(Sorry for the delay in posting the second part, Mumbai University is to be blamed for it.)
I was at the Fort area of Mumbai; Niyati had suggested me that I’d get all the desired things, there. The Fort area got its name from the defensive fort, Fort George, built by the British East India Company around Bombay Castle. Institutions such as the Bombay Stock Exchange, Reserve Bank of India and Tata Group headquarters are located in that area. That area was a delight for the eyes, for art lovers. No wonder, the famous art gallery, Jehangir Art Gallery, and the famous art college, J.J. School of Arts, resided there.
I went to one of the many shops, outside the J.J. School of Arts College and, “Umm… Uncle I want all the materials required for sketching.” I said and within no time, one of the uncle’s helper came with all the required supplies. Niyati was right about the quality of the products. I bought a few different pencils, erasers, charcoal powder, charcoal pencils, ear buds, and the sketching specific drawing papers, as suggested by them. I was not supposed to buy paints, but I couldn’t resist buying it. I bought a box of oil paints and poster paints, and a range of brushes. The more I looked, the more my mind became submissive towards those arty tools; finally, with great despair, I went out of the shop, with a lingering smile on my face.
I had decided to sketch Mumbai, had decided to use Mumbai to trounce my misery. I used to sketch and paint a lot, when I was young, whenever sadness or dejection had engulfed me. Thus, I had decided to use it to forget my first love, my Hrehaan, who had been taken away by Delhi.
The first thing I decided to sketch was the Joggers Park. I went there at my usual time, in the morning, and strategically caught a seat from where I could get a glance of the whole of Joggers Park. I had taken a drawing board to rest my paper, along with the other vital materials. I looked at the view in front of my eyes for quite some time, before I faced the drawing paper. I took the pencil in my hand, but again kept down after few minutes. I couldn’t do this; I was scared. I doubted whether I could do justice to such a breathtaking view. “You can Alisha, this is what you do. This is what you love.” My mind directed my heart; and with little confidence, I again caught the pencil. With shaky hands, I started sketching the view, and then there was no stopping. Few Joggers glanced at me in surprise, few in awe, few stood over me to watch the sketch, and remaining few remained apathetic towards it, as if it was a normal thing. My hands no longer trembled; they were firm on the paper. After two hours, of outlining, erasing, and detailing I kept my pencil, charcoal powder, and the ear-bud I used for smudging, down. I kept the drawing board down, wiped my hands, and then held the paper so that I could compare it with the glimpse that was ahead of me. “Nice work kid. Nice work.” An elderly uncle kept his hand on my head and said. I had been satisfied with my work, but those appraising words from a stranger renewed my confidence in myself.
The next on my agenda was to sketch the Fort area, the Flora Fountain, and the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Sketching those aesthetic beauties was such a pleasure that words are failing me. There was no stopping then; I sketched Churchgate station, Gateway of India, Haji Ali Dargah, and Juhu Beach. To sketch the Bandra- Worli Sea-Link, I had to travel through it for nearly five times, as vehicles were not allowed to halt on the Sea-Link. The first ride I took was early in the morning; I was so awed looking at the breath-taking view that I forgot I had a pencil in my hand and a paper on my lap. During the second ride, I tried out-lining the Sea-Link. “Madam Aapko raat ko aana mangta hai. Raat ko yeh bhari dikhta hai.” My cabbie suggested me to travel at night, and I did as I was told. My cabbie had been correct with his implication; the lights attached to the Sea-Link illuminated the whole of the Sea-link very well. It was indeed a spectacular sight. It made me reminiscence India Gate. I detailed my sketch during the last ride, by drawing powerful strokes that simulated the lights.
