“You are early this year.”
“I wanted to see you”, he whispered slowly and gently moved in for a hug. Steadily his arms wrapped themselves around her shoulders and he leaned forward for a kiss.
She brusquely brushed him away and looked into the distance. She stared at the large bronze statue across the street as it shone with the light reflecting off the ancient alloy. She pointed to the triple domes of the building behind the statue and spoke.
“Lets sit there on the BMC Building. I want a view of VT”
They walked across, oblivious that there existed gravity and that thousands of Mumbaikars were hurrying across the road in the opposite direction underneath them. It was just past eight and the Island city was emptying, as its inhabitants made a beeline to return to the cozy suburbs and dilapidated slums, in lands far far away.
They nestled themselves in one of the corner towers of the second stone edifice in a cozy alcove in the front of the building which officially housed the executive of the city. She leant onto one of the petrous gargoyles that stood guard atop the structure and looked at the majestic terminus in front of them. It had risen like a promise of future grandeur of the city and remained thus.
“Aah. Victoria Terminus” she sighed. “I never get tired of looking at it in the evenings. Prettily lit and decked and all with all my people rushing home. You are making them run today.” She gently laughed as she looked at one particularly anxious person run across the road, precariously balancing himself over the slippery road.
“Slow down for a minute. Let Anand pass”
He smiled in mischief and the rain seemed to suddenly intensify. The person in question, the unfortunate mortal called Anand was now caught in the middle of the road. He stood there, struck in sudden shock and unable to make a decision whether to run towards VT or sprint back towards the VadaPav stall where he had spent the greater part of the last twenty minutes, waiting for the showers to abate. With each drop of rain that fell, he grew wetter and restless. He looked down at the leather sling bag under his shoulder. Important Documents.
Suddenly out of nowhere, a woman ran upto him with a large bright yellow umbrella. Actually it was more of an ochre shade than yellow, similar to the colour of the paint they use on the Mumbai local trains. She approached him without hesitance and grabbed his shoulder and pulled him under her umbrella. Before his brain could process what happened, he was under the foyer of the station, being pushed into the main entry hall by the tired huddled masses. He looked back and forth, searching frantically for the yellow umbrella. But all that could see was a sea of black, with a smattering of reds and pinks. No yellow.
The young man atop the BMC building looked at his lady companion, amused and proud. He looked back at the station, only to see Anand walk out in search of the yellow umbrella and spoke slowly.
“Three things. That’s not Victoria Terminus. Its now known as the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus. And secondly. How do you know his name? Thirdly. Who uses a yellow umbrella?” his gaze still fixed on the young man who walked inside dejected and crestfallen.
“Its always VT for me. And secondly I know everyone’s name.” She smiled back smugly at him. “Thirdly, there are people who use yellow.” She contemplated the yellow umbrella at her side, which she finally showed him.
“That makes me love you even more. Now where is my kiss?” He bent forward eagerly, searching for her lips. She pushed him away.
“Listen. I am still mad over 2005. I have not forgotten it.”
“I have been apologizing for the last 8 years. I am sorry. I didn’t mean it. I was angry that year. I have been apologizing every year. I even touched your feet . Will you ever forgive me?”
“No. I have forgiven you. I never said I haven’t forgiven you. I just haven’t forgotten it.”
The man was certainly not accustomed to his overtures being thwarted so prematurely. He bristled into a tirade as they stood up and walked. In minutes, they were walking towards buildings in the lanes of old city of Bombay, a place called Byculla. Here the lanes twisted and crossed each other at acute and unexpected angles and opened into tiny vestibules and verandahs. The fresh rain had raked up the mud from the crevices and garbage from bins and strewn them across the above mentioned narrow lanes. The couple stood on the parapet of a flyover that split into two lanes as it landed. Between the two prongs of the flyover, stood a statue. Yet another silent memory to the changing fate of the city, this Parsi gentleman was going to be the sole spectator to the impending diatribe.
“I hate coming to Bombay. I don’t know why I come here every year. This is a dark city. Just like you. We suffer. We make others suffer. We are in a mad rush for money, power, sex or revenge that very often, we forget our humanities.” The rain had turned into a downpour. Her saree didn’t seem to pick up the rain as it continued to fly and flutter in the gusts that accompanied his trite complaint.
