, passing Mahim, I realized I missed our home more than I ever missed you. And that’s okay, because while you were a familiar looking foe, strange little Mahim willingly welcomed me with open arms.
Outside the flat, on the landing, the sweeper stands. Also my neighbour, as he lives in the unpainted building next door. He tells me about his engineer son in a software job. But this, he says as he picks up our garbage bag, this I still do because this is real life. Kaam hain, log hain, zindagi bhi hain.
Behind him, the lift chimes in Tasnim didi.
Late because fees day today, she says. It’s one she’ll never miss.
This hard earned day after a year of cajoling & stalking the school nuns,
hiding her cooking job from her neighbours & mine,
her daughter is finally a proud student of Victoria High School.
She will have the upbringing that I had,
in a Christian school,
in a neighbourhood where saffron and green are just colours,
Marol or Mahim, doesn’t matter.
Except Mahim is the home I found, years after losing the Marol of my childhood.
It’s homely but it’s lovely. You should really visit sometime.
I’ll give you back that Mumbai minute now. Because only slow trains stop here in Mahim.