I had been so busy sketching, and working on those sketches, that I totally forgot that I was holding a melancholy in my heart. The hunger to explore more and to sketch those explorations took me to that point of happiness, which is call as ecstasy. “Alisha, calm down my girl. You are working too much, and way too much hard.” Niyati came to my room one night when I was working on my sketches. “Niyati, I just can’t! I’ve tried, but in vain. These have become like some addictive drugs.” I said, pointing at my drawing sheets and pencils. “Ha-ha” She chuckled at my distraught situation. “As long as it makes you happy, and is not fatal for your body, I have no problem with those drugs.” She winked. “Oh! About that. Niyati that was just once. Just once. I promise to never do it again.” I said. After Hrehaan’s death, I had tried narcotic drugs to reduce the heartache, maybe more than once, but I couldn’t tell Niyati that. She had been watching me keenly, ever since she came to know about the affinity I once had towards those drugs. “Here have some coffee.” She handed me a mug. “Aah… Thank you! I was longing for that.” I said. After that, we talked for hours about my sketches, about Mumbai, and about Delhi too. “Alisha, tell me something, I’ve learnt that Delhi-ites share a great comradeship with curse words. However, I don’t find you, use them, at all. Was my learning wrong?” She asked earnestly. “No. Yes, we curse a lot. When we are angry, we curse, when we are happy we curse; but at least we aren’t fake like Bombay-ites.” I said with a smug. “Ha-ha… well, well… Let’s not get there. You didn’t, entirely answer my question.” She said. “Yes, even my dictionary had those profane words, but not anymore.” I said. “Lover boy is the reason?” “Yes.” “Okay.” She said, and asked nothing more. “Okay Alisha sleep now, tomorrow you’ve got to sketch, ‘THE MARINE DRIVE’. Your creative instinct needs rest, for it has to be at its paramount point tomorrow. Good night.” “Good night Niyati.” I said. Niyati was the easiest person to talk to and the most difficult person to reason out with, and so I loved her.
The next day Niyati took me to one of her friend’s house that faced the Marine Drive. It was one grandeur apartment, I had ever seen in Bombay. People in Bombay usually had small houses, thanks to the sky raised real estate prices. Her friend took us to her room, “here is the balcony, and here is the view you want to sketch.” She said pointing at her bedroom’s balcony. I went outside the balcony and just kept gazing, “How you wished you lived here, right?” Niyati mumbled in my ears. “Yeah…” “Even I felt that the first time I came here, but now I’m used to it.” Niyati said and dropped herself onto her friend’s bed. Her friend left the room, “Niyati what’s her name?” “Oh! I totally forgot to introduce you people, sorry.” She said. When her friend returned Niyati started, “Sania this is Alisha… Alisha, Sania.” One of the most pathetic introductions I had ever encountered. “Wow Niyati, you finally learnt to introduce people to each other. You know Alisha she always forgets that, and I don’t why I feel that you must have urged her.” “Yeah… You’re right.” I said, sheepishly. “Ha-ha it’s okay, I’m used to her. Okay people I have to leave for my classes. Make yourselves comfortable, and Niyati… well you know my house well, so just help yourself, and her.” She said and left. “Let’s get started.” I said. “NO! I told you, first showers, remember?” Niyati wanted me to sketch Marine drive specifically in the evening, and only when it rained. It was June 10, and Meteorological department had forecasted monsoon any day, from that day. It didn’t rain at all that day, and we had to go home worthless. This continued for the next two days, but on the third day, the magic happened. I was listening to music when, “Alisha, now!” Niyati screeched. “I jumped on my legs and got my drawing sheet clipped to the board, took my pencils and headed towards the balcony. The sight was mesmerizing. The sky had turned grey, yet had a cue of blue. I grasped the sight for some time. “Come on Alisha, start.” Niyati squealed. I took a chair in the balcony and started sketching. The sky grew intense, and by then herds of people had gathered there, to enjoy the showers. The winds were strong; I had to move inside the room because they brought rain with them. There was high tide, and so the waves drifted uptill the barricade, and washed the people standing near it. I had never seen monsoon like this before. I sketched every detail of the view, I saw; and the moment I finished it, “Okay, no please let’s go down and get wet, please fast.” Niyati pleaded, and we went down to enjoy my first monsoon showers in Bombay. I loved it, I don’t know how else to express it.
