Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm Staying At The Crossroads

Some photographs affect us for reasons we may never fully understand.

This picture of a poor little mongrel outside the Taj Mahal hotel had me thinking of another time. (Link to's fantastic and sometimes gruesome slideshow.)

Like so many others, I've hung around the Taj at hours when the city appears to be bathed in that beautiful sepia tone. (An attack of synesthesia: that sepia color "sounds" like fuzzy tube amplifiers and old guitars.) No doubt, the color comes from street lamps, but to me, it is the color of the feeling one gets when one is "in town" - in South Bombay.

It's hard to explain that feeling to someone who has never lived in Bombay's suburbs and does not know the significance of the words "I'm going to town". Those four words used to (and still do, I am sure) hold the promise of a very long night filled with music, friends, bars, noisy train rides, films and the sight of Bombay's rich and famous. In other words, to us suburban dwellers, downtown Bombay was an adult Disneyland.

The illusion of the theme park would start wearing off in the late, late hours. The reality of the hour-long train ride would be the first to appear on the horizon. Then the dread of the coming week at work. A mental picture of the damp apartments, cockroaches on the kitchen floor and the stifling claustrophobia. Of wet, squeaky rubber boots that smelled and the taste of too many cigarettes.

And so we would walk back to our train stations - some to Churchgate, some to VT. The street-side vendors would be asleep, confident that no one at this hour could possibly need belts, shoes, socks, self-help books, porn and plastic toys. We would walk through fine, old buildings and sometimes find ourselves at empty intersections, completely exposed under the warm glare of the sodium vapor lamps, just like that dog in the picture.


Tabula Rasa said...

lovely post.

Space Bar said...

yes. lovely post.

i feel the same urge to nostalgia. as if all this can never be like that again. as if to recall all of that might make this less horrifying, less terminal.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

(An attack of synesthesia: that sepia color "sounds" like fuzzy tube amplifiers and old guitars.)

So I'm not the only one then.

I know what you mean about south Bombay too. I've only visited a few times -- once I stayed in the suburbs with TR, the other times with friends in TIFR, not far from Colaba, hung around Gateway/Taj, Marine Drive, and the region in between. I haven't been to Leopold, but am relieved to see that Cafe Mondegar hasn't featured in the news. The nice thing is the way you can explore it on foot, which is not possible in other Indian cities.

km said...

TR, Space Bar: Thanks, that means a lot.

Space Bar: I don't entirely trust that emotion, so I was trying to be only "cautiously nostalgic". Aspects of that city still bother me a great deal.

Rahul: The reverse is usually stronger for me. Sounds evoke colors more easily.

I was always a Mondegar guy. (Leo's had a reputation of not being "native-friendly" back then.)

Rahul Siddharthan said...

km - yes that's what I meant (sound evokes colours). And, as the others said, great post. Every city has its warts and Bombay has many, but the fact that people still keep flooding in rather than out is the proof that the good outweighs the bad.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Krishna, wonderful fragment. Very Pico Iyer (I can't think of higher praise).


km said...

JAP: Thank'ee, kind sir.