Do you know what reclaimed land is? It is land culled from the ocean. It is water swept away like it was dust. And only that valuable. I am writing this from reclaimed land.

This is my first lesson in Bombay: they will make homes of anything: of the corridors in chawls, of church steps, of bridge sheds, of ocean floors. On my third day in this city, I skipped over loose slats on a gutter that was also a passage. I walked into the heart of the slum: a house central in a labyrinth with no windows for miles becomes a furnace. This is my second lesson – less easily learnt – not all homes are shelters.

The city carries the smell of fish and stagnant water around its broken streets all day. At night, the breeze rolls in and takes the edge off. The seafronts are peopled at all hours of the day. All faces looking out, looking away from Bombay. They keep their eyes at eye level – for at their feet is the debris of a metropolis that cannot clean as fast as its citizens litter. It is a puzzle to me –

Is the city as fast, as choked for time, as the moving crowds at blurring speed seem to suggest?

On my way home, the light shimmers on the water and for a brief moment, the water is alive. How easily it dies, how easily the water coagulates in the bays of Bombay. But on the bridges, if you slip your arm out of the racing car in an empty hour, the sea wind will cure you like a balm. The city will take its old island form.


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