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Dear Mumbai, We’d Like Another Chance to Make You An ‘Equal’ City

Dear Mumbai, your foundation is shaking, the columns that held you together have corroded.

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My dear Mumbai,

Maximum city, resilient city, city of dreams, the city that never sleeps… all these sobriquets that have been bestowed on you seem like ghosts today, or at best, figments of our collective imagination. The past few months have revealed amply that all these lofty and pithy names given to you were a clever writer’s attempt to assuage his guilt at having survived storm after storm in a city where death and destitution prefer certain zip codes more than others.

Doctors, actors, labourers, writers, artists, teachers, poets and prostitutes – you who have welcomed people from everywhere with an open heart and given them a place under your open skies. Today, you appear to be a shadow of your former self.

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In Mumbai’s Slums, Where Life Once Thrived, There’s Nothing But Heartbreak Today

Your spirit has been the muse of countless poets and writers. You have, for long, been a city of aspirations and accomplishments, where people cling to their dreamcatchers as they struggle to survive among the 20 million that inhabit your confined spaces.

The city of Siddhivinayak, the land of Mumbra Devi, our beloved mothership, your keepers should have kept you better, for you cannot get by on faith alone. That beautiful vinyl that has been used to hide all your ugliness behind it has but come apart. And what lies beneath is the debris of fear and hopelessness.

In your slums, where life thrived against all odds, there is nothing but heartbreak today. COVID-19 may be contained in your various zones, but neglect and disparity that have grown in your womb since the day you were born, who can contain that?

We, who have looked away from those blue plastic thatched roofs of your slums every time our planes have touched down, we are scared for our lives today because we had forgotten that the lives of those dwelling inside those shanties inevitably bleed into ours. We had overlooked the fact that when those who live on the margins die, we die as well.

Dear Mumbai, Your Foundation Is Shaking, Your Pillars Have Corroded

Our streets have been kept clean by your children who live in homes made with our rags in handmade neighbourhoods, the metal of our cars has been kept shining by your men who live in rooms smaller than the vehicles they drive.

We are asking those who have only ever known social disparity to practice social distancing today.  We panic when the deracinated crowd outside our train stations because they want to go home, because we have stolen their dreams.

A pandemic ravages the city, and deafening cyclonic winds beat against the windowpanes of your high-rises  – Bombay, Mumbai you are in fact a fragile city by any name.

Your foundation is shaking, the columns that held you together have corroded.

The rot has revealed itself and it is painful to look at. We, who have let this happen, we believed we could weather all storms inside our homes made of steel and concrete, far from the cries of those who have built them. But of late,  as we lie in our beds at night, we hear their anguished howls. Or are those the sounds of our conscience?

It isn’t that our hearts have stopped feeling; we have been giving to crowd-funded causes and NGOs providing meals, masks and medicine. But it may all be too little, too late.

Far be it for you to become our beloved city of dreams again – maybe if we are given another chance, we can start by making you a more equal city.

(Shunali Khullar Shroff is a freelance writer, blogger and author of two bestselling books. She tweets @shunalishroff. This is a personal blog and views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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