To me Mumbai was a dot on the map that we were taught to mark for 5 marks in geography class. There it was, just below the large mass jutting out like a misshapen right claw off India’s body. The dot was Bombay when I started school and Mumbai by the time I finished.
You land in a place, and suddenly the miles stretch farther out; it goes from being a single dot and two syllables to an ostentatious display of sights, tastes and colours. I watched majha Mumbai expand in front of me and become a cluster of entities with their own standing that I got to know just a little bit – Dadar, Worli, Kaala Ghoda, Vashi, and yes, Navi Mumbai. That’s where my friend SR lives, a new Mumbai in its infancy, all timid buildings as opposed to the coastal city’s skyscrapers.
Even before I arrived, I had decided that I would be visiting SR. It was only later that I realised she lived over an hour away. We decided to meet halfway to shop for some work clothes for her, and then go from there. The travel from Dadar to Vashi tired me out. I had skipped lunch in favour of starting early and beating COVID curfew, and there was the heat and the traffic – I ended up sleeping half the way. By the time I met SR, I didn’t possess half the energy I initially had while heading out, and we didn’t make it in time before closing time either. Police patrolled the streets, ensuring everyone stuck to the evening curfew, while shop owners hid inside closed shutters – occasionally smuggling potential customers in through backdoors and make-shift curtained corridors, after careful communication with a counterpart who kept vigil outside. We wandered the market playing hide-and-seek on a Sunday afternoon.
It was when we reached Kharghar that I truly came to life. The ice cream cone that I managed to have on the way helped, but if there is one thing that can revive you truly, it’s the thrill of discovering green hills where you least expect them. After two days in Mumbai, I was used to tall buildings and narrow lanes, but there it was in front of me as our cab approached – a shiny green hill right by the road in all its monsoon glory, set against the bright blue evening sky, speckled with trekkers. I remembered S asking me in if I preferred beaches or mountains, and in that second I knew where my heart truly belonged.
SR saw the sparkle in my eye, and agreed to head out there immediately lest twilight should fall. She had been living right there for close to a month and never thought to go there! She was never a fan of trekking, but it was an easy route worn down by hundreds before us, so I coaxed her up to halfway up. And then sat against a rock taking in the green landscape dotted with nothing but tiny pink flowers and fellow dreamers.
A cool breeze blew through my open hair, as we clicked each other’s pictures and sat exchanging stories. A lone hen wandered a short distance away; we wondered about what seemed like its home in a tiled house at the bottom. I watched the wind create waves and ripples on the all across the smooth green meadow, like a hand caressing a lover’s locks.
In that moment, I was the wind, I was the grass, I was the rocky earth beneath my feet. I was the little pink flowers peppered around me, and the coolness that enveloped it all.
I was calm, I was spectacular, I was the throbbing of a thousand hearts.
I was alive.