Mumbai safer than NCR: A tale of two lockdowns
This lockdown is about craving the cosmopolitan melting pot I left behind for the cauldron of religious revivalism I am in. Where, despite belonging to the privileged minority, I still feel isolated
I may have been raised in the National Capital Region of Delhi, but Mumbai remains my soulmate; one that allowed me to stroll and saunter anywhere at any time of the day or night, made me feel secure and forever set me free. The city, a melting pot of identities of various kinds—religion, region, caste, class, gender, sexuality and what have you—helped forge robust individuals out of some of us, if not all.
The lockdown last year made me snap my ties with Mumbai after a five-year long romance and move back to the NCR. With no press previews at Sunny Super Sound and Juhu PVR, no interviews with stars at Soho House and no meetings at Suzette and Indigo, being locked home alone in a rented 1BHK felt utterly pointless.
Wifi, laptop and mobile had turned into my default roti kapda aur makaan. Interactions were reduced to hanging out on social media. Zoom became unavoidable for interviewing people and watching films online turned de rigueur. Deprived of the customary late-night auto rides and the 12.30 am coffee breaks at the neighbouring cafe, I started missing Mumbai despite being right in the middle of the city.
It’s now the second wave and another lockdown in my home town. It’s as though I am still caught in the painful time loop of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. I am home alone, cooking, doing the dishes, sweeping and mopping while working, watching and writing. Just like last year, I haven’t stepped out. Grocery and essentials are getting delivered contactless in a bag hung at the main door.
With the world outside reaching out to me virtually, the second confinement ought to have felt just the same. Well, not quite.
Cities do make a difference. It might appear all the same behind closed doors. But strangely it is different. In Mumbai last year one felt safer, more hopeful and confident. A reassuring chief minister’s regular addresses would calm frayed nerves. Now I have an invisible CM and when he makes an appearance, he says little to reassure people. He fills us with sheer dread of what lies ahead. Last year there was a modicum of structure and system in place. This year the sheer inability to even get a routine test done, has been revealing of how much things are out of control.
The ability to see the problem in the eye, the war rooms, the professionalism, the basic preparedness for the next wave make the city I am no longer in feel safer from a distance despite the crowd, the cheek-by-jowl existence and the otherwise collapsing buildings and infrastructure.
Forget about feeling secure on the streets late at night, where I am now, you are not even safe when quarantined in your own home, if you so much as seek an answer from the government on social media. A strange uneasiness lurks in the air, there is the weird inability to repose trust in anyone around you, even as you think that they are looking at you suspiciously. Is the Big Brother watching?
Being cut off and hunkered down at home is making me hyper sensitive about my world. A world that, unlike Mumbai, may have bigger houses and airy and open balconies at that, but it is still suffocating.
This lockdown is about craving the cosmopolitan melting pot I left behind for the cauldron of religious revivalism I am in. Where, despite belonging to the privileged minority, I still feel isolated. This lockdown for me is a double whammy, sealed as I am from the outside and deep within.
(The writer, a film critic, shuttles between Mumbai and NCR)