Queenie Sukhadia: Why I Write About Mumbai

The Cover Of A City of Sungazers, published by Bombaykala

A City of Sungazers was born out of my looking at Mumbai, and watching how the skyline rose and dipped – stretched up with the skyscrapers and then bowed down with the corrugated steel-roofed slums. I was fascinated with how these structures were packed in so tight, how they both spilled into each other and yet managed to carve out their own space where the other could not intrude. I wanted to explore how these different ecosystems exist within the space of Mumbai. These six stories emerged out of a desire to investigate a jagged skyline.

If you ask me why I write about Mumbai, what it is about this city that captivates me, I will say the following:

I write about Mumbai because it is both Bombay and Bambai. Bombay – the perfumed hand that reaches out of a half-rolled down car window and places a crumpled ten-rupee note in the street urchin’s hand, making sure the skins don’t touch. Bambai – the sunburnt cupped palm that receives the note; the face that smiles at the darkened window, a smile aimed more at itself than at the benefactor it cannot see; the emaciated body that curls up under the highway and closes its eyes to dreams of one day perfuming its hands with soft cream and reaching out to place a crumpled ten-rupee note in another sunburnt hand.

Courtesy Queenie Sukhadia

I write about Mumbai because I know Mumbai. I have walked its potholed roads, tucked watery pani puris in my mouth as a heavy monsoon rain lashed down on my umbrella, spent many a sunset on the Marine Drive parapet watching the evening tide come in. I know its nuances. Its subtleties – ones that reveal themselves only to eyes that know where to look – are familiar to me.

Just the other day, a friend asked me what the difference between the usage of “frock” and “dress” was in Mumbai, and the words came spilling out like a knee-jerk reflex. From the conversations I have eavesdropped on and the storefronts I have mindlessly seen roll past me on my routine journeys within the city, I came to realize that “frock” was a word that was more popular in the lexicon of the lower to middle class section of the city, whereas “dress” was more often uttered by the elite. Why was this, I thought to myself as I explained this subtle difference in diction to my friend – the elite travel, hence better exposure to Western vocabularies, and so “frock” takes on a more cosmopolitan character and becomes “dress”? Mumbai is the wet clay where socioeconomic, cultural, sexual and religious differences settle to make the gentlest imprints. This book was born out of a desire to deepen these impressions – to tease them out so that what is intuitive to me is distanced and I can re-view and re-present them with the fascination they deserve.

I write about Mumbai because I don’t know it as well as I would like to. There are worlds pressed into this city that are so translucent that one can walk past them everyday, look at them and yet look through them, completely missing their intricacies. Every one knows about the seamy underbellies of the city – the dance bars, the prostitution, the drugs. What happens when this part of the city – the one that is thought to exist only on the fringes – is made the center? Do the margins reveal new things about the center? My book is an experiment in exploring questions such as these.

I write about Mumbai because it is home to the utterly mundane and the utterly fantastic.

I write about Mumbai because only in a city like this can they exist side by side.

I write about Mumbai because only a city like Mumbai can allow the utterly mundane to hold the utterly fantastic and disguise the utterly fantastic as the utterly mundane.

Queenie Sukhadia
A City of Sungazers is Ms. Sukhadia’s debut novel, published by Bombaykala, and available for sale at Amazon, both digitally and in print.
Set in the city of Mumbai, where glitz and grime jostle against each other, the novel looks at the city through six unique perspectives, A City of Sungazers powerfully binds together a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of Mumbai and explores what happens when identities marked by socioeconomic, religious and sexual differences are brought up close.
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