The Distance from Bombay

Just watched Dhobi Ghat. The first Hindi movie I have seen in the cinema in over a decade. Probably more.

The last movie I watched starred Aishwarya Rai and two other dudes (I can’t remember who, maybe Salman Khan). She has an arranged marriage, her boyfriend who is heart-broken goes to Europe (if he could afford to go off on a jaunt, why didn’t they just elope? And who was giving him a visa anyway?).

Then her hubby takes her to Europe to look for her boyfriend (instead of bitch slapping her), so there are 2 hours of moping and fucking singing on the Swiss alps with sulky wife and earnest hubby to find sexy boyfriend.

Finally Aishwarya Rai finds boyfriend only to tell him, I love you and shit, but my hubby is my duty (whatever) so chalo bye. The end.

The girl sitting next to me switched seats half-way through the movie because my huffing-puffing and violent eye rolling interrupted her crying. I can’t say I feel particularly bad about it. She was damn sentimental and the movie’s conservative moral message made me want to puke. (This is also the same girl who broke up with someone because they tried to hold her hand. And I’m telling you that to bias you against her.)

Dhobi Ghat (which I liked very much) stayed well away from the easy-breezy-cheezy ending. It seemed (to me anyway) more like a love letter to Bombay. But don’t worry, I won’t be playing critic anytime soon on this blog. This is just a post about feeling a tad homesick.

Visiting home is the highlight of my year. I pretty much look forward to it for 11 months out of the 12.

I like to imagine, if things fall apart here in London, that I would move back. That I would love it. That I would fit in easily. Recently I’ve started to doubt these fine sentiments. Would I really? Would I miss the independence of London? Would my folks drive me crazy? What do I even know about Bombay now? It’s been over 8 years.

It’s like a good friend you used to hang out with in school or college. You move away and you’re still in touch via the internet, but when you meet in person you suddenly find you have nothing in common anymore. A long distance, email based relationship is the only one you have left.

Bombay (for me) has shrunk into two separate and extreme worlds.

One is the ideal Bombay, the dream Bombay – The garden, sitting outside at night drinking and smoking. My friends, the ones I see only once a year, (usually in the garden). Sea View and Rang Sharda and the few places I remember from long ago, the places I can take a taxi to without having a mental breakdown.

The lazy Bombay, where chai is brought to you every morning and you’re fed properly for lunch. Not the London dusty tea-bagged shite. Kaddi-Chaval and Pav Bhaji and Misti doi from Parsi Dairy. The perfect Bombay.

Then there is the nightmare Bombay – Of being lost in a city you should know but don’t, the people staring at you when you just want to go unnoticed. Random men who seem to constantly hang around on the street, everywhere. Endless crowds of people, no sense of space. This feeling of anxiety, alienation and paranoia. The Bombay I hate.

This last visit the feeling seemed heightened. The longer I stay in London, the more the two Bombays spin away from each other and become more and more extreme.

I was meeting Riddhi and Lovebunny at Alfredo’s, near Juhu Market. A mere 6 minute walk from my house. I used to take this walk nearly everyday when I was in college.

Now my mother wanted me to call her as soon as I got there to know if “I’ve reached safely”. People will put me in a van and take me away, she says. I will get raped, she says. She worries she says. (Again, this rape business. My mothers favourite subject. No wonder I turned out so fucking fucked.)

I’m too gori now, she says.


It was clear that I was no longer the Mumbaiker I used to be (and I was a pretty useless one to begin with), and it depressed me.

London is nothing like a home. When people ask me where I live, I always say

“Oh, I’m staying in London, right now, but my home is in Bombay”.

But at least in London I am totally invisible. No one ever notices me. I’m relatively independent. I have no fear of rape taxis (which admittedly is irrational, but knowing that changes nothing), I don’t think twice about walking around late at night (which is stupid). I never ask anyone to drop me home. I’m not anxious. But then, there is also no feeling of belonging.

Watching Dhobi ghat made me feel quite home sick. I feel like Bombay is moving further and further away the longer I stay here. Even when I was there, it was at a distance.

7 thoughts on “The Distance from Bombay

  1. I love this post, it articulated exactly the way I feel about Jakarta, or any of the SouthEast Asian countries Ive called home. Third culture kid syndrome – where you don’t feel at home in your ‘home’ country or your adopted one. We are doomed to drift. Or at least I am. Hey I’m typing this in St Thomas’ A&E and a cuffed convict just got ushered into triage with two police escorts, how’s that for drama! X

  2. @Mam – I want them both! I want my cake and eat it. I want to live 6 months here and 6 months there.

    @Martyn – you could apply for jobs abroad, you will maybe miss Bedford after a while. You’ll forget its flaws and start to only remember the good things. I think as a social experiment you could try living in India. I’d love to hear your version of it.

  3. You say it like it is. When I am in Toronto, I yearn for Bombay. And when I am in Bombay, I miss the yearning. Suddenly, it hits me, that this is it. And then I only feel a bit claustrophobic.

    Of course, I feel this only on the days I’m not hung over in Bombay.


  4. And, it really is a love letter to Bombay (the film, I mean). It was to be called “Bombay Diaries”, I believe. I think that would have been a more suitable name.

    And the first film you describe is “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”.

  5. i was constantly hung over in bombay 🙂 but then i also only got up at 4 everyday
    thats the life
    Hum dil de chuke sanam! what a mouthful. and what a shit movie.
    I liked dhobi ghat, atho some people seem to slate it. not sure why.

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