Orhan Pamuk happens to be one of my favourite curators of the story of cities. In one of his books named ‘Istanbul’, he quotes, – “For me it has always been a city of ruins with the end-of-empire melancholy. I’ve spent my life either battling with this melancholy or (like all İstanbullus) making it my own.” Giving life to a city on a piece of paper is a skill of those who love watching people in their worst and best situations and forms. This happens especially when a world of multiple stories is constructed on the silhouette and peripheries of a city’s body. Rochelle Potkar’s debut collection of short stories ‘Bombay Hangovers’, has the heart of the city of dreams. It did not happen for the fact that the author made through her childhood and adolescence on the lap of the city. Many writers live in different parts of the country and yet when they are asked about their own place, they keep their conversations in fragments. Bombay Hangovers, on the other hand, justifies living more than just creeping and surviving.
If a world is born inside an artist (of any kind), s/he would go for the imagination and visible by lanes, like Kundera or Amor Towles. No matter how great these writers are, from a reader’s perspective, the world stays within their visibility. Rochelle, at the same time, weaves Bombay or Mumbai for her readers with a needle at Borivali and her hands work from Kalyan. It is the yawning and sleeping position of these stories that made me realize the importance of the documentation of a place. Mayank Austen Soofi (Delhiwalla) too, scribbled his book keeping the prostitutes of Delhi’s Red-Light area, and therefore, the documentation was not able to scratch my chest. Bombay does not breathe with the lungs of metropolis. It has several lungs to work upon, and performs a perfect kind of symbiotic relationship.
Rochelle is a poet, and whenever a poet writes prose, it becomes delicious. These prose pieces, with beautifully messed-up characters unwrap stories which are not different from a town that is at the extreme end of this nation. A reader should not go through this book to understand Bombay, although it would not be wrong to use it well to construct a very personal Bombay of all these personal characters. The evolution of Bombay happens to be the evolution of post-Independent India, especially when it comes to the formations of livelihood. Like, for example, the entire era of 70s of Calcutta/Kolkata can be said as the trigger of a critical India. Similarly, the Bombay of the post-Independent India can be studied to have a proper look at the bigger picture of the pitfalls, scams, upgrading social construct and dysfunctional relationships. It would not be kind enough to the country itself, if we go for the smaller circle that knows the knower only.
Quoting Manto would be very obvious but it would not always do justice the city that has shaped a million lives even amidst turmoil, heartbreaks, and uprooted individuality. The cosmopolitan Bombay that is violent yet homogenous; detached in a few ways, and attached in many, keeps Bombay Hangover alive, normal and relevant. All these stories, in one way or another, deal with the body of a human being who is named as Bombay, but it is also a city. So, when the protagonist of a story has a wild sexual fantasy, it made me think about my own one. The immoral standards is unacceptable, but deep down inside, both the protagonist of the story and his reader enjoyed it. Turmoil of a malignant marriage is still not a matter of conversation between people who want to stay away from attention. Whenever a group of individuals is craving for attention, a spoilt marriage with its mentally corrupted partners come out as pop-ups. Yet reading about a couple who are constantly carrying the relationship through a cascade of battles ruffled some of the most delicate feathers without any doubt. To talk about people and their complexities with sincerity is a consequence of constant punches, but the writer herein, goes beyond them to be compassionate yet very, very ruthless. They stay in balance effortlessly.
‘Arithmetic of Breasts’ is my favourite story since, the world, in every way, dwells and grows around them. Seeing them as protagonists with some of the wittiest puns was a warm feeling. Although the writer herself says that no matter how hard a woman tries to go beyond the realm of femininity and a woke world, the latter keeps on reminding her that at the end of the day, she is a woman with swollen breasts with craving between her legs. Finding Kama through various sexual positions kept the society like it should be. It is beautiful to read how a woman’s breasts catches all the attention even in the best and weirdest sexual positions.
Is there something wrong in it? Ah, no. Breasts are important. Love it. Hold it. Caress it. It is a beautiful thing to do. Even in the worst situations,
Is there anything right in having a world around breasts? – Nope, not at all. Other stuffs make it more interesting. So, go for them, and then they’ll shower bliss, for sure.
Something that is sheerly uncomfortable is how the breasts arrive with literal male descriptions. Men have named breasts as tits, melons, titties, hooters, to make it sound odd. Some women love the slangs. Some do not. Yet from our closest to the unknown one, men keep on arriving at breasts. The story is not a satire. Rather it is a mockery of the male gaze. It makes them wild and alien at the same time. Establishment of this hypocrisy through the breasts and their structure when they pass through the city of Bombay banged on some heavy doors. I really hope they’re now open to have a look at the breasts without dripping lips and a bulge in their pants (unless the men are sexy).
Bombay Hangovers is a book of joy and disturbance. Just like the city. The colonially biased society must go through it to know how the city has been written down to keep everything that creates discomfort for many, and comfort for a few. The book is an unplugged version of a song which happens to be in our playlist but we never play it for how loud the original content is. But after a person is done with everything and settles with a boner or wetness in his/her hand or fingers respectively, the city becomes an amalgamation of gossips, grudges and grandeur. This particular book is a simple collection of stories about a city that ticks every single box of writing.
pic credit: Suhit Bombaywala