After fifteen minutes of “oh, fuck!” wait, I finally halted a rickshaw which had its “For hire” up and jumped inside, “Chembur.”
Before he could say he would not want to go, I almost shouted, “Yes! And don’t say you too won’t go ‘coz your meter was up. And I am already late, thanks to many of your friends. I have to reach there in another 30 minutes so…” I just trailed off as he had pulled the rickshaw forward, half heartedly though. But it didn’t matter to me. I was fumed, first by the extreme heat Bombay is already facing in March (God! What’s gonna happen in May!!!) and then numerous refusals from Rickshaw-wallahs before this guy. So to cool myself a little, I just plugged in my earphones.
We had hardly gone a few meters ahead that we faced a traffic jam. The F-word reappeared in my mind but I just held it back before it could have got itself pronounced as I realized the driver was saying something. I pulled off the earphone from my right ear and asked, “What?”
He was saying something in Marathi, but my questioning in Hindi probably compelled him to translate it in Hindi, “Nothing Bhai. These traffic jams I say. See, in this afternoon also!!” He looked up at me from the rear view mirror.
“Yeah,” I said just to acknowledge the discussion but in a toneless manner to avoid any further chitchat. But it appeared as if he had forgotten my rash behavior exhibited few minutes back. So he continued, “I tell you bhai, half of these people don’t know how to drive. And more so if a Ladies is driving. “See. Why did she have to pull her car in the wrong direction?” he hinted to a lady driver to prove his point.
I nodded and realizing that now this was gonna go on forever till I reach Chembur, I plugged my phone in again but with reduced volume so that I could also hear what this fellow was yapping on. I didn’t want him to feel bad. After all he was the guy who saved me from the roadside frustration.
As soon as we reached Amar Mahal, he said, “Bhai, these people have dug up entire Mumbai. They will make something one year and will break and redo it the next year. It seems they are never satisfied with what they make… You see, they are now making a monorail here. God knows, from where to where will they connect…. I tell you bhai, Mumbai city has something about it…. Anyone who comes here never leaves… It’s not like bhai that they want to... but it’s like they just can’t… there’s something I tell you.”
By now I was all cool and didn’t mind his disconnected viewpoints. I asked him, “Where are you from?”
“Bhai, I am from here only.”
“Sangali, bhai. In Maharshtra Only.”
“Yeah, I know.” I felt certain discomfort. Probably because I wasn’t expecting him to be from where he was.
“Where are you from, bhai?” My discomfort heightened a bit.
“Well I live here only, in Chembur.”
“No no. I mean where your village is?”
“Well I am from here only,” I looked away. I had lied. And probably he had guessed.
“No no, bhai I mean your parents, where are they from. ‘Coz you see, in Mumbai, everyone comes from somewhere at some point of time.”
“Well yeah, my parents… they are from U.P.”
He smiled in the rearview mirror. I am not sure what did he smiled at. Of an answer he was a little too sure ‘coz I didn’t speak Marathi to him? Of my being so stupid to try faking my place of origin? Of realizing that despite he was serving me, he had sensed a feeling of fear in me, and that gave a sense of pride to him? I don’t know. May be it was just a reasonless response. I don’t know. But I hated his smile in that moment. I looked away. And before he could initiate any further discussion, I took out my phone and dialed a random friend to have a very random discussion. I just ensured I did that in English, as most of the upper class Bombayites do, and it did continue till I reach my destination.
When I walked off the Rickshaw I felt weak and sad.
“Why? Why did I have to do it? Did I feel guilty of belonging to UP?
I tried answering my own questions in a reflection later. Where do I belong to? I don’t belong here, because I am not born here, even though I have kinda spoiled my Hindi, which is so Bombay-ized now that my parents sadly point it out when I talk to them. But I don’t even belong to my place of birth any more, because I don’t speak their language the same way as they do. I feel same alienation there, which at times I feel here, in such situations. Neither do I belong to any of the cities I have spent considerable time of my life throughout my education career. This un-belonged existence at times creates chaos within. And a mind smoked out with such chaos may force you toward deceit, big or small. But then I need to clear this chaos, ones and for all. I need to know… I need to know which place I belong to so that tomorrow I don’t feel awkward in such situations.
But then how do I define my place of belonging? On the merit of it being the place where my mom chose to give birth to me? Or my dad chose me to school at? Or the place I chose to study and work? All these places I have lived have contributed to my being, but do I belong to any of them? In this bedazzlement I realize, we don’t belong to places. Rather, they belong to us.
The concept of belonging would have been more appropriate in times when people spent their entire existence in just one place. Not any more. Today, we don’t travel around; we live around. The places we live around are defined by the way we live there; and not vice versa.
I cannot belong to here, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. The only thing that will belong to this place is my minuscule and unnoticeable contribution in characterizing this city, as what it will be known in days and years to come. I may not live here, tomorrow. But this city will live within me in the form of certain formations and reformations I have underwent in all these years I have spent here. And the only belongings with me from this city and all the cities I will have lived in will be… memories.
To read other posts from The City of Hills and the Sea, click below: