(Belated) Happy New Year

Reprinting, by permission, a vignette from Athena Kashyap on her return to Mumbai in the aftermath of the latest attacks:

Shortly after the year turned, we walked up a narrow promontory of land, cradled on three sides by huge swathes of the Arabian Sea, up to the Ban Ganga water tank.

Gazing down at the brown sands of Chowpatty beach, looking demure under coconut trees, the colonial pillars of Wilson College visible right across from the beach, across from the sleepy roadway on which the morning’s traffic had yet to wake up, we could have been taking our walk a hundred years ago, expecting at any time to see a Victorian horse drawn buggy clip-clopping into the distance, disappearing into the foggy lights of the Queen’s Necklace.

But as we continued our walk, different eras of Mumbai’s past began to emerge. Here and there, we still spied a building from the British past—the chief minister’s bungalow, a Rajasthani palace built out of red stone—looking incongruous, even a little absurd, next to the concrete apartment buildings of our times, sitting squat and ugly, hugging the road so closely that not even Bombay’s tenacious trees could take root next to them.

Then, as we neared the tank, Mumbai’s ethnic identity from several hundred years ago began to assert itself. We found ourselves walking on narrow cobbled lanes built not horses nor cars but for pedestrians, lined on either side by temples, small houses with upturned roofs, entrances engraved with carvings, and stalls selling vegetables, sweets, and flowers. Here and there, a priest bustled around, barefoot, washing the steps of the temple, performing their God’s morning ablutions to get ready for the day. Pedestrians also hurried along, going about their daily routines, taking the children to school, setting out to work.

And there in the center lay the tank. It looked to be in poor shape, the steps leading to the water broken and strewn with plastics and remnants of food. People lay sleeping on its steps, nuzzled by geese hoping to find a morsel or two in the folds of the their blankets. A child defecated on the steps and his mother washed his bottom, and then washed his stool down a few steps below, a little beyond her vision’s periphery. A man cleared away some of the garbage from the rim of the tank, enough to let him collect a cup of water with which he brushed his teeth, spitting it back into the water’s dirty foam after he was done.

Despite the filth and squalor, the tank still maintained a quiet dignity as it lay shaded by the umbrella of ancient trees, lent no doubt by the story of its origin inscribed on a plaque at one end. As we read about its past we stepped back even further back in history, the tanks’ renovation in the sixteenth century, and its construction in the eight century, and then back into mythological time, when the Lord Ram pierced the earth with his arrow on this very spot to release a spring of fresh water, hiding underground.

Stories are told and retold to remember memorable events, and mythologies are built around miraculous happenings. Looking at this fresh water tank, it is easy to see why the spring, why this spot would be deified. Having a fresh water spring that survives on this tiny sliver of earth surrounded by the Goliath salty ocean seems nothing short of miraculous but finding this underground spring seems even more incredible. It is a testament to human kind’s intelligence and ingenuity, the godlike ability in us.

Today, with the wounds from the past year still not healed, the blood not yet washed away, we must remember that this land of Mumbai is a special land, and a sliver of hope runs through it. And, more importantly, that its inhabitants have within themselves the ability to make manifest an intelligence that will lead us from darkness to light.

Wishing you all a New Year filled with fresh hope to bring about positive change in our lives and the world. May the intelligence within each of you shine forth dispelling fear and insecurity, and may you live this year with courage and wisdom.

What she said. Thanks Athena for expressing it so well.

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- January 12, 2009 8:49 PM // India