At a book launch today, I was inspired to look at Bombay the way I visited it once in a year. I lived in two Bombays but they were seemingly the same. It felt like two because of the time it took me to get from one home in Mahim to another in Andheri, east or west, I don’t remember now. Two of my aunts lived there, respectively. Mother made annual visits to Bombay and these weren’t ones that lasted all of one week or 15 days. These were 30 days and more, it was my entire summer vacation. Mother saw it fit to drag us there because of what her and her sisters would like to call the ‘treatment’. While in Mahim, skins would be scrutinized and focused on, to be made white and flawless, cheeks were pulled now and then, Dal was a yellow that floated in ghee mostly, the plateful of rice was a challenge to be completed every afternoon after which we compulsorily had to take a nap. Most afternoons, I would lie down, shut my eyes and wait for sleep to come.

So much of Bombay will sadly remain only this for me. Deep from within the folds of my mind, I have perhaps learnt to associate Bombay with tall, dusty apartments and roads that struggled to meet around them. The smell of an ocean rotting nearby, the salt on my face, the dirt that I scraped off my neck, chatty taxi drivers who would suddenly turn rowdy after they would drop us home, the exhaustion that I anticipated from having to climb 4 floors, the smell of recycled air that I now call ac smell, the marble floor that was scrubbed with surf excel 20 times a day.

Our time in Bombay was cut between shifting from Andheri to Mahim and the occasional trip to GangaVihar’s for boring paneer- kulcha kind of food, which I didn’t care much for. My target was the sweet pan that they sold outside. There were the frequent shopping sprees to Linking road and Dadar. I have never really seen the beach in all my time in Bombay. I saw it when the plane flew over it during take off and landing. That was that. Living in Mahim was living away from Bombay with all its activities and flyovers and peculiar taxi sounds that I am convinced, is only produced in Bombay. I haven’t seen what the city is like now. When I go there soon, I wish I find places hidden behind what I saw back then.

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