Thursday 21 March 2013

When reality cracks memories . . .

A memory is best when it remains a memory. If one tries to imagine a place and the way it looked like in the memory and hence revisit, then one is in for a rude jolt. Bombay is one such memory for me. My formative years were spent there and after we left, we never visited the place again. Every time when Mumbai is mentioned in the news, my ears perk up and my mind is alerted. It's an involuntary response. To relive those memories and travel back in time, I picked up Suketu Mehta's Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. I have not yet completed the book but I'm half-way through it but believe me, Mehta does everything in his power to shake me from my reverie of my childhood Bombay. Though in the initial pages of the book, he dwells on memory, he later drifts into a rigmarole of how everything functions and works in Bombay.

I think that he has taken upon himself the mission to rip open the city to me and tell me, "Well, Susan, here is your beloved Bombay . . . with ugly sores and bleeding wounds which are raw and untreated by any tincture." I must confess (ah, this word reminds me of those dozen Confession pages on Facebook!) that though I enjoy reading about the hitherto unknown or relatively lesser known aspects of Bombay, I have to force myself not to alter the Bombay of my memories. I know that change is a constant is a done-to-death cliched saying but that doesn't stop the essence of the meaning and what I have to say, right? So I say it - Change happens but memories don't change.

I tend to think that in a way it's good that I haven't visited Bombay after we left. Perhaps I am spared from the shock of finding something else in the name of Bombay rather than what I knew and liked. But all this doesn't stop me from harbouring a keen desire to go and visit Bombay and spending time walking the roads that led to my school and enjoying vada pav in Juhu beach.

Mehta is a wonderful writer. He deftly paints a realistic picture of the dream city. I don't blame him for puncturing my memories. I am still to complete the book and I fervently hope that here and there in the book, I will find references to the city of my memories. Maybe Mehta will dwell in his memories at the same time providing me with my own special memories. 

Reality and memories don't match.

After coming to Goa, I feel that I'm dwelling a lot on memories. After all, this wee place is close to Bombay and the language that is spoken here was the language that I grew up hearing. 

Let me shake myself off from the reverie and get back to my reality - as of now, reading the remainder of Mehta's book!

Leaving you with an excerpt from Mehta's book:

I left Bombay in 1977 and came back twenty-one years later, when it had grown up to become Mumbai. Twenty-one years: enough time for a human being to be born, get an education, be eligible to drink, get married, drive, vote, go to war, and kill a man. In all that time, I hadn’t lost my accent. I speak like a Bombay boy; it is how I am identified in Kanpur and Kansas. “Where’re you from?” Searching for an answer—in Paris, in London, in Manhattan—I always fall back on “Bombay.” Somewhere, buried beneath the wreck of its current condition—one of urban catastrophe—is the city that has a tight claim on my heart, a beautiful city by the sea, an island-state of hope in a very old country. I went back to look for that city with a simple question: Can you go home again? In the looking, I found the cities within me.

So, are your realities and memories connected or disjoint like mine?

Postscript: All images used in this post belong to Sachindev PS, my friend and photographer. His images can be found here. You can also check out his Flickr stream here.


  1. Susan, Read the book by all means but know that Bombay or Mumbai has retained its character in all these years. I was born and brought up in Bombay and lived there for the first 28 years of my life.
    I go to Mumbai every month and still see the beauty and spirit of it. The Juhu Beach, Marine drive,Chowpaty :) Memories keep us going and revisiting the places that mean a lot to us keep us smiling. Loved your post.

  2. I have not read the book but there are times when I have this feeling when I hear the name of the place where I spent my early days of childhood.I can't explain to you what I feel every time I hear the name,but it is a feeling which makes me wear my philosophy cap

  3. it is interesting how we have to face these realities...even now going home it is so much different and i see it quite often...i remember thinking on how much it changed when i was gone for 5 years....cant imagine how much if it was more...

  4. The city we grew up, plants itself in our heart and mind. Wherever we go we carry a part of it. And we leave a part of us, in our native place when we move away. Nobody can be an exception to this. When I first came to chennai, from chaiwala to manager can identify where I was from by my tamil slang. I would feel proud. The pictures are so good Susan. Congrats to your friend. It reminded me a lot of Wake up Sid!

  5. You sure make me wish to read the I'm hoping (see: "lazy") that you'll visit this in the future. GOOD that you condense how many? pages, into a few paragraphs...and all understandable. Me identify? Yes! I kept going back until finding that I no longer had even a byte of desire...
    Always interesting--YOU!

  6. i lived at marine lines during my fellowship days...sundays were spent either at the ncpa/marine drive/crawfords market...i walked a lot over bombay during those days..i preferred to waste my free time by walking around the city instead of taking the local trains..which i did to get to bandra and back daily..i have pleasant memories of the days i spent there..been 8 years since i went to mumbai now...should visit once..your post brought all those memories back

  7. Every city keeps changing and so has Mumbai. I have been visiting Mumbai since many years and have stayed there the whole of 2011. The town side of Mumbai does not have much chance of change as it was already developed. It is the suburbs which have emerged that has changed the face of Mumbai.

    Even my memories and reality are disjointed, we somehow retain the best memories and chuck away the rest.

    The book sounds should review it.

  8. Susan, there are so many places from my childhood which can only live on in my memories as many have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition. It makes me sad to think "I can't go home again," but, no one can take those precious memories from me.
    Great post, my friend!

  9. Dear Susan, a vey interesting post, as you know, I am always looking for a home.;) The thing about our memory is that it is very selective. We form the reality as we go along and recall that which we choose, in the way our brain chooses it too. That is perfectly fine I believe. Particularly very strong recollections of moments and people in time are special due to a very precise set of circumstances and these can never be recreated. Therefore if we try, we will be disappointed.
    How are you liking Goa? Oh, to me it sounds like you live in a paradise, particularly now when we here are still in deep freeze in March.;)
    Have a great weekend,

  10. The basic point is - It's not about the place. It's about your childhood. Everyone harbors good memories about their childhood because their parents took utmost care of them and all they had to do was play, play and play. When they grow up, they suddenly realize that they have to take up responsibilities and hence their current place of residence (even if it happens to be the maximum city) becomes so dull and uninteresting.


  11. "I tend to think that in a way it's good that I haven't visited Bombay after we left. Perhaps I am spared from the shock of finding something else in the name of Bombay rather than what I knew and liked." Nailed it, Mrs Sus. This is a cloud that looms over any homecoming trip. We might find everything we liked about the place gone or mutated. Thus, we seek solace in the romance of the past.

    Do visit Mumbai though and write about it. That would be a blog post to look forward to. :)

  12. I haven't visited Mumbai but heard the beauties of Juhu beach and other places. My brother is residing there now. Wish to come there once and have some wonderful memories for myself.

  13. That's true. Reality can be truly depressing and ugly. And that's why I prefer memory over reality.

  14. I love Bombay - my soul belongs there. Chaos, noise, pollution, smells and they amplify with each visit but I still love Bombay - there are parts of it that have not changed there are other parts that look totally foreign. Each place has a memory I live again and smile. Bombay is Bombay - in my heart it never changes.



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