Monday, September 29, 2008

The Brooklyn Bridge

The way the human brain associates certain sights, sounds and smells with certain places or incidents is quite amazing, and it never fails to surprise me how a particular tune on radio or a particular smell brings old memories flooding into the mind. However, when I started walking on the Brooklyn Bridge from Lower Manhattan last Sunday afternoon, I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams what feelings that walk would bring back.

The walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back reminded me of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. To be more precise, I was reminded of walking over the wooden pontoon bridges built across the Ganga during the Kumbh Mela on a winter afternoon in Allahabad.

Absurd as it may seem, there were indeed a few points of similarity between the two experiences. The pontoon bridges are made of wooden planks covered by steel plates; the walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge is also made of wooden planks. A cold wind was blowing despite the strong sun, and the temperature was just right to remind of the sunny January afternoon in north India. The walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge is above the road level, and only walking or cycling is allowed on it. In the Kumbh Mela too, no vehicles are allowed on the crowded days. Only people walking.

Hordes of people walking together, for the same purpose. For a pilgrimage. That's what I felt walking on the Brooklyn Bridge: people had come on a pilgrimage.

Hundreds of people, from all over the world. From all age groups. From all ethnic and religious groups. In retrospect, I realise that this was the biggest point of similarity that brought back the memories of the Kumbh Mela to my mind. Walking among those hundreds of people who were all behaving like excited children gave me that feeling. Some people were alone, some in pairs, and some had large groups. Some had large SLRs, some had small point-and-shoot cameras and some were content to shoot with their cell phones. But everyone was behaving very similarly. Some were sitting down in the middle of the road to capture a low angle shot of the bridge, some others were excitedly pointing out the downtown and midtown skylines to their companions, some people were busy matching the downtown skyscrapers with their engraved pictures and names on the bridge. Some single travellers (like me) and some couples requested others to take their photos with the skyline as the background. Some others grinned at their camera held in their outstretched hand and tried to take photos of themselves. Some were wandering onto the bike lane with childlike care freeness only to be screamed at by the bicycle riders. It was very clear that they had come to enjoy every moment of it.

And as I was one of this crowd, I can testify to the fact that this excitement and exhilaration was justified. As one looks from the Brooklyn Bridge towards the Lower Manhattan skyline, "awe" is the only word that comes to mind. "Manhattan doesn't have a distinctive skyline anymore after 9/11," my cousin brother says. "Dubai or Singapore is much more unique than that," he adds. He is probably right. But one has to remember, the name Manhattan and the word skyscraper have been used together for so long, and so many of the worlds tallest buildings have come up in this city time and again, that just looking at the skyline creates a fantastic feeling. Then there is the New York Harbour and the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and Manhattan midtown and the Manhattan Bridge on the other side: it's a view only seen to be believed. I'm sure the others shared my feelings. Besides, Osama Bin Laden might have destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers, but he can never destroy the millions of images of those towers both in print and in the peoples' minds, and they look even taller and more magnificent than they really were on that skyline when imagination is superimposed with reality.
On my fifth birthday, my uncle presented me with a book called "Encyclopaedia of the World". Even before I could read and understand that book, I used to love a photo that was spread over the first two pages of that large book: it showed lower Manhattan from the air, and those buildings seemed so fascinating to me then that I spent hours looking at that photo. Besides, a person whose first movie experience was watching "King Kong" hiding his face in his mother's breast naturally grows up loving this city, even if it is on the other side of the world. And as I stood gazing at the New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge last Sunday, I suddenly realised how the bridge cables nearly formed the famous message printed on peoples' T-shirts all around me. I had to only supply a little "love" to get this photo!


  1. was good to go through all ur blogs since u reached US.

  2. Tomar lekhata pore ananda pelam, Sankhar ta pore bhay korlo. Kumbhomelar sathe mil peyechho, aro anek jinis, ja ekhane hayto loksho koroni, okhane dekhe ekhankar sathe mil pele bhalo lagbe. pore bhalo laglo.