My Mumbai through a looking glass
Anupama and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 15-year-old daughter, Zuni, paints a unique picture of the city she loves.brunch Updated: Mar 12, 2017 14:30 IST
My glasses have bothered me since the day I got them. Agreed, that day was six years ago, but they are as much of a nuisance now as they were on that fateful, sunny Monday morning when they wrestled onto my face and sat there like an overgrown wart.
The doctor said they allowed me to see well. I thought I saw quite well enough, thank you very much. But nothing could have properly prepared me for the feeling of being able to observe every leaf upon every tree, notice the sunlight dancing off of them, and identify the subtle shift in their shades of green.
I’ve seen a lot since then. As I said, it has been six years. Would you like me to tell you what I’ve seen?
The AC bubble
Mumbai is a city that’s lost itself and its beauty in its own warped success. Boxes of houses grow into towers of haphazard roofs and wet, faded clothes, trampling each other into the ground. Looming billboards flashing the names of numerous useless brands, bordered by the possibly even more useless promises of the famed, soar above dilapidated houses that will live forever reminded they are beneath such luxury. Between the rows of BMWs packed against one another on the dusty roads, women and children press themselves and their wounds and their pasts against darkened windows, no longer so much begging as fulfilling another of life’s morbid demands till it is time to leave it all behind.
And the saddest thing is – we’re used to it. No one stops to gasp at the vulgar graffiti stretching across the wall stained with blood and urine. No one rolls down their window to ask the young girl why she’s here, imploring on the street for money she won’t earn, rather than home for dinner. No one pauses to think before spitting upon the piles of trash collecting at corners of the pavements, only to later complain long and loudly about a sudden spread of disease.
Thus the need for our bubble. ‘Our’ being children like me; kids with parents who are well off and successful, kids being given a great education and kids with opportunities before them that many would envy. This AC bubble is everywhere around us, no matter where we go. At home, thick double-paned windows, floods of mosquito repellent, constant cleaning. From home to school in an AC car. At school, in classrooms with friends just like us and enemies just like us and teachers taught to teach us all the same. Home again, maybe in a different car this time. But here’s the secret; for around 20 minutes in the morning, we open the window to let in some fresh air. That solves all the problems. If you missed it, that was sarcasm. This supposed ‘fresh air’ is about as healthy as a bowl of fake fruit.
Yet here’s a fearful point – this bubble was built to be impenetrable. If you have created this bubble for yourself and your family, then I guess you believe that it is. But Mumbai is one city. We are not split by a glass screen that stops the troubles of the less fortunate from spilling into our homes. And we are not as removed as many seem to think. On a plane, at school or work, even at home, that which we believe we can simply remove from our lives will always be around us. The unspoken Mumbai policy of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has never done anything more than worsen the city’s issues. This bubble, it turns out, was only ever a bubble.
Surfing the turf
I’m in the 10th grade now. Before the 11th grade, many of my classmates will leave to study abroad. And yet, many don’t know where they are going.
Why do so many of them wish to move without even knowing yet how or where? It’s because after living in the same city all our lives and being in the same school for 12 years, an exhaustion has set in.
But this explanation still seems odd. Many children live in their home town for close to 20 years, and feel a deep connection with their childhood school. It’s not unusual for young adults to graduate from schools like ours after living in large cities for years. But that’s it. We don’t live in this city. Aside from the occasional trip to the cinema, the mall or to the least risky restaurant (and not in the monsoon), we stay at our homes in the city.
How saddening is it that it’s a sign of privilege to no longer live in your own city? What does it tell us about ourselves?
I like Mumbai best during Diwali; when the fairy lights glow from the windows, shining over the chipped paint, when the lanterns dotting the streets form a sea of sunshine in the late evening, when the city forgets its own lifeless, depressed disfigurement in the wake of togetherness and celebration and mithai.
It reminds me that there’s always hope for us. That the city is yet vibrant and powerful. And that Mumbai will always be beautiful, no matter what.
Author Bio: Zuni Chopra is a 15-year-old author who has published two books of poetry, the first when she was just 9, and now she has made her debut as a novelist with The House That Spoke, which is published by Penguin. Zuni was also one of the speakers at the recently held ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.
From HT Brunch,March 12, 2017
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