It’s that time of the year again. Overcast sky laden with thunder, looking over the frenzied, simmering city, suddenly explodes into that outburst it had been craving for. The air is suddenly redolent with that earthy scent and the sultriness is replaced with a breezy coolness. The raindrops fall in rhythmic unison drowning out the deafening noise. The city is awash with joy. It welcomes the rain with outstretched arms. No one is annoyed at being caught unaware, everyone drenches happily. No one seems to care that the roads are choked, they smile behind the wheel at the little puddles on the street. Everyone flocks the beach to rekindle the intimacy with their lives. Watching the sea swell, sipping piping hot tea and munching on corn on the cob, the first rain always manages to bring out the romantic in the city.
I am glad that I was not in my office, admiring this cloudy bliss from a window. I was on the road, bearing witness as the wind swept up, the sky darkened, the grey clouds stamped their authority with a loud thunder and the downpour began. And just like that, nothing was parched any more. I just rue the fact that I was all dressed up and missed my chance to get wet. I was on my way to attending the wedding of my friend of 18 years. I smiled to myself on the wedding gift she received from nature. In retrospect, I can’t think of a better day for the rain to arrive.
I stand on the edge of the rocks and let the cool breeze graze my face and the gushing sea kiss my feet. I feel every inch of my body feel recharged. Little do I know that this sense of rejuvenation is going to be eroded by that awful stench the moment I turn around. “I am still new here”, I say to myself as I envy those who are enjoying the beach as if it were amidst a perfume factory. I walk back, battling the stinking air and stand under a palm tree facing the pavement abuzz with tiny bulbs. From the angle at which I am standing, this beach could easily be in Havana or Miami. But I doubt whether those place could do anything more for me, except temporarily satisfying the part of me struck by wanderlust. I turn around to catch a glimpse of the main reason why people come here. A friend had once ruefully observed about Bandstand, that it has been hyped just because of the residence of a single person. He missed the point that this person can own half of Mumbai which he does, in a certain sense. As I look at the small crowd which has gathered outside his gate to see him, I think that it is only befitting that the people of Mumbai worship Shah Rukh Khan. For, he is a tribute to this city of dreams, to the adage that anything can happen here, and to the belief that this city can be owned by anybody.
I look around myself at people having a good time. A group of college kids strike various poses to get photographed. They all look the same. The girls, thin as a stick wear skin fitting jeans with their T shirts sleeves rolled up to show a bit more of skin. Their hair is ironed to perfect straightness and they all speak in catchphrases with a fake accent. The boys in their baggy jeans and Mohawk hair flash their latest smart phones and behave like the most important people in the city. At their age, this city is not too big. As dusk begins to fade away and the night starts to fall, I decide to make a move before the traffic thickens.
My car gets stuck in the traffic the moment it gets on the highway. Looking at the highway gives me a rude shock, which again proves that I am still new. As far as I can lay my eyes, I see long winding stretches of roads, with their blinding lights. I suddenly miss the moments I had with myself at the beach. Moments of privacy are rare to come my here. Large hoardings line the street, with Shah Rukh Khan tearing out of one of them reiterating his larger than life impact on the city. The hoardings are the newest feature of the Mumbai skyline, the most effective tool to grab the attention of this “always on the move” city. Every celebrity worth his/her salt can be seen here, posing stylishly, flashing a smile, delivering a witty line, pointing towards a product and ordering you to buy one from your nearest supermarket/ showroom. The demureness and the confidence of these dashing celebrities are a mere façade hiding the feverishness of the corporate to capture the loyalty of the ever shifting consumer base. Loyalty, that elusive virtue, fast fading into obscurity in this city of blinding lights. You don’t belong to anyone but your ambition here, not to your values, not to your love, not to your brand, not to your employer. The traffic loosens a little and my car leaps into action like a leopard let out of a cage, only to be tamed into a halt a few minutes later. This is how most of Mumbai returns home after a day of overcoming hurdles, by crawling on choked streets. I like to think that this is befitting in a strange way, for it gives them the time to thank the universe for letting them survive another day. But then again I wonder, when do they live?