I can taste the sea; the breeze is trapping grains of salt in my knotty hair. On the water, colourful fishing boats bob up and down, a bit more violently than the slow moving tourist ferries. Far off on the horizon, cruise liners and navy ships eye-ball each other, standing as still as a hot Mumbai afternoon.
It looks as it always has – regal grey stone, red roofing tiles, delicate lattice balconies, stained glass, white trim, and a flutter pigeons surrounding it. At the entrance a moustachioed guard welcomes visitors, his uniform is a crisp white, his turban is red.
The sun hits my eye, forcing me to squint, as I look for the cracks. I see none.
There’s a workman, maybe a carpenter, maybe a painter – a fixer of some sorts, at one of the windows. He has one foot on the window sill, and the other against the side frame, at a 45 degree angle. His clothes seem colourless, blending into the stone, but his hair is jet black against the white trim. I can’t see if he has a harness, but he works with the assurance of one.
It’s only when I pay (extra) close attention to his workspace that I can make out the new paint from the old. The difference is subtle, and will be lost in a few months of morning smog and a healthy monsoon – nature the great leveller, hiding scars and restoring colour.
When he hops back into the room and shuts the window, I try to trace the lines again, to find the restored window frame along the old wing. But it’s not easy. I find it, I lose it, I find it, I lose it. Soon my eyes hurt so I stop looking for it.
I had wondered if I’d sense a change, physical or emotional, or something entirely new and complex, but it’s how it always has been –the noise, the sea, the tourists, the crowds. The one visible difference, however, can be seen along the sidewalk, where vendors now sell miniature commandos – tiny moving plastic toy soldiers dressed in army fatigues; they crawl on their stomach, their bodies rubbing against the hard ground, their guns pointing towards a faceless enemy.