“Broken Promises, missed appointments, lost jobs, aborted fetuses, abandoned children, molested kids, unfaithful marriages, tortured wives, raped women, beaten men, defeated dreams, destroyed hopes, misplaced files, torn pages, faded ideologies, spilt blood, ostracized communities, ghettoized populations, deracinated generations, failed exams, lost causes, dried taps, unpaid bills, unkept commitments, decomposing garbage, clogged drains, submerged suburbs, This is what you have to offer.” His arm spanned across the city, right from the cotton mills of Bhiwandi to the plush apartments of Cuffe Parade.
“You are right. All that you say about Bombay is true. It’s a dark city. But it is the city of dreams. It represents freedom, success, fame and most importantly opportunity. People leave family and friends behind and come here to live and die. They struggle here. In the locals, in the shanties, in the offices and homes. Everywhere. They come to me to make a living. Most of them times, they make a life with me. I bear their pains and support them on my shoulders.”
“I need the energy to survive another year. A whole calendar of running people’s lives is extremely draining. There is always a man whose suicide has to be foiled. There is always a girl to be safely escorted home. There is always a lady whose delivery I need to supervise. There is always a kid whose chocolates I have to protect. There is a marriage I have to attend. There is a death I have to mourn. There is always a young man who needs a guardian angel”
She looked at him “I am alone and weak. This is why I invite you to stay in Mumbai for three months. I need to cleanse myself of these maladies and responsibilities. I need a new start in October. I need to go on. This city is an eternal enterprise. This city is me. I am Bombay.”
She suddenly sprinted into the great unknown above the city. He ran behind her. He clutched her hand in the rain and drew her closer to him. They embraced. Two tired souls finally found peace. The rain finally touched her and she allowed it to drench her. Beneath them a fast local pulled into Kurla. Next to them an airplane took off from Sahar. The rains had landed in the city of Mumbai.
After three months…
It was another evening. The clouds thundered as they crashed against each other. You could almost feel their pain as they knocked against one another, over and again and the ensuing friction produced streams of searing flashes of lightning, which formed giant wavy creepers coursing across the skyline of the city soaking Bombay in moments of brilliance before dying out, only to be replaced by another bolt somewhere else. Random dark clouds rolled in from all directions as if a divine power had thrust them inwards They crashed and burnt. Below them sat a man, angrily pointing his index finger into the air and swirling it with fury. The clouds followed his movements.
“Stop it. You’ll scare the city.”, she implored as she hid in his shirt, both hands cupping her ears in a futile attempt to drown the terrifying noise. “You behave like a kid every year. Its raining very heavily. Stop it. Ankle deep water has started flowing into Parel. I am not cleaning up again.”
They sat under the stars, albeit you couldn’t see any of them as a thick blanket of clouds shrouded the city like a woman in mourning. It was one of the less romantic spots in Bombay. It was a large park stamped firm on the chest of the city in Dadar. A regal statue of the Emperor of the Marathas stood guard in a corner. The entire park was flanked by trees which drooped graciously onto the narrow paved pathways that circumambulated it and provided plentiful green cover. The two of them strolled around the parapet of the wall for a while, her dress surprisingly dry inspite of the heavy downpour and splattering mud across their feet. The park was deserted, except for the occasional passerby on a bike or a speeding car.
“I don’t know why you insisted that we meet here this time.”
“I like this park. It doesn’t have the airs of the South Bombay parks. It is much simpler and the people mild mannered. I have fond memories of this place. I still remember sitting in this very corner with the edge of my saree draped over my head as I listened to a young Marathi leader create fire with his words in 1966. That was a speech I would never forget.I come here every year on Vijayadasami.” She smiled weakly as she pointed towards a spot in the park.
“I don’t want to leave.”
“You never do want to leave. But we are lovers for the eternity. It isn’t like you will not return next year. I can have you only for three months of the year. That was the initial pact when the God of the Oceans retreated to bring me to life.”
“I shall miss you. I shall remember you every moment until I return. It shall be a winter of loneliness and a summer of sorrow for me. I love you like the very rain I bring you.”
He snapped his fingers and a bolt of lightning descended from the heavens into his palm and sparkled and shimmered like the moon itself. He gently opened her palm and pressed the splinter of energy into it and curled his fingers around hers. The bolt flickered iridescently for a few seconds and then dissolved into her hands.
“Here. I give you my energy to last you through all pain until I return.”
“Why do you love me so much?”
“Because you are the City of Bombay.”
“And you are the Prince of the Monsoons”
The star crossed lovers closed their eyes and kissed. As she opened her eyes, he was gone and so was the rain. She turned back and walked towards Dadar station, just like everyone else in the city did.