Chapter 16 “Us and Them (And after all, we’re only ordinary men.)”
It started out as an ordinary day. Cars were plying their routes and pedestrians were rushing to their destinations. By now Samir had dispatched all the pages of the Sahityashastra. On the outside, everything appeared the same.
Two schoolboys strolled homewards around noon. As they walked along Chowpatty, they found themselves taking giant steps, as if they were on the moon. Too awe-struck to say anything, they noticed that other pedestrians were also walking that way, with giant steps. They were sliding, gliding, rising into the air, and trailing down again. Anyone looking at Marine Drive and Chowpatty would have observed a strange sight, like a slow-motion film, with people flying a foot into the air and then drifting down, spanning a distance of about six feet.
At first, the people were shocked out of their wits. They felt apprehensive. They couldn’t quite master the six-foot step. Some of them even fell down. But gradually they began to enjoy it. Soon they were speeding along the pavement.
Gradually, the sight spread to other parts of the city. Suddenly, one of the schoolboys at Chowpatty rose into the air, spiraling higher into the sky. The other boy soon followed. When they halted, they were hovering about a thousand feet high in the sky, the height of a skyscraper. Suspended, they discovered they could walk in the air just by thinking the thought. No dull, mechanical motion and transformation was required. They could descend if they wanted, or stay up if they wanted. And they chose to stay up.
Ten more people joined them. Some of them drove by in a car. The car braked, they climbed out and flew up. In about an hour, a hundred people were circling and dancing in the sky. No one said anything. They were too excited for words. Even the children knew it wasn’t just a matter of fun. By this time, of course, most of the pedestrians on the road were trickling upwards.
Two hours later, the same thing began to happen in different parts of the city. In about five hours, over a hundred thousand people were perched in the sky. Harold, too, who had been walking along the Causeway, found himself floating in the air.
“I tell you this is a symbol,” one of the people said.
“No, no, it’s the real thing,” his companion said.
“It’s both,” a third said.
“It’s the collective unconscious,” another said.
“It’s a space. A space for us to be,” a fifth person said.
“That’s right. A space free of constraints,” a different person said.
“It’s a space of pure desire,” another said.
“What does it all mean?” an eighth person said.
Later that day, one by one, people willed themselves down.
By nightfall, everyone was ensconced in their homes and asleep. Not a word was mentioned in the press for once. The whole city had participated in the event. There was nothing to tell.
Bombay had become conscious of itself.