Friday, October 30, 2020

MUMBAI

  “Mai*, have mercy.” They all wail in despair.

 Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink….I hum the tune like a haunting lullaby. My thunderous laughter echoes across; as the skies open and douse the inhabitants with its bounty once more.

    The floods have arisen to a dangerous level overnight. High tide complicates the matters. The power shut down since the last forty-eight hours has brought the maximum city to a standstill.

  The denizens are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Drenched to the bone and scared to the marrow, they swarm at my temple to seek refuge. I almost smirk at the irony. Initially they are grateful for the shelter. Eventually, they resort to cursing me as I regurgitate their sewage and filth at their faces.

 “Mai, how can you treat us like this? You, Mumba Devi, are our guardian deity. How can you let us suffer?” 

  I sneer in savage glee. The rotten carcasses of past offerings, coconuts and the mogra flowers float past my temple doors. The pain I inflict on Mumbaikars sooths a dark part of me. I had bid the rain god use his most ruthless astras* against my own children. 

  Drunk on toxins they had fed my veins and my air for decades; I have long ago lost the maternal yearning that Goddess Mumba was known for.

 I was once the benevolent Devi Parvati. 

She, who once took a form of fisherwoman to teach men the virtue called perseverance.

She, who raised this city from seven Islands,

She, who was called Mumba Devi,

I am her spirit,

The one they call Mumbai.

  Like Goddess Kali, who imbibed tamas* from the blood of Asuras*, my present form derives a depraved pleasure from wreaking destruction. I see them beating their chests, pining for their families, wishing they are safe. I have a moment of nostalgia. There was once a time I wept and pined for my lost progeny too. Sudden visions of events unfold before my eyes – my past and my present.

***

May 1st, 1960

  I was born bathed in blood. Just like a mortal.

 A hundred and five men died a gruesome death as they breathed their life into me. The history remembers this massacre the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. Those hutatmas* are the guardians of my gates. They are my pitras *, my enablers.

  Though cursed with violence at the nakshatra* of my birth, I was nevertheless, blessed with clean shores, dense forests and a magnificent port. I was nurtured by Kolis*, the original inhabitants of the seven islands. Animistic by nature, the Kolis exalted all life forms. They respected my resources as they earned their livelihood. Their offerings kept my seas calm and my forests bountiful. I fed them like an Annapurna*.

  My shores ensured a lot of immigrant flux. Some travelled from the North, and brought me their language. Some came from down south and brought me their cuisine. There were Jews; and there were the eccentric Parsis, who suited my temperament just fine. Others were from the nearby villages and towns. I welcomed all with open arms and relished the potpourri of cultures that nestled on my lands. They came in hordes and settled in matchbox houses they called chawls. My days and nights echoed with the famous Mumbai Textile Mill gongs and the chugging of local trains all over the city. The diversity made me complete like an eclectic collage.

 Then the tragedy struck.

  My textile mills temporarily shut down for reasons unknown. What followed was a season of strife and strikes for many families. A (planned) macabre fire later burnt those mills to cinder and further pushed many into an abyss of poverty.

  Thousands of jobs lost. So many livelihoods disappeared overnight. Bathed in chaos, I wept helplessly from my shores as men committed suicide to avoid starvation. Many daughters and wives sold their bodies to feed their families. I watched dumbfounded as my own flesh and blood swooped upon the helpless, like vultures and tore my dignity apart. 

***

1990s

  The great injustice now lay forgotten. My spirit transfigured to accommodate another generation. I rose once again, like a phoenix from my ashen past and took flight. I witnessed the real estate boom. Blue collared jobs ceased. The white collared jobs beckoned people to the city of gold. New cultures. New smiles. For a while, all was well. I was the radiant Lakshmi*.

Then, hell broke loose.

12 March 1992

 A mosque was demolished miles away. The aftershocks were felt in Mumbai.

 Communal riots. Bomb blasts. Violence.

  Tolerance, the very fibre which ensconced my spirit was brutally ripped off my body. I lay naked, vulnerable and bleeding as the fanatics stamped all over my bosom in their hunt for the next prey.

  Curfews, riots and bloodshed in the name of religion! The ruin and plunder fractured my spirit. I never completely recovered from that blood thirst and the scars it gifted me with. I was just beginning to realise the extent of savagery humans were capable of and it left me stunned.

