I entered Bombay on a motorcycle, by night, when the city is trying to get sleep.
From the airport down to the heart of the city, my bro Fahad (Yo!) drives me steadily through this new world, gives me detailed and precious info about the city and the whole country; I am struck, my mouth wide open while riding through overlapping streets witnessing fainting buildings, mountains of rubbish and people sleeping everywhere.
It’s nice to be in the game again.
Bombay by night is almost silent, there’s no traffic, but there’s always people in the streets. Many set the street as their home, the street belongs to everyone.
Bombay is to India what New York is to the States, and in this land of opportunity everybody plays his own cards, there are no rules, the smartest man rules.
It’s a run for gold, like 19th century California, Far West atmosphere impregnated in decadent facades of untidy buildings. Soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.
If you won’t judge people by their clothes, same goes for cities.
Bombay has many stories to tell, from the sidewalks to the high grounds of mushrooming skyscrapers.
In a week a whole slum might be smashed down by bulldozers and give room for residential areas for the new generation of high class Bombaikers, or instead a commercial area with multiplex cinemas, including, can you believe, toilets and garbage bins!
The city lacks a proper sewage system and running water but its citizens are engineers and robotics supporters, scholars and expert business men.
Bollywood tells the stories of rich families in musical style and the powerful local mafias compete for areas and real estate with skyrocketing prices; the gap between sci-fi billboards and real life running below is so big it’s almost grotesque, unreal.
In this crazy theatre there’s room for every kind of person, from hardcore religious followers to heavy metal fans; Indians are people who believe, people who give their hearts, people who respect each other.
A 5 minute stroll in some areas of Bombay makes an amazing ethnical cultural trip, Indians from every state (many and quite different) mess up their turbans in an endless noise of horns and screaming people who work and struggle among animals and garbage, trying to make their livelihood.
I see traces of British colonialism, in tea cups flying over the streets, in dialogues with experts in every matter, in business-oriented people and in an experienced atmosphere, where life breathes through every pore and hits you if you’re not careful, no wonder I got a rickshaw right on my face!
Bombay is the outpost of the India who, together with China, threatens western superpowers. Seen from here it looks like a joke but we know that nowadays math is just an opinion and stats and numbers are only a mirror for speculators and entrepreneurs.
It’s true though that tycoons exist, and rich areas are getting less Indian and more global day by day; but I’m looking for true stuff and I prefer to sweat my day out with the middle class, who dreams villas and cars but eats street food and combs itself, Travolta style, in public latrines.
I lived the daily struggle to get to work, hours lost among overcrowded trains and insane traffic jams stuffed with chaos, animals and smog; reaching the office is the hardest part, working is nothing!
Every time you get into this urban zoo something unpredictable is about to happen: cows in the middle of the street, people who run after the bus and fight their way in, goats on car roofs, street sellers with useless deals catching your sleeve, cabs that crash carts pulled by humans and the tribal rhythm of horns dazzle you and fogs your senses. I love Bombay.
Nobody complains, the air is soaked with life. This is the Bombaikers’ world and here they look for their 15 minutes of glory, everybody here is what they want.
Apparently many of them are happy with very little and live street life as their most precious treasure, living in the center of it but at the edge of society…
On the sidewalks you find those who put their self-pity at stake as a profession; those who hold a kid on their lap just to earn some more rupees.
The day goes by with smog, stink, smiles, tricks. And when night comes, the mother folds out a sheet on the dirty ground, puts down some bags containing her life and sets the bed for herself and her son. The kid plays with some random object found on the ground.
They both look calm, at home, the wheel of life keeps on spinning as a ritual; I see this scene without any empathy and I ask myself what are they thinking, what do they want, what makes them laugh and cry?
I lift my eyes and I see the whole square is jammed with same stories.
I don’t know when all this begun and I don’t even think there has to be an end: the concept of human dignity here is reset, after some time spent in India you learn to neutralize your standards, to blow out the bubble you always lived in, because these people are too many and 8 of them would cheerfully squeeze in one place in the sun!
But yeah that’s fine, everything makes sense on this planet, put in the right context.
After saying this I realize that in the center of Bombay, in a few square meters, hundreds of people sleep on the street sharing every inch of dust, when on the other side of the sidewalk two 5 stars hotels spur out, with shining limousines, lights and smiling people choked in their party dresses, out of place like a shit on a golden tray.
One minute back I was thinking of the poor people who, by necessity or by choice, see the world from the ground; now I’m thinking who gets out of a limo and throws his glance down there where the untouchables are… and as usual there is me, standing in the middle, observing these lifestyles.
This is my Bombay, where I spent a month, after the Korean lethargy; and after a surprising Christmas spent in the tropical Emilia Romagna I’m ready to live this India, so much awaited and so much craved.
The subcontinent is where MahatMarco, looking for questions instead of answers, continues his journey.