Sunday, 14 May 2017

_This is Mumbai_

This is Mumbai. A city that can be at once deeply familiar but also newly restless on the same road. A city whose very material for being is serendipity. A giver of anonymity and a giver of the densest participation in humanity. And still, with all its gifts, it requires only one thing from us: utility. The only thing Mumbai requires of its citizens, its tourists, its commuters, its passerbys, its participants, is to use the city. The only thing one cannot do in Mumbai is embrace it with apathy.

This is Mumbai. We come here unfinished, looking to the city for answers, for solitude, assignment, and for reward — looking for someplace to finish our sentences. And the city, in turn, presents endless possibilities. No matter if one lives here a year or a life, if utility is the city’s aspiration, then its reward is its neighborhoods.

A couple of years back our office shifted their premises — all of 5.5km. After about a decade in one South Mumbai neighborhood, we moved just over 18,000 feet to south-west. Mumbaikars live and breathe by the people and services on a single chowk, so moving this far is just as well moving countries. Changing currencies. Allegiances. Time zones. But without sympathy. Because it is, after all, still one city.

When our office was at Nana Chowk, I saw neighborhoods unlike I’d seen before. “The city,” as Mumbai is called has neighborhoods of course. Yet Nana Chowk  has them at a different scale and speed. Within a month of joining RMA architects, I’d been offered protection, free goods from shop keepers and was friends with the stray cats . In more than two years there, I’d been delighted, loved, infuriated, and everything in between. And I relied on the people on my block to be there for me through it all.

We are now located at Kala Ghoda — the kind of Grand Central of our borough — where the steady traffic and sirens are companions in the afternoons. It’s no pastoral neighborhood, but the frenetic diversity of pace, scale, sounds, lights, and people to befriend envelops one in possibility. It’s less bake sale more survivalism, less kirana shops and more of western malls .

This is a city I associate with aspiration, and a city I look up to be inspired again and again. Of all the cities, it may be Mumbai who is the most unflappable, the most infallible, the most impenetrable, but the most loyal and the most forgiving. As such, it is Mumbai itself who is unfinished, its unkempt seams and its unsmooth asphalt, its uptown arts and its devoted downtown, living undone, side by side.

This is Mumbai. A city of neighbors making the unfinished finished. It’s been spat on and praised, paved over and cheered on. It needs us to finish its sentences. For despite all of the promised anonymity of this singular city, “Mumbai” is plural.

_ mind the gap_  There's a gap between where we are and where we want to be. Many gaps, in fact, but imagine just one of them. ...