I feel a tremendous amount of tenderness nowadays when I think about where I came from and how the people there shaped my being and offered a sense of place and community
A Christmas lunch at the D’Mello residence in Kurla. Pic/Rosalyn D’Mello
It dawned on me the other day that my upcoming trip to Mumbai in the first week of January marks my first visit in four years, a realisation that landed with an unexpected thud. Has it really been that long?
I had wilfully avoided the city during my last homecoming in April. Our family was reuniting in Goa, our ancestral homeland. I slipped in a few days in Delhi so I could see friends I couldn’t even say goodbye to when we got on that emergency flight in June 2020, amid the pandemic and inadvertently ‘settled’ in the Italian Alps, my partner’s Heimat. I skipped Mumbai during our April 2023 visit because I was afraid of how I would cope with a one-year-old in tow.
This time around Mumbai is our port of arrival in India. This was a conscious decision because I needed to complete some bureaucratic work and needed to be at my ‘permanent address’. We’d originally thought we’d stay for a few days then head to Goa with my folks since our home there is bigger than our tiny apartment in Kurla and there’s a lot less traffic to contend with. Living in the immediate vicinity of the Phoenix Market City Mall in Kurla makes any form of pedestrian being feel like a nightmare. Crossing the road feels like a death trap. There are no parks where we live and no non-commercial sites of leisure. However, certain circumstances beyond my control compelled us to change our plans. It took me a whole day to wrap my head around the fact that we would spend more than three days in Mumbai.
As I was processing my anxiety, I started to think about the benefits of spending time in Mumbai. I began to think about our little colony of five buildings and one bungalow and how many memories I have nestled in every corner of that enclosure. Ours has never been a gated community but just having a road that leads out to the main road meant we had a childhood that allowed for running around, riding cycles, playing hide and seek between buildings and Diwali and Christmas parties that felt like intimate gatherings. Though the era of expertly crafted handmade community Christmas stars in our colony had ended long ago, I thought about the taxi entering the colony and catching a glimpse of whatever the kids might have managed to assemble and hang. I realised that so much of my anxiety has stemmed from the fact that it has been so long since I was last there. I am almost afraid of seeing, everywhere, glimpses of how radically things have changed. I am afraid of feeling like an outsider in a city so precious to my heart.
I began to think about all the things I wanted to do in Mumbai with my partner and my toddler… like visiting Matunga for breakfast, or going to Mahim on a Wednesday morning, or even taking him to the market in Kalina where my father used to take us. I thought about sev puri at the beach and a lemonade at a terrace restaurant at the gateway of India. I wondered what he might think about being inside a rickshaw. I could already see his mouth agape because of how much there is to see everywhere.
But beyond all that I thought about Kurla, about walking through the church compound, the village, eating fugias and potato chops and kheema at Naz Hotel. I wondered how it would feel for me to re-experience a place that has been so foundational to my being and to also gauge our child’s reactions to it. Will he find himself lured by the same places that lured me? Will he run around the church during mass the way I must have when I was a toddler? Will he be excited to meet our neighbours, to know he can unapologetically enter their homes and know he will be taken care of by them?
The last time I met my siblings in Dubai, I found myself cautious about using the word ‘home’ to describe anything in reference to Tramin. This was not because I do not feel at home here. Quite the opposite. But I didn’t know how to distinguish between homes, so Tramin was categorised as ‘where I live now’. Because for all of us, home in somehow Mumbai, but it has also become Goa. Recently, watching the Netflix series Infamy, based on the Roma community and the notion of ‘Romanipen’, I have been thinking about Bombay-Goans and what makes us so special and different. I am not overtly vocal about my Goan-ness, just as I don’t talk enough about being a Kurla girl. I’m not sure why. I cannot explain it yet, but I’m working on it. These days I feel so much tenderness when I think about where I came from and how the people there shaped my being and offered a sense of place and community. I hadn’t acknowledged how much I had missed it.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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