BOMBAY – samantchauhan


“At some point in your life, this statement will be true: tomorrow you will lose everything forever.”

– Charles Wu

Where do forgotten things belong? A frayed image from a time when the city didn’t have the glass buildings that would reflect the sea back to wherever it came from is a leftover from then.
From the plane window, I am looking out on a ridge all in shades of black and grey and I shudder at the emptiness in the vast universe-the earth with its on top of the food chain men riding in aircraft.
Steelworks sunsets. Orange skies that dissolve into black and then become sky blue. All these colors and the old black and white forgotten photographs.
Even Bombay just looks a speck from this height and to think of the millions of hearts in it, and trying to wrestle with their concoctions of loneliness but then, they have they say here. I came to this city thinking of the desolation of this extreme kind of loneliness in a city by the sea.
Bombay, the megalopolis, is a city I hoped I would visit one day to learn about resilience.
Do you know the smell of hope? It comes from the windows of the Chawls that look out on the city’s high rises in the nights. The people in those windows look at the ‘other world’ and think perhaps that they would one day have a place to love, a space to sit and a bathroom to themselves. I go near the sea and I see couples embracing. Bombay is about people living and loving in small spaces.
The chawls are the places of bonding, of women sitting together after lunch, of love expressed in whispers in a room full of people.
You can never be lonely in a place like this.
“Bombay is a city that eats up the sea. It is always hungry, forever looking to expand but sometimes, the sea surges forward in its fury.

The waves crashing against the rocks, frustrating themselves trying to take over the city.

Maybe the sea takes from the city’s throbbing energy. So full that it engulfs all that come into that ever-sprawling city, adding suburbs after suburbs to its expanse, claiming the sea, too.
And the city…its buildings stand tall overlooking, assessing the waves.

The sea does not end. Nor does the ambition of land.
Inwards, it gobbles up what remains of the past. It is forever redeveloping, overwriting stories and histories. Kamathipura is almost bi located.

And even as it is getting extinct with high rises replacing the old chawls here, remains a place of cheap sex and strange truths. It was the space you would go to find something unavailable in the other world.

I climbed the dark stairs to the brothel in Kamathipura’s Gulli No. 1 along with my friend a few months ago.

That afternoon we stepped out of the hotel and went to see the city’s underbelly…”

In the various gullies of Kamathipura I see women looking out of windows with eyes that look sad but not defeated.

On this meridian, the woman doesn’t see the sea in the background. But to drown, you don’t need a sea. The sea is within us.

On yet another Meridian, Zeenath Pasha, a eunuch prostitute in Bombay’s red light district of Kamathipura, looks out of the rusted iron grills on to the street. On the ledge, there is a handful of garden. Creepers and flowers.

This is an ancient place.
An Eve in her garden of memories. A man who became a woman. And now the “she” looks out of the brothel windows on nothing in particular. The sea is nearby.

The red bus in flight and the city
The silver wings of the bus pierced the darkness. And then I saw the red bus, a relic of the past brought from the dead by the glint of the silver. The Flying Bus by Sudarshan Shetty can induce cultural despair. It reminds you of a strange kind of crossing over where things have lost their functional context and have been transformed into beautiful objects in memory. It wasn’t part of my nostalgia but the Bombay landscape as I have always remembered had these red buses…
There is an object on its way to extinction. As a nostalgia object in one’s imagination and memory, it becomes so tragically beautiful. That’s how we live, and that’s how we die.
And in these memories, there is the city and the experience. Static, frozen and layered.
And it is the art of obituary that we must pay homage to because cities are always changing. And the future too will recede into the past. That’s how we go forward. With nostalgia and dread. We lose constantly. The artist is filling up the gaps between then and now.
And as I, a traveler, stood before the bus that night, I knew it was an ode to death. With wings that can subvert the darkness of life. And that’s how I started my encounters with the city of Bombay… by remembering how it used to be…

All these three and a half decades I wrote notes on paper, on phone and on scraps of paper everywhere. Sometimes these were written with dates. Sometimes, the entries were more obscure, more timeless.
Other times with datelines. There are scattered images and me. Sometimes, we write half sentences because that’s the closest we can get to translating our experiences. Bombay is overwhelming.

That’s the journey of everything. It all culminated in nothings. I am a chronicler of everyday objects from range of focal points.
I play with time. I try to condense it. I expand it. I capture its variety in a panoramic picture of my invisible self standing near the sea stretching time in this city, which makes me understand contrasts. It is all about collisions- personal and universal and this city is any city and yet if you have lived in Bombay you would instantly remember scenes in the local train. You would conjure your cities. And in the end, it is this ode to a city in time lapses that is poetic and encompasses the tragic, the mundane and the metaphysical in it.

Because tomorrow we will lose everything forever. This is a collection for the sake of those frozen frames that tell us of a time we have lost and the time we are going to lose.

written by - Chinki Sinha