***

 A decade passed.

    I grew until I busted my seams. The greens which covered my land were hacked away eventually to make a place for concrete jungles. The era was bittersweet. For the first time, my daughters stepped out their comfort zones and sought to pursue their careers and passion. They imbibed my spirit of perseverance and ambition. My chest welled up with pride at the sight.

  The Gods were kind to me now.  I smiled at Mumbaikars like an indulgent mother.  If my bloody past throbbed like an old wound, I looked the other way and envisioned brighter horizons.

 Until another shameful incident maimed me at the abandoned Shakti Mill Compound.

 22 August 2013

The Navdurga* howled in fury. 

It was dastardly, perverted and inhuman.

Five depraved demons raped my twenty-four-year-old daughter. They ravaged her for hours and filmed her agony and shame. Then they left her for dead.

  It drove me to frenzy like never before. I called upon my spirit slumbering inside every Mumbaikar. They had to unite. They had to seek justice. My daughter would be avenged.

  And for once in my life, they did me proud. The law, the police, every single Mumbaikar stood by her. Her honour was their honour.

   A landmark judgment in the history of Mumbai Uccha Nyayalaya* was passed. Death Penalty. Nothing else would do. My spirit bayed for their blood. I reveled at the savage jolt of pleasure it brought me. An ancient blood lust had awakened.

  The benevolent goddess was transforming into a sinister deity.

***

Over the years, tamas* continued to infiltrate my soul. My own children became my ignominy many a time. I fumed in rage each time a college girl was groped in public. I wanted to lash out at the mute spectators when they witnessed train and road traffic accidents, but did not step forward to help.

   Oh, what life form had they mutated into?

August 2019

   Today, they come again without shame or remorse. They hold the axes to trample my bosom, to destroy my last forest and its flora. Is the damned shed for their Metro Rail more important than my only surviving green lung?

  The trees, the wildlife and the tribals pleaded to the Matrikas* and invoked me. Their cries catalyzed my final transformation.

  Decades of despair coalesced into a curdled mass of rage which now throbbed in my veins like an abscess ready to burst forth.

 This moment, I call upon the rain god and sea. I direct them to drown the city and its ungrateful creed. I unleash my temper on young and old alike. I want to cleanse myself of the filth that is suffocating my sea, air and land.

  They weep before me in my temple as the air chokes their breath. Their reclaimed lands flood their expensive nests.

  No…No mercy. They shall face the fire today.  I leave my century-old shrine for good and walk over my city. Thunderbolts crack the ground open. The sea churns and rises to its zenith to hail my galadrielic form. The wind gods whip a tornado as my unbound hair hallows around my incandescent face. I wear the skull and bones of my past victims as a garland of honour. My tongue sticks out, angry eyes reflecting the terror the Mumbaikars feel. I strike a pose and start the Tandava*.

  I kill them in hoards as they desperately wish for a Shiva to apparate* from nowhere and salvage the last vestiges of my unhinged sanity.

***

Glossary :

Mai : Mother (Marathi)
Astras : Weapons
Tamas : That which imbibes darkness
Hutatmas : Martyrs
Pitras : Spirits of ancestors
Nakshatra : Constellations, used for divination
Koli : Fishermen
Mumbai Ucchya Nyayalaya : Mumbai High Court
Matrikas : Guardian Spirits
Tandava : A Dance of destruction
Apparate : (courtesy JK Rowling) appear out of thin air.
Annapurna : Form of Goddess, the nurturer
Lakshmi : Form of Goddess, the prosperity
Durga : Form of Goddess, the warrior
Kali : Form of Goddess, the destroyer

References:

Devdutt Patnaik, The Seven Secrets of the Goddess
Devdutt Patnaik, The Book of Kali
Articles from “The Hindu” July 22, 2019 (The Shakti MIll Rape Case Verdict)

Wikipedia.

***

Photo By: Chris Gallagher

***

This is an entry for Greenhorns-3, #Metamorphosis, an Exclusive Writing event for the Feathers club members of room8 by ArtoonsInn.

Check the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/metamorphosis-greenhorns-3-writing-event/

Don’t forget to rate the story out of 10 and leave a review.

 

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Pallavi Sawant Uttekar
Pallavi Sawant is a passionate reader, fabulous cook, Full time doctor, part time mother and night time writer.
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