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until you become this city

Poem by Shiva Sankar

I hear you’re a newcomer.
Let me introduce you to this city; the city.
A boiling cauldron, burnt to ashes; muddy and reborn
each time into something bigger, brighter and muddier.
I’d say leave your footwear behind,
here we go barefoot, with knees exposed.
Fold your garments up a foot,
or remove them all,
out here naked ones are celebrated,
not laughed upon, here is that city; the city.
The only one you should hear about.

This is a wrestling arena in the dirt
Everyone you’ll meet is a fighter –
priest, policeman, tailor,
cobbler, chaiwallah, taxi driver
Everyone drenched and dipped in dust
grappling a new beast.
You’re a newcomer, they won’t have time for you,
mostly, you’ll be overlooked with an easy neglect
right now, you’re a passer-by.
Don’t look so surprised.

Quick! Here, grab my tail and step lightly,
look around you,
Here, a crew subdues a Loch Ness monster caught out of the depths
there, others feast on a hydra;
if they offer you a portion, take it – and there is your initiation
and welcome.
Here, a few gladiators are tussling with a Titan,
there, a madman jumps out of a burning car.
Everywhere, for as far as the eye can see
we’ll see only mud, and fighters grappling with
monsters untold;
Here, we find a violent spar between husband and wife
there, we find lovers in furious embrace,
their sensuous screams drowned by
wars around, and moans mingled with splashes of mud
here and there.
Isn’t it beautiful?
Even lovemaking is a contention here.
Everywhere and everything is a battle,
in this burning city.
You’ll find no peace, no rest,
only fire.

But you’re a newcomer,
if you say you belong, we’d like to see you prove it.
Not by gifts or thanks,
not by coaxing or honeyed words
but by only this:
Show us you’re a fighter too.
Take on a beast here, now
amidst the muck and soil
and stop not till you pin it down.
Hoist your own flag to begin with,
carve your island,
amid this monstrous sea-city,
show us what you’re made of;
what you can stomach,
without a flinch or yelp,
and then,
only then,
we’ll count you amongst us.
Find your fight, and claim your place,
and this shall be your home
as it is mine.
And even then,
do not expect any warm welcome here.
We’re each an island and kingdom
distant yet intimate,
loud and boisterous, yet generous,
quick to anger, but even quicker to song
amidst trains roaring, gurgling underwater;
a boom song of our own, rolling underneath.
And we won’t meet, from across our islands
unless there be a fight,
and you’ll be called upon for many.
Answer them, if you dare.

But, come now, you’re yet a newcomer,
there is still time.
Here we open the gates,
enter as you please.
No need to introduce yourself,
birth-names have no place here,
Forge and exhale a great deed,
if you can,
and on that day we shall name you,
this city will name you,
and crown you
and crucify you
and stab you
and tickle you
and flirt with you
and taunt you
and challenge you
and rouse you,
until you’re reborn
as her hunter
and crusader;
until you become Mumbai herself.

until you become this city