Book Review: Bombay To Eternity- Memoirs Of A Laid Back Rebel by Uma Ranganathan

Posted on March 2, 2012

By Neha Bhandarkar:

I say to Sarla, ‘You too should try to meditate.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because meditation cools down your brain. See how much it has helped me.’

‘Sarla chuckles, ‘My brain is cool enough as it is.’

‘But mediation will make it a lot cooler.’

If my brain gets any cooler, I’ll catch a cold!’

Written with absolute candour and humility, Uma Ranganathan in her non-fictional memoir, Bombay to Eternity has explored themes that happen to be serious in nature, but in the constant struggle to live life are often ignored. The author through explorations in space and time has described a journey, which is involved with adventures and is guided by certain fundamental questions. These questions find their orientation in various subjects that people usually don’t have time to go into anymore these days, except in the hastiest fashion. The questions have to do with friendship, with love, and how to live life with each other. They are also concerned with figuring out what is right and wrong for you without really constantly checking on what other people have to say about it. The questions also revolve about re-examining the taboos and prejudices which tend to complicate our lives. These questions also deal with the process of habituation, which over time has strained our vision and turned us into subhuman creatures and also with the exploitation due to this mishandling of our own fellow beings that is rapidly leading us down the road to extinction.

Though the book deals with the pivotal subject of psychology, psycholytic psychotherapy (psychotherapy based on the use of psychoactive substances), it is nowhere near to being an intellectual or an academic exercise. Though the reader might find the references quite repetitive in nature but the book illustrated is a result of the exercise that she has undertaken, which is a personal expression of what actually are universal truths, that are present for all of us (and not the author alone) to discover in our own way that is unique to character.

The observations in most parts have emanated from the author’s personal experiences which are sketched in the background of the city of Bombay giving due consideration to its chaotic noise and pollution, it also ironically offers its share of warmth, bonhomie and the delight of commonly perceivable sights and smells. Divided equally over ten chapters and in first person, the author has finely crafted her ‘life story’ in a way that the readers not necessarily spontaneous but after an eventual time, get to have that self-realization that has been revealed in the book.

From one of the lessons, Adventures in Consciousness, where the author finds her relationship with her close friend Karen to be questionable,
Karin: ‘You know what it is we’re really afraid of?’

‘What?’ I said nervously.

She said, ‘I think its fear of closeness.’

There was a long pause. That’s the advantage of the dark. You can keep quiet for a long spells without feeling the need to say something. You immerse yourself in the silence of the dark, let the brooding quality of night work through you and let your mind come up with words at its own pace.

The author and her relationship with different men and women which she has unable to ever decipher gives a typically relative idea to the reader.

I looked fleetingly now, at the odd involvement that had occupied me in the last several years, with men back home in Bombay. I thought of Paddy back in India and of another couple of people I had got to know during my trips abroad in the recent past…..earlier I had presumed that my relationships hadn’t worked out because the men I’d been involved with had been the wrong ones for me. That they had been too self-centred. That they had not been really interested enough. That they were incapable of listening. That all men wanted from a man was sex, food, a wardrobe full of clean clothes and someone to listen to how their day had been at the office. That men were incapable of really understanding women….. Why single out men, I went on to wonder. In actual fact, i couldn’t even get on with the women in my life. Closeness in any sphere seemed to have a mysterious way of breeding feeling of hostility. I thought of the moments of aggression between even Karin and me as well as with several other women friends i had known in Bombay. At the height of our arguments with each other, my former school friend Annie and I had even thrown books and cutlery at each other in our attempt to make a point or end a bitter debate.

Stillness, Spirituality, the most difficult ability to patiently listen, Closeness, and similar such facets that have more to do with the mental condition and less with the self-being when we knowingly or unknowingly ignore are aptly covered. And when do not want to really go deep and think about what is in point of fact happening to our lives. Though the book seems to give an incomplete picture through various characters that happen to be the driving forces of her life and present a picturesque rerun of what is not usually expected out of them. For example, Sarla, her cook maid and also a confidante in her old age is one such character whose amusing incessant chatter of bizarre stories helps in the company of the author. Her camaraderie with the author is noteworthy.

Insinuated in a subtle manner Bombay to Eternity is more of an exploration that the reader can indulge in with the author, in a spirited fun, curiosity and also with concern, concern that has to formulate over the core of their lives together. It can be deeply felt if seen through the author’s point of view. Presenting a radically unorthodox plot (not compulsorily!), the urban laid-back rebel penetrates into the universal excavation of self-being.

‘Looking back on your life, you see that there are times when it couldn’t have been any other way. You get a sense of the invisible hand up in the sky, having silently and mysteriously laid out the path you were meant to follow in the interminable forest surrounding you.’

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