I was at Jehangir Art Gallery when I saw that weird man, who unknowingly had lifted me up from my desolation and shown me a ray of hope. “Hello sire!” I went up to him and greeted him; he turned, and his eyes shone the moment it met mine, “Hello Miss Anonymous. How are you doing?” He asked. “Very well, sir. I wanted to thank you for helping me when I needed the most.” “To the best of my knowledge, we’ve met just twice, that also briefly, right? So I fail to contemplate, how I could’ve helped you.” He said earnestly. “‘ If you can draw such a good picture of such a boring view, imagine what you can do with the breath taking views.’ Remember?” I quoted his words. “Ahaan… So you’ve been sketching Bombay? What all have you sketched?” He asked. I animatedly told him about all my sketches, along with the intricate details. That’s commendable girl. So now you’ve started liking Bombay, haven’t you?” He asked. “Yeah, I have.”Okay I’m going to make you ponder again deeply over this kinship. Visit the slums of Bombay, the Dharavi slums.” “But… “”Just have a visit, okay. In addition, why don’t you sketch the famous, ‘Dhobi Ghat’ of Bombay; let me tell you it’s the world’s largest Laundromat. It’s an imperative part of Bombay.”He said. This man always intrigued me. “Okay, I will do that. One last question before we end our, yet another brief rendezvous.” “Shoot!” He said with a smirk. “I cannot understand how, and why the usage of, ‘Mumbai’ and ‘Bombay’ is exercised with equal frequency.” He smiled as if he was expecting this, “A city is described by its people. Here, people of diverse religions and races live. Moreover, people with different philosophies live; and they respect each other’s perspectives. Some like calling it Bombay, some Mumbai. Hence, both are used with equal frequency, that’s the only explanation, I can give you. However, politically ‘Mumbai’ should only be used, but India is a free nation, right?” He sneered. “Thank you, Mr….” “Anonymous?” He said, and left.
The following day I took Niyati with me to visit the Dharavi slums. She was more than happy to accompany me. Dharavi was stretched between Mahim in the west, and Sion in the east, of Bombay. The moment I entered the slum area I was taken aback. The houses were smaller than my bathroom, in Delhi. Worse was the stench that oozed from the nearby gutter, which Niyati told me, was actually a river. “Due to scarcity of toilet facilities people urinate and defecate in the river.” Niyati said. I was appalled, I couldn’t bear the stink. “How do these people survive like this?” “After a while one gets immune to it.” She coldly stated. She then took me to small-scale industries that were located there, embroidery unit, pottery unit, and textile industries. It was a welcomed surprise; it was little hard to perceive that these slums had economy of their own. We spent nearly half a day there. Initially, I was disgusted at the sight, but then later, I wasn’t. I can’t express what exactly I felt, because even I don’t know; but surely it wasn’t abhorrence. “Alisha, you okay?” Niyati came up to me that night. “Why doesn’t the government do something about it?” I asked. “You think they haven’t tried? It’s complicated.” She said. I said nothing. “Alisha this was one of the dark sides of Mumbai that you saw. Every city has its own. Don’t allow this to cloud your newly developed affinity towards Mumbai.” She said. “On the contrary, I respect it even more, now.” I said. She smiled and left.
It took me almost three days to come out of the trance that Dharavi slums had left on me. I then took a ride to the prominent Dhobi Ghat that was situated at Mahalaxmi area. Bombay didn’t fail to astonish me, again. The washers, called as Dhobis worked in open to wash clothes. I was told that they washed the clothes from Bombay’s hotels and hospitals. With aid from one of the washer, I got a chair stationed at one of the spot from where I had a good view, and without much reluctance, I sketched the famous Dhobi Ghat. I remembered Mr. Anonymous when I finished my sketch; I thanked him, for everything. He had changed my life. I was glad I came to Bombay, gladder to have met him.
I was ready with all my sketches, yet, however something was amiss. I looked at all my sketches; I had drawn almost every aspect of Bombay, and still wasn’t satisfied. I looked at my oil paints resided on the dressing table; I opened the lid of one of them, smelt them to wash away that uncanny feeling. It didn’t work that day, so I decided to jog of that feeling, without realizing what could be in store for me….
(To be continued…)