Extraordinary in the ordinary

Finding peace in the fast lane of Mumbai

The calm and composure of this feline Chimbai resident reflects the village’s delectable stillness.
Published at Hindustan Times.

Mumbai is in the thick of monsoon. After incessant rains over the past few days, the city had some respite today. Determined not to loose the short yet significant window of opportunity to move my limbs, I quickly put on my walking shoes and hit the streets of Bandra, my neighbourhood.

While I was exploring its endearing lanes and by lanes, I chanced upon one of my favourite streets, a narrow lane running through Chimbai village. One of the oldest settlements of Bandra, Chimbai is bustling with life with shops and homes standing neck to neck with each other. Each time I walk through Chimbai, I am charmed by this small yet extremely vibrant microcosm of life.

But this time, as I was crossing it, I decided to reduce my pace, and consciously observe life and its many facets that make up this microcosm I love. Suddenly, everything began to unfold before me like a slow motion film.

A couple of fisherwomen in traditional Koli sarees sit in different corners selling prawns and molluscs, freshly caught in the early hours of the day. Cute little cats and well-fed dogs rest beside them patiently. They don’t appear wanting or hungry, but longing just enough to let you imagine the happiness they’d experience when the fish fins hit their taste buds!

I walk further and cross a salon. Light music plays in the shop, probably a classical song that I don’t quite recognise. Burning incense sticks uplifts the environment beyond its four walls. Then there is a dry cleaning shop. A closet of freshly ironed suits peep from its window. As I cross it, an inviting scent of freshly cooked bhajiyas (pakoras in Maharashtra) hits my nose. It stands only second to the heavenly fragrance of freshly baked cake that my mother prepares. I see a tea seller standing behind a large kettle oozing steam and flavour with élan. There is a vada pao stand adjacent to him ready to satiate the morning’s breakfast appetites. I also cross a tattoo-making store, and then a quirky-looking burger joint. I walk ahead and see a host of printed dailies neatly stacked for readers looking to greet their day with ink and paper.

Then I cross a coffin-making store. The man inside the store nonchalantly wraps up a simple wooden coffin with bright purple satin and golden lace. His co-worker simultaneously gets ready to load it into a modified van. The coffin has found its taker. While I have barely registered this visual, I soon see a nail art shop ‘Nails by Monica’ that promises fancy nail extensions.

This burst of life was overwhelming. It was a series of fascinating ephemeral glimpses, sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane. An amalgam of experiences, stages, occasions and ages. Isn’t that pretty much life itself? Amid this, the most remarkable phenomenon was the sense of calm I felt when I allowed myself to connect with the vibe of the street. To the outside world, it was as noisy and crowded as could be. But when I dug deeper, and truly absorbed the energy around me, I discovered an undercurrent of contentment, a delectable feeling of stillness, even though the world around me was in a tizzy!

It was akin to what I felt when I had first held freshly fallen snow. The snow knows that it is melting. But it’s not in a hurry to speed up that natural process. Nor does it live in the fear that it’ll soon cease to exist. Instead, it hangs around gracefully, celebrating the unmatchable beauty of its zillion ice crystals. Without much ado, it gradually turns into a puddle, eventually evaporating its way back to its creator. Now that’s what peace must feel like.

By then, I had reached the end of the street. I gathered pace to continue my walk towards another part of Bandra. Of course, my happy spirit was already sprinting miles ahead of me. Thank you Chimbai. Thank you for showing that life can be so delightfully unassuming.

This article was published at Hindustan Times.

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