Beyond People and Relationships: This is my Modern Love Story about Mumbai

Love and Sex

Beyond People and Relationships: This is my Modern Love Story about Mumbai

Illustration: Arati Gujar

I find Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus very intriguing. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of functional architecture in this city, but it’s also so much more. For every visitor, it means something different. For daily commuters, it’s just a station where they board a train. It’s a new chapter for the dreamers and a source of awe and memories for those who have craved a glimpse of Mumbai ever since they saw it on the silver screen. For me, it’s the peace I find in the fifteen-rupee coffee at Neelam. People who love ‘proper coffee’ don’t understand why I love the watery IRCTC version. I have had debates about it, pointless ones, the way one fights over Veg Biryani. At the core of my rhetoric is a simple thought that’s often difficult for me to articulate for strangers — I love that damn coffee like I love this old, overcrowded, crumbling city.

I sometimes wonder if the definition of love, as we know it, is too narrow.

Convention dictates that it is almost necessary to have a memory with someone to validate my feelings about a flimsy cup of coffee. That it is important to have shared that moment with a living, breathing human just to help it qualify for significance. It often makes me wonder if the definition of love, as we know it, is too narrow. That it doesn’t allow for emotions as we feel them, individually, intimately and often beyond the comprehension of others. Maybe we need to acknowledge love in a way that goes against traditional forms of family, relationship, lust and longing. I don’t think ‘I came for the city and stayed for the person’ applies to Mumbai. Too many oddballs like me call it home, finding love in the most peculiar ways. Sometimes it’s in moments, material things, challenges this city burdens you with or the many imprecise ways it makes life easier, simpler for you.

Years ago, I had come across two young girls standing on the footboard of a suburban train. They were hanging out dangerously, like you’d only see boys and men do. A conversation with them led me to a better understanding of the dilemma of ‘train surfers’. Their lives, they claimed were so dire and dull that a few moments of cheap thrills on the footboard was perhaps their only leap of normalcy, of punching above the weight of specified burdens. It’s an escape. Even though it can cost them their lives, they are willing to risk it. I still feel at odds with their explanation, but it made me realise how it’s a form of self-care and self-love for them — facilitated by the speed and necessitated by this absurd city that loves and hates you in equal measure.

Some of us don’t want more people in their lives, but just the places they have left.

Even though you can find the cheapest alternatives to everything, Mumbai is an expensive city. It takes a lot to be able to exist within its periphery. It needs love, but most importantly it needs sacrifice. Of time, of money, of privacy, of almost everything you feel you deserve. I’ve had those nights where I’ve wondered if having someone is as necessary as breathing in this city. Is it even living, if it’s not, beside some sort of human company? Sure, most of us fall back on familial relationships for relief, but there is maybe that risk to relationships you choose, that modern life simply demands of you as a way to occupy yourself. I’ve had these thoughts but then I just moved on to doing things that I wanted to do. Coincidently, none of them have warranted the participation or support of a significant other.

These are things I’ve never even felt like sharing with someone because they belong, I believe, solely to me.

At times it is the window seat, at times it is watching waves crash in at Marine Drive. At times it is also travelling four hours a day for a job that doesn’t even cover rent. But you do it for this vaguely aspirational feeling that you can’t even care to explain to others. These are things I’ve never even felt like sharing with someone because they belong, I believe, solely to me. I’m happy to keep it that way. It helps, at least in Mumbai, that too many people are infected by this bug. We love this city for it gives us the chance to love unapologetically, unconventionally. Some of us don’t want more people in their lives, but just the places they have left. Even though CSMT has been a part of my daily commute for years, I am always in awe of the building. I have seen it grow over the years, technology and lights rewriting history. It makes me smile when I hear ‘Vo dekh kya building hai! Kitna mast hai na!’ from a dreamer and a commuter’s ‘Bhaiya ticket do jaldi, mera train nikal jaega’. Maybe because I am both and none, happy to not be defined by who I choose.

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