Mumbai teaches you ignorance. It is an inevitable lesson imparted regardless of whether you live in the tallest luxury tower or a tent on the sidewalk. It teaches you how to perceive but not act, it teaches you how to pity while remaining in the mode of inaction.
When I first moved to Mumbai, I used to look up every time I heard a knock on my car window. I used to look at the child clad in oversized brown clothes with an infant on his back and stare at him until my eyes watered, wondering how life could be so different on the other side of this transparent, one-centimetre-thick wall. I asked my mom why no one does anything for them, and she said that walls separate worlds and there are too many walls for people to reach out into their world. All we can do is give them some Parle-G and hope that they eat it.
I don’t look up when they knock on my window now. I raise my hand and shoo them away, as if they were stinking up my surroundings.
How is life so different on the other side of a transparent, one-centimetre-thick wall?
Something happened the other day, though, that made me question our comfort with this ignorance and inaction. I stepped out of a high-end restaurant in Mumbai and while I was waiting for my car, a woman was thrown onto the middle of the road. I looked on the sidewalk opposite me and saw the man who had pushed her. He wore brown trousers that used to be white and a shirt with missing buttons and grease stains. She remained sitting on the road, as if someone was holding her down, as if it wasn’t an alien feeling to be fallen on the road, wet with fresh raindrops. She sat there cursing at the man, still too scared to move towards him. The man sensed her fear. He walked on the street and slapped her. She screamed louder and a couple of people stuck their heads out from passing cars.
I ran to the road. “Hey! Leave her alone!” I yelled in Hindi. The man looked at me, raging. My friends grabbed me by the arms to stop me from going any further and starting a fight of my own.
“It’s their life! Don’t interfere,” my twenty-year-old, college-going boyfriend said in a stern voice.
I turned around sharply and freed my hand. The valet was holding the door open for me. I obeyed him.
All the way home I thought that on one hand there is ignorance, on the other there is acceptance and I fear that our ignorance is being misunderstood as acceptance, our inaction is giving way to the wrong actions and our city is teaching us all the wrong lessons.