I took a trip across the city to a remote little corner of Mumbai’s unfashionable suburbs today. I loved the place the first time I saw it which was about 4 years ago now. A picture-postcard railway station, the kind you never see on the Mumbai Railway Line, with a quaint little ticket counter at one end and just one sweeping platform bordering each of the two tracks. Step outside and there’d be a broad road, tarred and worn smooth over the years but with no unsightly bumps from heavy traffic. What heavy traffic? The only things on wheels in these parts was an occasional cyclist, a creaky auto-rickshaw or a few two-wheelers.
I haven’t seen this place in 3 years. And yet once upon a time it was like a second home…I’d be there most days of the week, for a few hours at least and longer on weekends and holidays. I don’t even remember the last time I was at the place. It would have been one of those days that had become a daily routine, a hated hellish routine that left no space to appreciate the simple beauty of the place. And it abruptly ended one day.
In the time that followed, I had no reason to visit the place. Indeed the few times I did pass the area, I turned my face away. I couldn’t bear to even see the places the held such depth of memories. Because all of those memories had someone whose very thought has been agony in all these years. This is where he stayed and close by was his old college. He went back to home and hearth soon after.
And I was left in the city that used to be home and was suddenly a treacherous cavern full of unpleasant nostalgia…every turn, every street corner, every bus-stop, every shop, every shaded lane, every garden, every beach I’d ever passed with him….and there were so many scattered across the city! I couldn’t avoid most of them for long and work and life in general took me to the often visited places. This one however stayed out of sight and yet not quite far from my mind. The memory of this place was hidden deep down, at the very bottom of all the hurt because this was his home….the most personal, individualised space of all. Every single atom of this place screamed of his presence. Also, I had never been to this place before I knew him so all I could associate with it was him.
Today on an impulse that has been building up for a good while, I just bought a ticket and rode the trains down to that once-familiar, once-hell. You know the impulse I’m talking about….the one that pushes you when you realise that unless you make your peace with your past, your future will just keep stalling.
I didn’t know what I was looking for…only that I had to just do it once and for all. It was an indescribable feeling. The station looks busier. There is now a bridge overhead and the ticket counter has transformed into a busier looking room. Outside the road still is broad and sleepy but that could just be the effects of a hot summer afternoon. I walked down the road and stood outside the door of the house for a long time. I wondered what I had expected to find….his bike parked there? His rowdy friends spilling out of the house the way they always used to…..a student bachelor pad inevitably becomes the common ground for all other classmates, especially the males. Cigarette butts and crumpled newspapers blowing across the yard? The door open and somebody stretched across the doorway in deep slumber? And him walking up with a half-sneer, half-grin saying…what? A compliment? An insult? An indifferent glance?
The door was shut, the windows boarded up. The gate was bolted but not locked. And there was no bike standing in the yard. He had come and gone. He wasn’t living there any more than his friends. All that I remembered was over. I took a photograph for posterity but a minute later I realised, I didn’t need it. Closure can come from a closed door.
I also walked down the by-lanes near his house. So many arguments, so many talks, so many long walks in silence, so many times I waited or he did. The run-down seedy cinema theatre at the end of the road had been jazzed up and sported a brand-new facade. The main road was all dug up like the rest of Mumbai to lay the roads before the monsoon.
I walked into the superstore, the one nice-looking hangout for youngsters in that area. The coffee shop was gone, another one in its place. The bookshop is still there though and bigger now. It made me feel a little more normal. Anywhere in the world I go, I’ll always feel at home in a bookshop. I spent an hour seemingly browsing….but actually just soaking in the whole place and what it felt like three years later and without him. Even the bad memories didn’t hurt. And the good ones? Yes, there were a few good ones. I admit that after all these years. There must have been…yes, there were a few treasured moments of laughter, of good conversations…of love too? A few minute flecks perhaps. It struck me like someone talking inside my head, as I walked back…it was a very bad relationship. But it is over. It was over a long time ago. And my life, my universe, me…we’ve all grown past it now.
I finally took the train back. I was headed home but in more ways than one. I was coming back…to a nice house, to a good job, to a loving family, caring friends, to appreciation, empathy, warmth, love, friendship….I was coming back to a happy life that I have now. And I don’t need to turn my face away when I pass this place again.
The world has changed since then. Hell has changed its address too. The devil doesn’t live here any more. And the best way to get over old, unpleasant memories is to create new, nice ones.