Mumbai smells of fresh cut rose petals, fish, human waste baking in the sun, curry and banana leaves, salt sea air, spices, a hint of mint or cilantro, and fresh rain turned to fetid water all rolled into one. In the train station, on the bus, walking to the market, her scent curls into my nostrils like the perfume of an alluring woman, finger out-stretched, beckoning. I can only stay for a few days, enough for a whiff, a taste, a mere brush of skin against skin, but it is enough to know that something deep within is awakened, will long to return.
Mumbai is a city of life stacked upon life. Humanity in one of its rawest forms. The metropolis stretches endlessly along the horizon, each view holding contrasting tiers of existence. High-rise buildings, highway overpasses, luxurious apartments to modest flats—and at their feet sprawl the slums, tents of tarp and tin erected in any available crevice.
They cram up against the roadside until their front stoops become the street itself, women and children perched in the doorways conversing and playing between their beds and the traffic. The huts grow along the walls between the railways and the apartments like overgrown ivy. On the outskirts where they claim wider expanses, the shacks are stacked on top of one another like blocks of legos haphazardly arranged by the fingers of a child not yet two.
The streets between them are narrow. Small canals run through the alleyways. Women come with brooms, sweeping away the waste of things that have already been reused.
From the doorway of the train as I hold onto the hand pole and lean out into the night of the city, I feel her, watch her. The wind whips at my hair, makes my dupatta dance vigorously behind me; it pours over my face and speaks intensely to my heart in a way that is not quite a whisper, not quite a shout. My soul dances on the edge of a mystery, across the heads of the teeming masses of people in my glimpses of the night streets. Selfishly I ask God to bring me back to this country, this city.