Mumbai Musings by Sushmita Bose
This past one week, I have been gloriously bereft of ideas. Friday night saw me struggling with ‘Single in the City’: I had no clue what I should be writing on. So I called up someone who is quite the Bombay Boy — even though he’s been living in Delhi for a long time now — for help.
“You went to Bombay this week, didn’t you? Write something on being single in Bombay, how easy it is for women to live in the city (although, of course, there is the JW Marriott cloud hanging uneasily over the skyline),” he offered quietly.
Oh yes, how could I forget? Mid-week, I was in Maximum City for exactly 38 hours — a substantial part of which I spent in the HT office among colleagues, many of who I was meeting for the first time.
Most ‘singles’ — men and women — I met at HT loved living alone in Bombay. Here’s why. “This city is cramped for space, so you learn to value personal space — and being alone,” said one.
Someone else said what she really looked forward to was going home after work (it takes her an hour — on the local train) and cooking. “For myself.”
And, “It’s a tough city — you learn to live for yourself but, man, you really enjoy life.”
Let me tell you the story of Riddhi Shah, one of HT’s correspondents. A 20-something Bombay girl. The day I landed in Bombay and went to office, she couldn’t join us for lunch, because — as her boss Shashi told me — she’d had an accident. “She hit someone while driving, the man was hurt so she’s taking him to hospital.”
Shashi is like a mother hen, very protective of her brood. But she insisted on letting Riddhi be: “Let her take care of it — she’ll be fine.”
I met Riddhi the next day. She narrated the whole incident matter-of-factly: how she picked up the man, drove him to hospital and then, when the doctors insisted, to the police station (along with the injured man) to file a report. It was only when the cops told her that “you may be released on bail” that she went into a bit of a flap. “I had to call up my mother then — just to keep her in the loop,” she said. In the end, all ended well.
What struck me was that there was, on her part, no bluster about managing a crisis by oneself. It was a way of life. “I’m still feeling bad about the guy I toppled over — very careless of me,” she sighed.
In Bombay, I also bumped into one of my former bosses. We worked together for HT in Calcutta. I moved to Delhi, he to Bombay a few years later.
I remember his reaction, in 2001, when I first told him that I was leaving for Delhi: “You’re going to be living alone, right? Watch out for the time when you come back to an empty pad and switch on the light. It’s a split-second thing, but it’s depressing as hell.” When my face didn’t light up with realisation (you know, the tube-light phenomenon), he explained: “You realise you are alone.”
Home Alone. God, I loved that movie. How could that be depressing?
“You’ll find out, my dear,” he smiled.
He and I hung out in Bandra on Wednesday evening, but didn’t get down to talking about being Home Alone.
When I came back from Bombay — on Thursday night — I walked into my pad, and switched on the front-room light, the one I thought would be in working condition; five others in the same room had copped out (I think of getting them fixed every other day, but then I keep forgetting).
The light didn’t, well, light up the front-room. While I was away, the last bulb had decided to go on the blink. So I “felt” my way up to the kitchen and put on the light there.
Come to think of it, it was actually a split-second tough call switching on the light. Not because I was Home Alone, but because I had to grope my way in the dark.
I have to call up my former boss in Bombay and exchange notes.