Last week at the Sahayana Sahityotsava, friend and a fine scholar Arun Joladkudligi mentioned about modern folk stories that have come into circulation in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region which reflect people’s fear, distrust, suspicion and aversion towards city. As he spoke I was reminded of a story a small boy had told me two years ago. Today after watching the film Bombay Velvet I am reminded of the boy and the story again. So here I share it…
It was in the month of February. Year 2013. Taking my plate, in the mess, I went and sat with Com. Kislay who was having dinner with Lakshman, who then was lesser than 10 years of age. Lakshman’s father works at the FTII mess, hence Lakshman was on campus being loved, pampered, irritated by almost everyone. Later he was put to a boarding school with the help of Com. Kislay and few other students.
So on that night when I went and sat with Com. Kislay and Lakshman I was asked by Com. Kislay how I was doing and what was happening in class. It was just few days before the Screenwriters Conference-2013 in Mumbai. We, the students of SPW Department, were expected to attend and for extremely personal reason I was reluctant to go. As I was explaining all of this- the compulsion to attend the conference, my reluctance to go – to Com. Kislay, Lakshman who was eating roti asked me, “daadaa aap Bombay jaa rahe ho?” (brother, are you going to Bombay?) and when I said “haan” [yes] he widened his eyes saying, “aapko pata hai,” (do you know) and then immediately twisting his wrists his fingers his arms and squinting his eyes also, acting paralyzed, said, “wahaan pey aisey aisey log hotey hai,” (there are such people there) and added, “woh log aap ko touch karengey toh aap bhi waisey ho jaaogey.” (if they touch you even you will become like that.)
Saying this he went back to his roti and sabzi. I looked at Com. Kislay who was still looking at Lakshman wondering what he meant by what he had just said and what prompted him to say so. Those were my questions too.
Lakshman, I guess, must have (over)heard quite a lot of modern folk tales about Bombay and the harsh life there. He must also have heard about the “moral corruption” there which is always the non-metro perception about metros and non-urban folk about the urban space. So he must have heard all these stories and in his mind had made a picture of people in Bombay being tedha-medha (twisted) and not seedha (straight). Interestingly in his mind this twisted-ness was contagious.
My favourite quote about Bombay has always been that of K.A. Abbas who said, “Bombay is a state of mind.” But Lakshman with his fable said that “Bombay is a state of being.”
Even after ten days of stay on campus I did not dare go back to the same room which was my home for over a year, a year ago. I had stayed away from it, consciously.
But one night at the mess a current occupant of the room came to me and said, “There is a parcel in your name. Please come and collect.”
Next afternoon very reluctantly I started to walk towards the new boy’s hostel of the Film and Television Institute of India, which was my room during my course there. Room number 404. Me and my roommates: Lohit and Gurmeet affectionately called it System Error.
As the lift door opened and I moved towards 404 I saw the door open. On the door I could see the lines of Sohrab Sepheri in my handwriting:
If you come looking for me
Please do it smoothly and slowly
Cause I’m afraid you’ll break
The fragile crystal of my solitude.
I had not gone back to my room even when I was back in campus for over ten days because now the room is occupied by somebody else and the current occupants would have redesigned and re-scripted the space in a way which would suite them the best. No complaints about that. But it wouldn’t be the room that we created.
When we had moved into the room the doors were doors the windows were windows the floor was a floor and the walls were walls. But with every passing day it started breathing with us and everything took the shape that we in our living gave to it. The space came alive and started reverberating with the inner tune of our souls. A fragile crystal of solitude resided in the room.
But now it has changed. The temperament of the people living there now is different and the walls, the doors, the windows, the floor and also the air of the room have taken the shape of their temperament. There is no fragile crystal of solitude there now. Everything there now quivers with the music that is inside the souls of the current occupants.
Amidst the new posters, new decorations with bottles and cans one can still see the quotes of Neruda, Marquez, Camus, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Goddard, Wilde, Nietzsche that we had scribbled. One can obviously see the huge painting of Gulzar on the wall painted by the inimitable Ibrahim for us. But yeah all of them look slightly cornered because the spirit of the room has changed. It is in tune with the current occupants and no complaints about it.
Yet its true that when I went back to collect the parcel I could hear Gulzar’s painting reciting to me from the wall a line of his: Main apne hee ghar mein ajnabee ho gaya hoon aa kar.
I collected the parcel at the door without entering the room and left immediately. The faces of my roommates Lohit and Gurmeet stood before my mind’s eye as I walked back and also the faces of the unofficial roommates we had: Rahul, Pooraj, Neha, Kundan, Deepali, Rachita, Maisam, Dharmakeerti, Satyajit who all, with us, like us, had scripted the space. The space is no more the same without those people.
People make spaces. With people the space also changes.