Once in one of my long, unwinding daily local train journeys, I discovered something which I felt no one had ever found out about Mumbai. You think everyone has written everything about Mumbai, that there is nothing left to find out or write about. Or at least, nothing very original. You are wrong, my friend. Everyone, every day, finds out something new about this city. What I discovered was this – Mumbai has no ghosts.
Now, you see, ours is a country of ghosts. A haunted nation. You know how people say you are haunted by your past, conscience, actions, etc. India is haunted by – ghosts. As simple as that. Every city, town, village. Every temple, dargah, church. Every abandoned building, well, graveyard. Every dark corner, yellow shade of a lamp post and gigantic banyan trees. All haunted. The soul of every person born here. Haunted. Every place. Except Mumbai.
Mumbai simply doesn't have the time, space or the metaphysical predilection for ghosts. People come here to survive. They have no dread of the dead. In any other place a building where a family committed suicide, a field where someone was brutally hacked to death or a pavement spot where some homeless guy was run over by a BMW – all such places would be haunted. At least for a few days. People would hesitate to live in such buildings, move across those fields, or walk over, much less lie down in that spot in the pavement where the pool of blood has not even dried. But not here. Not in Mumbai. People need that space. Every inch of space. Every life here is expendable. Blood is absolutely worthless. Take your bucketloads – ghosts, godmen, venerable political leaders. We still have more to give. Why should we be afraid. There is no hell that we have not seen. No deeper horrors. Why would ghosts, even if they exist, scare us? Why would they, indeed, matter at all?
It is said that people come to Mumbai in search of something. Jobs, food, shelter, realization of glorious, impossible dreams. But that day sitting in my late evening 10:18 Virar slow train, I realized something else. People were not coming here searching for something. They were not running towards their dreams, hopes, movie roles or whatever. They were running away. Running away from ghosts. The ghosts of their abandoned parents, nagging ex-wives, murdered foetuses (exclusively female), untouchable and brahminical ghosts (ghosts from their respective religion and caste only, mind you – this is India after all). Seeking refuge in the only ghost-less city in this country. A city they could sleep in peace – whether in the streets, pavements, five-star hotels, shit-smelling shanty slums, or by the seashore, in posh apartments, with prostitutes, anywhere under the wide open polluted sky. And not be troubled by ghosts. Not be tormented and killed by them. Be killed by anything else – drunken driver-movie stars, AK 47 wielding terrorists, religious fanatics and their identical twins – the political hoodlums, famed gangsters, the Stoneman Ripper, the one-eyed rapist, trigger-happy policemen, falling buildings, fire-catching slums, explosions, poverty, diarrhea – yes, anyone or anything. But not ghosts. We all die in peace here. No matter how violent a death, we still die in peace. All of us crazy Mumbaikars.