Friday, February 28, 2014

Bombay Bol

I spent time in India this month, attending a film festival in Bombay. Returning to the land I was born, is always enriching, exciting, visceral and exhilarating. The sounds, smells and visuals energize me making me come alive. I feel like I am entering a pulsating world where my senses ignite. Not to sound exotic but returning from a sterile and organized environment of the west, the experience is always heightened the first few days. While most of India takes you to another plane in many ways, Bombay does it more than any place I know. And for that reason it is called "Maximum City" and maximum it is.

The stark inequality that exists in India, has been written about and shown in every possible manner. From books like Shantaram to films like Slumdog Millionaire, the contrast that is seen in Bombay, visa vie India, has been displayed over and over again. Almost making classic imagery of poverty synonymous with India. I myself have written about it many times in my past essays. Every BBC and CNN report does not fail to mention this fact, while India booms and unimaginable wealth is created for a few. Having said that, there is no escaping it. In a city like Bombay, it is in your face all the time. To ignore it, is to deny it and to deny it is to degrade it. People live on many levels in India and there are many Indias that exist. Partly due to corruption and partly due to apathy.

India has always existed this way, even when it was ruled by opulent kings, the British and now the elite ruling class, who in many ways are the new colonizers of an economically and socially chaotic population, 1.3 billion in all, trying and striving to move up the ladder. Seventy years ago, Mahatma Gandhi expressed concern about this prospect, that a western industrial model would only tear at the new nation, making economic imbalances worse. His vision sadly seems to be coming true not just for India but the planet. There is no question modern technology and social programs have made a significant difference in pulling people up from dire misery, but the task at hand is massive. 2.7 billion people still struggle to survive on the planet, and malnutrition is a real problem even in many parts of the developed world.

As gigantic democracies, India and America are similar in some ways. Wealth in America gets more and more concentrated at the top, shrinking the middle class and squeezing the economy. In India it is the same, only the effects are blaring, detrimental and direct, as the economic separation between groups is vast.

Instead of writing my observations in prose, I thought I would give it a shot in rhyme. So here it is from 30,000 feet above, leaving Bombay on to Hyderabad.

BOMBAY BOL (speak to me)

Maximum city they call it and maximum it is,
through my taxi window it unravels as is

Naked children, mummified bodies on sidewalk,
a stove burns under an overpass, breakfast in bed, soupy stock

Givenchy, Prada, Skoda and Porsche, they are all here,
so are the bare feet, under heavy load and hot air

Towers rise into the sky, ever so high,
others fall lower and deeper only to sigh

Trains move millions like Sardine,
old black and yellow Fiats choke streets, almost unseen

The young energize the city,
the old stay home, can't go out, traffic too risky

Yachts park in the bay by the Gateway,
private jets in hangers, where would you like to stay?

Couples caress hiding in public
Big screens on cell phones flash and click

A movie set by a seaside setting
not for a movie, but a wedding

Where those who serve, will never eat
standing inside uniforms and behind plates of more and more meat

At a party, I am glitterati, wearing silk, looking Brooklyn, talking cinema,
over Mojito to people who claim they are the intelligentsia

It is confusing to walk this city,
yet it is alive, throbbing, moving and mourning without pity

From up above I see patterns, a golfing green next to a shanty,
that is how maximum, maximum is, in this city of plenty

Bombay Bol