Considering that it was in Bombay last time that I fell simultaneously out of and into love, the current inning is turning into a bit of a letdown. It’s all one big case of Bangalore redux for me so far – after having resolved that I will turn into a ferocious socialite the moment I set foot in Bombay, reversing two years of moss gathering and self pleasuring in Bangalore, I have not managed to make a single new acquaintance yet, if you discount my ex-colleague’s brother-in-law who was clearly impressed enough by my general knowledge (read: the HSBC stamp on me) to think of me as a matrimonial candidate for someone in his family, till I told him I am actually just a “writer looking for work”. Or my friend’s DJ brother’s DJ friends, they of the relentless enthusiasm to get me stoned and cutting-edge hiphopspeak . I don’t know whether I look like kin to them because of my rebellious unkempt looks, but I am having trouble explaining that it may not be a good idea for them to go Red Indian with me because my stoner jokes still revolve around Neetu Singh, whereas the world has clearly moved on. To save them from disappointment, I have been spending most of my time in theatres or locked up in the bedroom calling up non-existent potential employers. Alone.
The main reason for Solitude 2.0 is perhaps that I am yet unable to make myself a part of the concentric circles that define the lives of every girl I know in the city – circles converging on a maniacal work and party regime. There there, don’t go all ‘awwwww’ at me. I have been doing rounds of the city in crowded local trains (why, I even did a return trip in general class yesterday!) and watching sold-out films all right. The only issue is that my sleep cycle is still a bit screwed to be compatible with those who can give my social life a facelift. I still go to bed at the blasphemous eleventh hour of the night, and I still watch films in the early-evening shows, not to mention my acute sensitivity to collective fun given its implications on my savings.
But as always, time spent in idle self-contemplation ever so often opens the doors of perception (besides making me want to smoke again). Since falling in love was one of the subtle agendas of my return to Bombay, I have been harking back on ALL the SMSs I have ever received with the word ‘love’ in them. It helps that I suffer from OCD and still have all the nine SIM cards I have used since getting my first cell phone in 2002. These do not include the two that were stolen from me, along with the phones, in Delhi in 2004 and 2005, respectively. That’s not a big loss though, thanks to my mirror-shattering geekiness back then. Anyway, it has been an interesting study, because in these past seven years I have fallen and generally been in love and love-like things five times, with women from a range of very different cities in North, West and East India.
What stands out is the peculiar vocabulary of romantic expression used by these women. While women from the north and the east have been quite liberal with the use of the first-person pronoun in their love missives, those from the west, from Bombay I mean, have shown a striking aversion to the use of “I”. And what a world of difference there is between “I love you” and “Love you”! Whereas the former establishes the coda of the relationship in no uncertain terms – “I love YOU (and no one else)”, the latter warns against such complacency – “love you (and him, and him, and him too)”. The missing “I” renders the admission of love eerily impersonal and transient, as in “you are worthy of my love right now”, “or I am feeling love for you as of this moment” rather than “I am in love with you.” It has been too recurring and prevalent a pattern to write off as a coincidence, and I think it makes sense given that Bombay is truly the city of the missing “I”.
Bombay teaches you how to hoard your “I”, lest you distribute it too freely among the clamouring many. It does not prevent “I” from loving, but it does discourage”I” from loving too easily and exclusively. “I” is at once precious and irrelevant in Bombay, because its sweltering public places and parties often do not have the room for and the solemnity to accommodate this demanding vowel. Bombay is more comfortable with “we” or nothing at all channeling love and cheerfulness at a well-defined recipient but choosing to remain a slippery silhouette itself. Love you, Bombay.