While walking in Mumbai today grocery bags in hands, i walked into Bombay, closed-off behind a wonky gate. A minute later, i had passed from Bombay into a forest that had been there from the time tigers roamed here, from before the land had been named.
Leeches hung off ageing wet walls and slithered on the mud. Thankfully, they we not hanging off the leaves that brushed my head as i walked past. I did not go in further. The path narrowed in a few metres and i did not like my chances.
The leeches blew my mind. In the middle of one of the densest cities in the world, miles from any ‘recognised’ forest land, nature was expressing itself as fully as possible in an area humans had closed off from other humans.
The two arms of the gate — they did not meet — were tied together with a jute rope. Barbed wire ran along outwards from the gate. On one side, it had been distended. I had clambered in through that gap. Here, with buildings a difficult stone’s throw away through a thick canopy, the stone path was covered with leaves. The stones soon gave way to mud. The vegetation gradually closed in as i walked on and the squelching under my feet grew louder even as human sounds faded away and the forest sang louder.
This Land of the Leeches Seasonal National Park™ was a wonder of, among other things, resilience. Of staying alive through a continued onslaught. Of singing in the middle of a human cacophony. Of dancing under the patter of the rain. Of changing from a small-time garbage dump into a forest in the monsoon. Of wriggling under the boot of ‘development’ offering a defiant two-fingered salute.
This place had its own rules and rhythms, and leeches. I had not heard them for two years. They seemed familiar and yet, distant. I paused, breathed in the air, took a few photos, and ran a hand through my hair and around my neck. No leeches yet — i breathed a barely-audible thank you. I turned around and walked out.
The small detour seeded in me a lot of things. Primarily, hope. Of surviving the times i am in, in the places i find myself in. That this is Mumbai, too, even if fleetingly. There is more for me to learn here. There is, possibly — surely — a larger collective learning here too. For all that, i will be back, with salt, a bottle of water and hands free from grocery bags to listen to the forest.