I’ve never been to New York, so I can only imagine what many friends are going through now, and send my thoughts and prayers. But I lived in Mumbai for a good part of my adult life, and I know from experience what must be going on in the beautiful Island City: a horrifying ordeal that rips and tears at the heart of what it means to belong to Mumbai: to be a Mumbaikar.
Some people are surprised when we Mumbaikars describe our city as beautiful. They point to the endless traffic, the air, water and noise pollution, the vast landscape of inequality, the slums and, for good measure, the frivolous Mumbailifestyle.
We know there is truth in such criticisms but we also know the thousand other truths that make our city beautiful.
We are a city of lovers.
We are a city of singers and song.
We are a city of dancers.
We are a city of saints and sacred places.
We are an Island in the sea, a haven for the hungry and a shelter for the dispossessed of other States.
We are a shrine of Faith in every taxi, a festival on every rooftop, a dream in every footstep and a hope in every heart that we can keep on proving we Mumbaikars can be trusted with the truth and with freedom.
Injustice rides a wild horse and tramples Innocence.
Mumbai knows its share of injustice, as does every other city I’ve lived in and known well.
But I’ve lived on the pavement of the city, destitute, and I know that so long as you have an ounce of Will left, Mumbai will not let you starve or die. Someone among the thousands who pass, often a stranger, will see and sense your desperate need, and will reach out to meet it. The city will hold you up above the water for as long as you keep kicking below.
But now, the city’s capacity to heal, comfort and inspire us is also in lockdown.
The spirit of the city exists in the constant connection between people and place. The connection has been severed for some time now, and the city is helpless to help us.
The Island City of Mumbai has saved my life several times. The city would not let me die, and I refuse to believe that anything can defeat the people, the spirit and the city I love.
Mumbai will rise again. Many things will be different. Everyone now knows what is truly important and what is only fool’s gold; who is performing a truly vital service and who among us could contribute more of the same devotion. But the Island City will rise again to its inspirational peak, as a beacon of hope and joyful creativity for all of Mother India.
Love and blessings, GDR