Graphic of a city skyline in B&W

A Wail of Two Cities

In the past 10 years or so, I have moved to Chennai twice. And returned twice. Both times, the city “didn’t work for me” (although my parents live there now, having moved there at the turn of the millennium, which is why I did too). Perhaps I had lived in Bombay for too long and since too long (and therefore, can’t call it by its present name), and so have had my friends and life here. This time in Chennai, seeing how miserable I was, my mom pushed me out on her own, with an understanding “You don’t belong here. Go back.”

So, I came to Bombay the third time. (The first time was of course when I moved here with my parents and brother almost 30 years ago.) This time, as with the first time, I am staying on the Western side. (In the second stint, I had stayed on the Central side.) And as I rediscovered the Western side after 11 years, saw the horror that has happened to it.

The Western side in Bombay, due to its proximity to the shoreline, is the more desired side of the city, and therefore more expensive, more crowded and more chaotic. (So, what’s to desire, do you ask? I told you, the sea-side.) But this time, it seemed to have cracked. Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali and Borivali, which were fairly peaceful suburbs until a decade ago, are now buzzing hubs, sporting the cacophony of the filmy and TV crowd that dominates here, the Metro work that is doing C-sections across the city, and screeching cars with their blaring horns and raging drivers. And of course, the high-rises, which bear the hordes in those cars for which the Metro is coming up. They stand up like giant dildos, ready to screw up the sky. Now you know why buildings are sometimes called erections.

I thought the place I chose to stay now would be a bit quieter as it was a bit on the outskirts. But no such luck. Budget constructions are coming up all around where I live, panning out from my complex as the epicentre. And because they are budget constructions, they are tall and close to each other, both to each building in the complex and to neighbouring complexes. I shudder to think how dense the population here is going to be a few years from now.

And then, I realised: I haven’t gone to Chennai twice in the past 10-12 years. I have tried to escape Bombay. As much as I love (have loved?) the city, somewhere, its charm seems to be wearing off. Thanks to the increased urbanization happening in the country, the ceaseless migration to the city, and the eternal commercialization that the city is famous for. So, maybe, this isn’t a wail of two cities, but a wail of living in cities. That, or perhaps I am the one gone old and weary.