Here is a citythat messes around like a home; that lets you get under its skin, into its secret sanctuaries. A city so drenched in infatuated love; an image for flights of fantasies, the mayhem of agony, indigence and ugliness. A city that worries you for all the joy it offers.A city of never demanded obeisance, but downright addictive indeed.
Belong to a city where local trains chase even the last bit of sunlight. Watch itself unfolding in both the sides of your compartment. Cheer the boys and girls, naked, soaked from head to toe from a fresh bath along the tracks. Look for the creased skin of hand in the handles above, wearing dark green bangles mostly, confused by pale gold ones in between. You might also find those glossy, second-copy watches they buy from Colaba causeway. Glance down for worn out shoes bought with all his passion from CST fashion street. Please stomach the smell of the fish that break through from Mahim station. It is the Koli woman sorting out fishes inside the luggage compartment. Do not miss the islands of green along the tracks of harbour line. No, do not give that boring amusement about spotting lush in this city. As having emerged from the sea, this city is so damn full of sensory overloads!
Retreat to a city that gives you the surprise of a sudden rain, the drama of suddenly darkened skies; to a city that rises when the sun sets. A city that wants you to slow down even at the heart of its busy bee-ness, to find your space and to own it selfishly. But don’t go mad when the 2 am police bang their lathis on the seawall to keep you on move from Marine drive, it is just a ritual. They don’t want you to leave. They want you to stay and take a lungful of the sea with you, so does the city!
A visit to Ajmer is to be followed by one to Pushkar. They are like this customary sojourns part of a grand Indian pilgrimage circuit. Pushkar is one of this quaint town without any to-do list unless you are travelling for the extravagant annual camel fair. I was there for a respite from the wildness of my last destination. Leaving behind bare hills, scattered scrub bushes and settlements the local bus took me to a barren depot. What I could see was only earthy brown desert sand everywhere, for a moment it crossed my mind whether I ended up in an Arabian day (clearly not night) of Rajasthan sand dunes.
It didn’t take me long with my basic Hindi to reach a labyrinth of alleyways and passages, Pushkar. The pastel-hued pilgrimage town centred on its sacred ghats and enchanting lake welcome you incrementally. Little by little, it unfolds before you the true form and vigour. Before entering the bazaar which is indeed a riot of colours, you meet chador veiled women and turban clad men living in the neighbourhood making their pass into daily grinds. Passing pale blue local abodes, a bustling town slips in with full of narrow lanes heaving with shops, cafes and guesthouses. While you make your way through these lanes wondering how this little town is admired by folks coming for a pilgrimage to the ones on hippie trails, pass a smile to that darling from Israel enjoying his pie in a Floyd theme (Yes, Pink Floyd!) outdoor restaurant, but watch out for painted cows coming your way.
Towns like Pushkar breathes in life through ghats and the hundred of whitewashed temples in the bank. Any wonder it has 59 of them? Different ghats have different functions at different times of the day. If you take a walk along you can clearly see the transition from one use to another; from spiritual to civic; from pilgrims descending in the sacred water to dhobis at work; from lovers passing their lone time to sadhus seeking Hindu mysticism.
I retreated to be one among them. Sitting on the grey stones of ghats, next to a lady smoking pot, falling for the flights of pigeons making wheel and circle in the air, listening to the drums and chanting drifting across the water. Everyone’s on their own trip.
I remember questioning the term sometime during high school, regarding its usage erred on the side of violence. Because nowhere in my childhood I have heard the stories of hostility between religions. No lessons were taught to me about this fumes, instead our textbooks had the illustrations of temples, mosques and churches. Though now I do question about this same curriculum which was predominantly occupied with mainstream perspectives, let me keep it aside for time being.
The idea which I earlier couldn’t absorb has now become very familiar and visible to me. No doubt, my first reaction upon the knowledge of the communal idiocy would have been of shock and disbelief. But since then there has been a processing worked out by the media, politics, local and national events, experiences, and thus goes on the list. Today I was watching this documentary on Al- Jazeera and felt very indifferent towards the ideas and message conveyed. Every single frame, every single faces which appeared and their woes and intimidation were familiar to me. In to my fool’s paradise where I questioned the validness and rationality of the idea of communalism, this very dampening phenomenon entered through the news of communal riots, both national and regional, and now it has caught up with me along the slices of my beef platter. It is everywhere now, I can see the ripples in ordinary experiences of everyday life. It’s dreadful knowing that the reason behind cold stares at my hijab is not unfamiliarity to the culture, but uneasiness arising from intolerance towards the culture I represent. The implied conversation about hidden intentions of minorities to invade this nation through population explosion are no more strange to me. Giving shots to newer forms of venom by throwing up older ones, making use of sufferings of one community to afflict worse scourges on the other has become natural and acceptable at surprising levels. I am no more shocked to have confronting questions regarding Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,nations which I am no way related to. I have some how become indifferent to the nonsense that I am alien and predatory in my own country and therefore have to abide by the major.
One uneasiness I had while watching the documentary was about the fact that these frantic repercussions under the label of religious intolerance is no more a rare occurrence and that it has become so typic even for the victims. Normalization has become the new norm in case of communal violence. It has become an acceptable part of India’s contemporary political landscape. For instance, when issues like these come up for discussions in social media platforms where tweets, posts or articles brings in a reaction like ‘Oh, the same communalism shit, anything new?’. This normalization is indeed very much difference from acceptance. But remember, this is not the first time we are into this phenomenon of being at the cold end! We bear the scars of having normalized sexual violence, misbehavior to women in public spaces, even the heinous crime rape!
Before we reach the point of no return, we definitely have to take a flight back!
Take a Note. Next time, you lecture me about safety, do question yourself about who and what make spaces unsafe. Because ‘staying’ safe comes with a lot of costs for us!