How so

A club, a lounge, a bar is such an alien place when there is no-one there. Stillness before the excitement comes, with a wave of wealthy party people and socialites. There are Indian girls in Bombay who have never worn a salwar kameez, and there are their moms who have never worn anything else. How is that.

Tonight I am in a nice restobar/lounge with low lights and soft music. Dining on expensive lasagna and espresso, knowing I’ll be up for many hours. Romancing myself. Alone.

Tomorrow I will eat food from everyone’s tiffin, a veritable feast of South to North Indian ghar ka khana, served out of stainless steel containers. Offered to me for free. The dining room will be a small schoolroom in Dharavi zhopadpatti, and I’ll be surrounding by laughter bouncing off of corrugated tin walls.

Tonight I am in the company of a beautiful, thin Russian girl. To look at her she is a girl, loose white blonde hair, enormous, perfect green eyes. She is actually a woman though, with a child, without a husband. She makes her living by being a living doll that walks around and smiles. But what can I say about that, these days, so do I. How is that.

Tomorrow I will be in the company of Gujurati toddlers learning in a Hindi and English medium school run by an NGO. Their moms who carry them on their hips to drop them off every day have also requested an English class. They would like to understand more of what their young children are learning at school. A class will be started for them soon.

Some women hitch up their patiala salwars and step through sewage in a slum. Some with expensive jeans and silver earrings sit in cafes where a latte is 150 rupees. Almost inevitably sitting alone. They answer their buzzing phones and don’t smile. Still more sit in tarp-covered chai stalls sipping tea for 3 rupees. Almost inevitably surrounded by people, crowded onto a wooden bench that sits on bricks. How is that.

Some girls dance in heels on the marble floors of a five star hotel. Some sit hunched over and take small naps in places with loud music, exhausted. Still more are able to sit up straight, in silence, well with themselves. With a good feeling coursing through them. A lot of people know the feeling I mean, and a lot of people try to name that feeling. I don’t know what I would call it.

On any day in Bombay, a girl could as easily be wearing a skirt, sequined top and feather headdress as a salwar kameez, dupatta folds thik se across her chest. She could be under bright lights in an AC studio, or seated cross-legged in a room that is almost a convection oven from the whirring overhead fans.

(The only light that comes in is sunlight, in ribbons that cut the room into pieces. Sawdust from a mill outside comes in through open windows, falling into kids’ hair. Black strands that are gold edged in the sun ribbons.)

Some days, I am all of those women, how is that.

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