St Cyril Road, Bombay

Amit Chaudhuri

Every city has its minority, with its ironical, tiny village
fortressed against the barbarians, the giant ransacks and the pillage
of the larger faith. In England, for instance, the ‘Asians’ cling to their ways
as they never do in their own land. On the other hand, the Englishman strays
from his time-worn English beliefs. Go to an ‘Asian’ street
in London, and you will find a ritual of life that refuses to compete
with the unschooled world outside. In Bombay, it’s the Christian minority that clings
like ivy to its own branches of faith. The Christian boy with the guitar sings
more sincerely than the Hindu boy. And in St Cyril Road, you’re familiar
with cottages hung with flora, and fainting, drooping bougainvillaea,
where the noon is a charged battery, and evening’s a visionary gloom
in which insects make secret noises, and men inside their single rooms
sing quaint Portuguese love songs – here, you forget, at last, to remember
that the rest of Bombay has drifted away, truant, and dismembered
from the old Bombay. There, rootless, garish, and widely cosmopolitan,
where every executive is an executive, and every other man a Caliban
in two-toned shoes, and each building is a brooding tyrant that towers
over streets ogling with fat lights ... Give me the bougainvillaea flowers
and a room where I can hear birds arguing. I won’t live in a pillar of stone,
as ants and spiders live in the cracks of walls, searching for food alone
in the sun-forgotten darkness. That’s why I’ve come to St Cyril Road
to lose myself among the Christians, and feel Bombay like a huge load
off my long-suffering chest. Woken up at six o’clock in the morning,
by half-wit birds who are excited in the knowledge that day is dawning
on the sleeping lane – that’s what I want. The new day enters my head
like a new fragrance. I rise, dignified, like Lazarus from the dead.