At the traffic lights, there was a girl, younger than me, but on the street, ages are hard to define. She was a flower seller. She was selling moghra flowers, sweet scented jasmine flowers. Was it morning, evening? Cannot remember. She smiled at me, and I smiled at her. And I knew in that moment, I would never forget her. She was my last real, true memory of the Bombay I had loved with every fibre of my being. She was staying, and I was leaving. I wanted to stay, maybe she wanted to leave? But her smile was pure joy, pure innocence - she was me, and I was her. It was a simple exchange. For her, brief, fleeting. It is not possible she has remembered me. But I, have remembered her, and will remember her, all my life.
Yesterday my mother and I watched Slumdog Millionaire. You have all watched it, no doubt, and could critique it far better than I. For it did not move me as I feared it would. The colours seemed bleached into a new Mumbai totally unfamiliar to eyes that have been faithful to the old haunts for long echoing years. Who or what was I looking for that I did not find in the film? Myself, perhaps.
Has my flower seller grown up? Has she survived the streets? Left the streets? Was she in Slumdog Millionaire? I will never know. All I know is I left a piece of my aching heart behind, with a stranger who has never felt like a stranger, in a city which was once my home, and now can never be.
Photos: Rubina Ali (young Latika); Freida Pinto (Latika) from Slumdog Millionaire