February in the City – Part II
She says it doesn’t look quite real to her. It’s so many people; nobody knows anyone else. So anonymous, so cold, she surmises.
I say yes. And no. There are so many lives and so many stories happening this minute in this one corner of the city. We do the math and guess at 400 occupants of the building opposite. It mirrors the one we are in so that’s 800 people and their stories. Including I tell her, this one you and I are in.
Look there, someone sitting down to early dinner. And there, she pokes at the grill, gesturing her question. Someone loves plants. A teddy bear on a bed. And expensive furnishings, she observes. An old length of pipe too precious to throw away, so it’s stuffed into a window grill.
How many people do you think are having sex right now? I see her grin from the way the side of her face lifts. She says, I think about that a lot. We all do, I tell her and we laugh. And it’s not cold.
It will take you some time, I say. You’re new to Mumbai. But I like it here, she reassures me as new people drawn to this island always do. I know, I say but it is not you yet. Mumbai is a friendly stranger you’re getting to know, maybe you even have a crush on. But for me? Mumbai is me.
Remember that broken mill we passed? That’s me, my history, my scars. See this glitzy building, these shiny lights that waste more energy than my toxic relationships? Also me. And that train chugging along and every single life in there, chopping vegetables over gossip, staring longingly across the grill between coaches, hanging on uncomfortably wedged grateful for a place to stand? That is also me.
It will take time and you will also not see it coming. You’ll go along for weeks, maybe even years hating these hard things the city throws at you. Mumbai doesn’t make love easy. One day you’ll open your eyes or even before you do, mid-blink, you’ll realise. The anonymity is your identity and your community. The city is one with you. And it is everything. Everything but cold.
When we leave the balcony, she shuts the door with the slightest of shivers.