Antes de vir para a Índia eu li “Bombaim: Cidade Máxima”, do jornalista Suketu Mehta. Ele me preparou para o amor e para o caos que senti desde que cheguei a essa cidade.
Mehta passou a infância em Mumbai e partiu com a família para Nova York no meio da adolescência. Voltou quando já era adulto, casado com uma indiana que tinha uma trajetória parecida com a dele, só que em Londres. Ele passou a juventude se queixando por viver fora da Índia. Quando finalmente pode voltar, viu sua nostalgia se diluir na água suja da cidade, a mesma água que deixou seu filho — um americaninho sem anticorpos — doente.
Separei alguns trechos do livro e mesclei com fotos da cidade:
“India is the Country of the No. [...] That ‘no’ is your test. You have to get past it. It is India’s Great Wall; it keeps out foreign invaders. Pursuing it energetically and vanquishing it is your challenge. In the guru-shishya tradition, the novice is always rebuffed multiple times when he first approaches the guru. Then the guru stops saying no but doesn’t say yes either; he suffers the presence of the student. When he starts acknowledging him, he assigns a series of menial tasks, meant to drive him away. Only if the disciple sticks it out through all these stages of rejection and ill treatment is he considered worthy of the sublime knowledge. India is not a tourist-friendly country. It will reveal itself to you only if you stay on, against all odds. The ‘no’ might never become a ‘yes’. But you will stop asking questions”.
“There will soon be more people living in the city of Bombay than on the continent of Australia. The city is groaning under the pressure of the 1 million people per square mile. It doesn’t want me any more than the destitute migrant from Bihar, but it can’t kick either of us out. So it makes life uncomfortable for us by guerrilla warfare, by constant low-level sniping, by creating small crises every day”.
“For a Gujarati, cosmopolitan is not a term of approval. ‘Cosmopolitan’ means the whole world except Gujaratis and Marwaris. It includes Sindhis, Punjabis, Bengalis, Catholics, and God knows who else. Nonvegetarians. Divorcees”.
“The food and the water in Bombay, India’s most modern city, are contaminated with shit. Amebic dysentery is transferred through shit. We have been feeding our son shit. It could have come in the mango we gave him; it could have been in the pool we took him swimming in. It could have come from the taps in our own home, since the drainage pipes in Bombay, laid out during British times, leak into the freshwater pipes that run right alongside. There is no defense possible. Every thing is recycled in this filthy country, which poisons its children, raising them on a diet of its own shit”.
“I missed saying ‘bhenchod’ to people who understood it. It does not mean ‘sister fucker’. That is too literal, too crude. It is, rather, punctuation, or emphasis, as innocuous a word as ‘shit’ or ‘damn’. The different countries of India can be identified by the way each pronounces this word — from the Punjabi ‘bhaanchod’ to the thin Bambaiyya ‘pinchud’ to the Gujarati ‘bhenchow’ to the Bhopali elaboration ‘bhen-ka-lowda’. Parsis use it all the time, grandmothers, five-year-olds, casually and without any discernible purpose except as filler: ‘Here, bhenchod, get me a glass of water’. ‘Arre, bhenchod, I went to the bhenchod bank today’. As a boy, I would try consciously not to swear all day on the day of my birthday. I would take vows with the Jain kids: We will not use the B-word or the M-word”.
“This was what colonialism, fifty years after the Empire ended, had done to my son: It had rendered our language unspeakable, our food inedible”.
“Home is not a consumable entity. You can’t go home by eating certain foods, by replaying its films on your television screen. At some point you have to live there again”.
“You came to Bombay to pass through it”.
“Long before the millennium, Indians such as the late prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, were talking about taking the country into the twenty-first century, as if the twentieth century could just be leapfrogged. India desires modernity; it desires computers, information technology, neural networks, video on demand. But there is no guarantee of a constant supply of electricity in most places in the country. In this as in every other area, the country is convinced it can pole-vault over the basics: develop world-class computer and management institutes without achieving basic literacy; provide advanced cardiac surgery and diagnostic imaging facilities while the most easily avoidable childhood diseases run rampant; sell washing machines that depend on a nonexistent water supply from shops that are dark most hours of the day because of power cuts; support a dozen private and public companies offering mobile phone service, while the basic land telephone network is in terrible shape; drive scores of new cars that go from 0 to 60 in ten seconds without any roads where they might do this without killing everything inside and out, man and beast”.
“It is an optimistic view of technological progress — that if you reach for the moon, you will somehow, automatically, span the inconvenient steps in between. India has the third largest pool of technical labor in the world, but a third of its 1 billion people can’t read or write. An Indian scientist can design a supercomputer, but it won’t work because the junior technician cannot maintain it properly. The country graduates the best technical brains in the world but neglects to teach my plumber how to fix a toilet so it stays fixed. It is still a Brahmin-oriented system of education; those who work with their hands have to learn for themselves”.
“‘When you were there, you wanted to come here. Now that you’re here, you want to go back’. It was when I first realized I had a new nationality: citizen of the country of longing. [...] As I have discovered, having once moved, it is difficult to stop moving”.