No Shor in the City: The Unreal Silence of a Mumbai Put on Pause

Coronavirus

No Shor in the City: The Unreal Silence of a Mumbai Put on Pause

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

So gaya ye jahan,
So gaya aasman
So gayi hai saari manzilein
So gaya hai rasta

It’s been almost a year since I’ve been singing paeans to our beloved city, in a series of articles for the monthly news bulletin of the Rotary Club of Thane Hills. I’ve written about the city’s indomitable spirit. Of how she’s invincible even in the face of calamitous events.

The blood coursing through the veins of a typical Mumbaikar is conditioned to absorb untoward incidents, and to ensure that the Mumbaikar stays on track, not unlike the city’s throbbing network of local trains. To the rest of the country, the Mumbaikar is fearless, tireless, and restless. Life in the city is measured in seconds, in movement.

The bedrock ideology of Bombay is this…

Ye Mumbai shehar haadson ka shehar hai
Yahan zindagi haadson ka safar hai
Yahan roz roz, har mod mod pe
Hota hai koi na koi…haadsa. Haadsa…

A haadsa happens, and the next day the city is back on its feet. I vividly remember that fateful day of March 12, 1993, as I stepped out of my office in the Air India building. I had barely walked out when a loud sound ripped through the area. Within minutes, there was a talk of a series of blasts that had gone off around the same time in other parts of our city. Mumbai was shaken badly. Yet, the next day, life went on as usual.

The 2006 train blasts tell the same story – of the unstoppable heartbeat of the city. Mostly through necessity but partly through sheer grit, this is how it has always been here.

Then, the virus struck. At first, Mumbai sat up to take notice. Initially, it appeared that only those with travel history would be afflicted. So, shrugging her shoulders, she continued with her daily life. When news came in of how people who arrived from out of India were spreading it to others, annoyed Mumbaikars did not mince words when they called it the “amiron ka beemari”, and continued with their daily lives.

The magnitude of the issue hit when the trains stopped. Mumbai’s heart stopped.

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Mumbai hushed down the city buzz, and ushered everyone into their safe dens.

Bloomberg/ Getty Images

Yet, she did not die. She knew this time the enemy was unlike any other before. She drew from the reserves of her indomitable spirit. She rose to the occasion. She hushed down the city buzz, and ushered everyone into their safe dens. She relied on her army of Mumbaikars to help ward off the enemy by channelling the Mumbai energy inward.

It’s been close to two weeks and Mumbaikars have lived up to the city’s expectations. The Gateway stands in silent, severe guard. The Siddhi Vinayak and Mumbadevi temples are steeped in a deep meditative silence. The Victoria Terminus has pulled in all her rakes and holds them in a protective embrace. The malls, the melting pots of the city’s vibrant life, are in introspection. The Arabian sea kisses the city’s shorelines without any human impediment. The sonorous chimes of the Rajabai Clock Tower resonate through the traffic-free neighbourhood.

Until the virus struck Mumbaikars did not go beyond the basic nodding formality with neighbours.

But the award goes to the Mumbaikar. Until the virus struck we did not go beyond the basic nodding formality with neighbours. Now, we are rushing out to get grocery and other essentials for them. We are suddenly awake to the needs of others. The queue, conspicuously absent in the city’s lifestyle, has arrived, and hopefully will stay on. The hitherto invaded and assaulted personal bubble of space has been returned to its rightful position. Suddenly, the Mumabikar is breathing free of a crammed existence.

We are finally spending time in the homes we bought years ago. We were so busy earning money to pay off the EMI, that we hardly spent quality time here. Now, we are truly home.

We are no longer eating out of dabbas. Our life is no longer measured by the arrival of the school bus at the gate, the clinking anklet of the maid, or the presswala. There is no sound of the newspaper being tucked behind the door handle. Even the doorbell doesn’t ring. In the absence of the impatient pressure cooker whistles in the neighbourhood, the morning begins tardily. Suddenly, RUSH, has been sucked out of our lives, and in its place sits ABUNDANCE. An abundance of time. Time hangs above us graciously. Tread slowly, tread softly, we are constantly reminded.

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The Gateway stands in silence, severe guard.

Bloomberg / Getty Images

The morning saunters into noon. And the evening draws itself out in a languid stretch. Night seems to take forever to arrive.

The Mumbaikar is unfamiliar with handling an abundance of time. How can a 100-metre sprinter be at home in a long-haul well-paced marathon?

I came across this brilliant piece in The Elephant Whisperer, by the South African conservationist, Lawrence Anthony. Anthony writes, “If there’s anything elephants have plenty of, it’s time!” So true. Elephants amble. Stand still for hours, under weighty thoughts.

Today, aamchi Mumbai is an elephant. A huge, huge one. She ran amok for many years. But she’s a little tamed now. When things return to normalcy, and they will, the elephant will once again be ready with her act in the circus that we call Mumbai. This time around, though, I hope, it will be different.

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