Don’t write about ladies’ compartments. Don’t write about the traffic, the dirt or the claustrophobia,” read the brief.
As someone who’s often assigned to write “evocative city stories”, I knew what she meant: No clichés, please.
But I myself am a Mumbai cliché. An immigrant who moved here in search of something—not sure exactly what, obviously something that I felt my hometown couldn’t offer. And, aren’t ladies’ compartments, traffic jams and lack of space the things that all immigrants in Mumbai talk about? And, of course, the nightlife.
It so happened that I had just returned from a two-week assignment that had taken me to my hometown, Kolkata, when I read that mail. I had spent the last couple of days in the city where I was born and had spent most of my life, wondering why I no longer feel the same way about it.
Why it didn’t bother me that I hadn’t had the chicken roll at Nizam’s, or wandered up and down Chowringhee? Or gone for a drive down Strand, with the Hooghly on my left and Fort William on my right, the Howrah Bridge ahead of me and the new Howrah Bridge behind. Those were, after all, the things I’d been looking forward to.
I spent my last night in Kolkata wishing I had this kind of time in Mumbai.
The things I could do: wander up and down Marine Drive; potter around Fort and try and figure out, guided by memories of sepia pictures of old Bombay, where the Fort actually began and ended; get lost in Girgaum; explore Parel; and, sip chai at Samovar. Do all the things that, bursting with enthusiasm for my new city, I did in the first couple of years I was here.
It felt somewhat strange to feel nostalgic about the city in which I live. For the last 14 years, nostalgia had been reserved for Kolkata. And it felt even stranger to realize that, in less than two weeks away from this city, I was overcome with a peculiar feeling of yearning. I was, to my great surprise, homesick.
For the last 14 years, I took great delight in the fact that whether I stepped off a train at CST or Howrah, or a plane at Santa Cruz or Dum Dum, I was home. Could it be, I wondered, that now there is only one way home?
Apparently yes, because when I stepped off the plane at Santa Cruz last week, I was exhilarated.
“Ladies’ compartments, traffic, claustrophobia, these are old stories,” I replied to the brief. “Let me tell you what it feels like to be home.”
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