Sapne Ka Pinjara

Tanya TandonUniversity of California, Berkeley

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Bombay. Mayapuri. The City of Dreams.

Every new change in environment is said to result in a change in the person. After all, a person is a product of their circumstances, their environment. Thousands of people flock to Mumbai in hopes of another life. Since arriving in Mumbai, I have realized that these dreams literally keep people alive. This phenomenon we call hope exists as a common thread amongst everyone here. However, this hope uncomfortably reflects how divided Mumbai truly is.

In hopes of realizing the many dreams from fame to a better future of one’s family, only some succeed. The liberating cage of Mumbai is a catalyst for the cycle of inequity where one’s laughter is another’s cry. Yet, this thread of hope exists as the oxygen in this concrete jungle. In these thirty days of being in Mumbai, I have realized the distance and separation between any two people in this world more than ever. At first I thought this was due to working in the hospitality industry in Taj, but I have encountered this outside the office. Despite being physically close to the taxi driver for a long drive to the other side of Mumbai, it is as if an invisible wall exists between the front and back seats of the kaali peeli. A deafening silence continues where the only words memorably muttered are “ma’am.” The unforeseen discomfort of being unable to connect with someone I share the same heritage and culture with is most prominent here. Growing up with Indian parents, I understood that respect, humility, and honor were the core values of being Indian. However, the fluctuating definition of status is something that I never could truly understand. On one side of the same street exists Antilia, Ambani’s billion dollar home, and on the other side exists a large slum that houses the employees of Antilia. In attempts to achieve their own dreams, these people work to achieve the dreams of others instead. Mumbai screams the exploitation of human hopes but it also gives people a reason to live. Mumbai cages some dreams and allows others to fly. The skyscrapers act as the walls of this cage. The sea swallows and protects all fears and dreams simultaneously. This beautiful juxtaposition is way of life here.

In aims of tearing down this invisible wall of unspoken “aukaat”, or status, I now am working on a personal photojournalism project to fulfill the dreams a younger Tanya had of becoming a journalist. This is inspired by my CSR internship project of working with Taj’s artisans and vendors; I wish to take advantage of my ability to speak Hindi and convey stories through my writing. In this, I have engaged with not only taxi drivers, but also the street chai wala I get my kadak morning fix from to the fruit vendor I get my daily mangos from. I have sat in clothing shops for hours listening about a Kashmiri shopkeeper’s view on the issue of Kashmir. I intend on establishing this personal project further by speaking with Dhobi Ghat washers and Red Light District women. In this process of simply listening and learning, I hope to make Mumbai my own. Through this personal project, I hope to become comfortable with discomfort and embrace the stability within chaos… and in a way, realize my own dreams.