Neeta is a deeply interesting woman who has a wealth of lived stories to tell and here she shares one with us for which I am very grateful:
I landed in Mumbai, an Indian, referred to derogatorily as an NRI (non resident indian) returning home, one might say, a foreigner in a land that I thought would be home. Not unusually, it felt nothing like home.
Immediately, my senses were aroused. Everything felt extreme from the moment I landed. The height of pollution and chaos, noise and crowd , poverty and riches, people on a mission, on the move, no time to wait, hurtling from work to home and back, dealing with daily chores erratically, startling in their inefficiency but yet it…they seemed to work, things seemed to get done. There was a weird sense of purpose in the chaos. Unlike anything I had ever seen.
I hailed a taxi, and instantly regretted it, as I jumped in. I felt as though I was being put to the test. My pain threshold is one I had considerable pride in, but it was stretched to breaking point as we negotiated the lanes. Actually there did not appear to be any lanes as two lanes were more like ten. Bicycles with a load fit for a lorry, scooters meant for one but over flowing with four, rickshaws, both the ‘auto’ and ‘manual’ varieties, carts lugged by men of skinny physique, buses with people hanging off the side, people with suicidal tendencies crossing the road, a cow…unbelievably, the cow was ambling amongst the traffic very much at home. It hit a rickshaw which almost toppled over right in front of my eyes, but the cow and rickshaw survived, both intent on achieving their target, one to get some food strewn on the sidewalk and the other to get a fare.
My emotions and nerves were shot, I wanted to look out at the newness of it all, but fearful of viewing the complete lack of safety on the road. I was so close to the car next to ours that if I extended my arm I could easily shake hands with the person in the taxi next to mine, sitting on the far side.
Amongst all the chaos came a motor bike pulling up besides my taxi. On it was a family. A father, a mother sitting sideways, sedately, in her sari, a son and two daughters. As I watched them snugly attached to each other, I wondered how they were able to stay on the bike as every nano space was occupied by its human load. One of the daughters could not have been more then 3 years old. Her only support was her little hand tight around her sister in front of her. I was struck by how serene they looked. The brother in shorts, oiled and flattened hair, holding his school bag, the girls with their hair tight back in two plaits with colourful ribbons to match their mother’s sari. The 3 year old was right at the back. She turned round and saw me looking. I could not help but stare. She tightened her hold on her sister, as I continued to look. My face immediately softened to ease her shyness. She dug her head into her sister’s back but continued to look at me. I was mesmerised by them, by her. She looked so cute, they looked so content, so together, so complete. I felt instantly relaxed. I smiled at her, and she dug her head even deeper into her sister’s back.
I drank in that picture, like a woman having her last drink.
My eyes travelled down … They were all wearing the same shoes.
I was home.