More than a decade ago looking for our first home in Bombay, I learnt the value of a view. Road-view, garden-view, Sea-view, Sea-Link view.. if it’s the view you want, usually there is a premium to pay. This one time I was called excitedly by my broker to come and see a ‘hot property’ with a Sea Link view that I could buy without selling my kidneys.
As I peered out of the window, there it was! The newly inaugurated Bandra-worli Sea Link gloriously standing at exactly 90 degree to my vision. Tall and proud amidst the glorious ocean, with the beautiful highway bordering this gorgeous sight. Taking in the beautiful scene, my eyes moved downwards to the….. what?! What was this?
I looked at my broker with curious disbelief.. “Yeh kya hai?”
You see, between the window and the view to the glorious engineering marvel, was a large makeshift mini trash-dumping ground that was filthy and mildly stinking. With the confidence of a serial fibber he says, “Look straight na madam, don’t get distracted by looking down.”
I heard that again and again. “There are slums on the left madam, but don’t look there.” “See the window in the hall has a good view, don’t look outside the window in your bedroom.” “Just keep the curtains to this window drawn if you don’t want the neighbours to see inside the hall.”
In a year where a global catastrophe has inflicted trauma on almost everyone, I often stood looking outside from my window, watching the eerie silence. Broken often by the intercom.. “Madam, another parcel.” Veggies, groceries ordered for delivery. Truly isolated from human beings, barely glancing at faceless people with gloved hands in the compulsory interactions one needed to have.
Overcompensating for lack of human contact, I could view the skyline from my room, as I attended call after call, desperate to feel like I’m doing something! I could speak to Sunanda once in a few weeks.
After the initial hiring conversation I had never had a real chat with Sunanda, who kept our home so clean while I was away at work. Post lockdown, our conversations were largely telephonic, with her repeated questions on when I will ask her to resume work and my repeated assurances that I will support her even if I don’t use her services.
“Will you let me come everyday? I will do everything you want.” It was her first afternoon back after eight months. “Why are you worried? Do you need any help?” I started reaching for my wallet, to which she was even more agitated, unable to articulate. “No. No help, I want work”.
How does one mourn loss of dignity? She couldn’t go on. And I couldn’t too.
With an unreliable drunk husband, two very young children, cooped up in a one room space twenty four hours a day, what did Sunanda see when she looked out the window from her room? Was there even a window in her room?
Isolation can make us introspect, grow and improve. Isolation can make us selfish, self-serving and self-absorbed. Prisoners in a room of our choice, we are immersed in a carefully curated reality with news, friends, opinions of our choice. It is easy to forget that there is a vast universe that is not kind to all.
In a beautiful film called Saath Saath, a young couple in a very humble, small first home, sings these lines immersed in their own joy.
“Yeh tera ghar, yeh mera ghar, Kisiko dekhna ho gar,
Toh pehle aake maangle, Teri nazar meri nazar.”
“This is our house, and if someone wants to see it, then they should ask for our eyes, so they can see it the way we see it, so they can see it from our perspective.”
A view without a perspective, a context is misleading. A context without empathy breeds selfishness.
Empathy should be like oxygen in our atmosphere. Available for all. But how can it be if we close our eyes? Why should we close our eyes? ... to the filth, the shanties, the slums while we focus on the glorious Sea Link? We are all in this mess of life together, so if there’s fixing to be done, should we not be doing it together?
With no filters, no frills, just a nazar while we take in the views from our rooms.