Geetha Durairajan, my prof-pal from Hyderabad was in Bombay since Saturday morning. Contrary to expectations, I ended up spending a substantial amount of time with her. Work schedules cleared out and people made space so I could loaf with a person I share the most bizzare-yet-special relationship.
And once more, I explored an element of Bombay (not literally, but associated) with yet another outsider. Even before we met, Gee had clearly indicated that she wanted to do Elephanta Caves on Sunday morning. The Marathon immediately rang alarm bells. But, I thought, there's gotta be a way around. There's always one where Gee's willed to go. So I jumped to accompanying her.
We were to meet over dinner with two other classmates the previous evening. Of course the other two wiggled out - or - ok, they couldn't make it. Honestly, the E Caves have always sounded like a hyped picnic spot meant for those who live in the suburbs or visiting the city on holiday. I would've probably never suggested the place to a guest I was hosting. But it became special in several ways.
First of all, it was Geetha I was accompanying. My first full length Bharatnatyam recital was with her. So was my first commercial play. Geetha has style - the kind that comes naturally to those who grow up like that. She was often the one to coax me to "dress up!" for an outing - especially events. To the extent, that for the Gujarati New Year in my MA-II, I decked up in a brand new green-bordered white cotton saree to go seek her blessings. She became my वडिल. She performed a little puja, my menstruation notwithstanding, and even organized breakfast! Quite frankly, it was more than would've happened at my own home in Baroda. The acceptance of me as me was unexpected and overwhelming all at once. I love to relate the story of how Gee 'n I became friends, but that is, as they say, another story. Back to our Elephanta trip.
My attraction to Bombay stems out of the fact that it is a sea facing metropolis. It is perhaps the same reason why I pine to visit (or rather stay in) Kolkata or even (now) Chennai ('cuz Pondicherry's just three hoursce). One of the things I did on the first empty weekend in the city was the half-hour ferry from Gateway. A full hour, no hurry to return, and the motive to reach another land, the notion of "commuting" even if for just pleasure was added attraction. To me, the sea is reminiscent of grim beauty, like the descriptions in the last act of Macbeth, or the Old Man and the Sea. The slow cradle of the catamaran induces so many feelings... If you're with an old friend, it feeds conversation; if you're alone, it shows you the nature of possibilities; if you are sad, it shows you happiness and if you are gleeful, it brings you back to your axis. It is humbling, it is peaceful and it is itself - in the most raw, unadulterated form. It shows you how potent the creator is and how powerless and miniscule you are in His scheme of things.
But one of the most humbling experiences of my visit to this 12th century establishment was the stone. Huge monoliths - slabs of stone turned into semi-intricate and symmetrical barriers, as if to prevent the casual onlooker from disturbing dark acts, or acts not meant to be spectated. Stone absorbs (/barricades) so much - energy, heat, sound, rain, noises - sound - voices... When Gee figured out the centre of Elephanta, she made me stand on the pedestal where it lay. It felt protected, though exposed to the elements; to the afternoon sun, to the midnight moon, to rains that must pour, to whirlwinds that must circulate within the walls of the hollow, to only those who must be willing and to yield to those who will.
Elephanta became a journey of the spirit. It became a travail, in which, though I was partnering somebody, I was on my own; though I had conversation to engage in, it was largely within; though its significance is jaded, our discoveries were our own. It was the first time I wanted to meditate - not with my eyes closed or sitting in a corner, secluded, but by just sitting quiet, watching the monkey take away my tetra pack of grape juice, deriving happiness in giving so little yet yielding satisfaction (almost glee) of robbed proportion.
Thanks Chintan, for insisting that Gee make the trip - not for the architecture, but for the energy.