Monday, June 14, 2010

From the heart of Mumbai

From the heart of Mumbai

They did not open the doors. I wonder why. The whole of Mumbai was flooded and people were subjected to the worst.
July 26th 2005 was a day most of the citizens of Mumbai wish to forget. In the 24-hour period from 8.30 a.m. July 26 to 8.30 a.m. July 27, the city's suburbs received an wrecking 944.2 mm (94.42 cm) of rain. Much of this fell within a 12-hour period that also coincided with the high tide. Water entered the city.
Whilst the many stepped forward, few did not. Like cars that did not stop when you thumbed or restaurants that did not let you in or swanky hotels who were more worried about their upholstery. Were these the soulless that inhabited the city? Were they, the ones who closed the mouth of the river Mithi? Or were they simply busy? Or they did not care?
I stayed back in office at South Mumbai totally cut off since phones were also not working. I went to the Taj at Colaba after having walked around the street not knowing what was happening in North Mumbai where I lived. I was happy, to see the officials of Taj let in drenched men and women into their realm of warmth and grandeur. And I saw the staff treat every sodden person in the same manner as he would a guest.
Mumbai is a fabric, an intricate tapestry woven by many people. At times of crisis, as such we see the true colours of this fabric. Talks of Mumbai earning and Delhi spending will soon be forgotten. We will forgive those who did not let us in. We may even justify their behaviour and shame them. We will take recourse in the fact that nature has humbled us for we were the ones who saw the Mercedes and the 800 floating together, we were the ones who saw a Bisleri water bottle being distributed indiscriminately, we were the ones who saw strangers lending their mobile phones, we were the ones who guided the pregnant women to safety, we were the ones who knew people who sheltered the unknown, we thanked the unknown BEST bus driver for taking us through the waters, we stretched our hand out to pull out a street urchin.
Yes we saw it all!
Aren’t they who did not let us, in already damned?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Howrah bound!

Arun watched the missybabas in awe. They were eleven months and three weeks old. Next Sunday was the first birthday and a party. He had never seen such white children except on the foreign channels on the television.
‘Arun, next Sunday, at the club. There is a magic show, music, chocolate cake; the memsahib said brushing her hair.
‘Yes, Madam, he replied in pidgin English.
He looked hopefully at the memsahib’s face. She sailed away but Sita, his mother looked at him proudly.
‘The twenty five rupees that I spent on the English Rapidex has not gone down the drain, she thought.

Sita lived with the memsahib and took care of the memsahib’s children. Arun worked with a plumber and lived with a distant cousin in a shanty forty kilometres away from the memsahib’s large home. Every Sunday Arun visited his mother and played with the missybabas. They climbed over him, pulled his ears, hair and sometimes pried opened his mouth to see if he was eating a toffee.
Sita would look apprehensively at the memsahib whenever they played thus. The memsahib had views on hygiene and Arun used a twig to brush his teeth. But the missybabas laughter relaxed all the rules in the house.

‘Ah! The memsahib has invited you. What a nice woman!’
‘I will wear the shirt that Tutu gave.’
‘Which Tutu and why did Tutu give you a shirt?’
Arun frowned and did not reply and Sita did not press further.
‘I hope Tutu is not of a lower caste. He comes once a week and if I nag …….Sita thought.
‘Are you eating well? You look very thin, Sita said serving him scrambled egg.
Arun sat on the floor in the kitchen and ate after the memsahib had finished.
‘No……Ali….No Ari..he laughed and restrained the missybabas from eating off his plate.
Arun could not sleep well that night. He dreamed of waltzing with the memsahib and doing the twist with the missybabas. And prattling in English.
The Sunday arrived and Arun spent a considerable amount of time preening. He purchased a plastic red train wrapped in red gelatine paper for the missybabas. He knew they liked wrappers more than the gift.
‘Choo! Choo! Kolkata,Howrah, Mumbai..they would play with the train.
Arun met Baba, the memsahib’s driver at the gate of the club.
‘Wear this and tell everyone that the party is upstairs, Baba instructed throwing a packet at him.
‘Has the memsahib purchased new clothes for me? He asked expectantly.
‘Be clear and don’t babble in English, Baba laughed and walked away.

Arun opened the packet to first see a round red nose of a clown and then a clown’s gear. He looked to see memsahib’s friends accompanied by their maids carrying well fed babies get out of their cars.
He slowly wore the slightly large dress over Tutu’s shirt and began directing guests,’ Upstairs, Up’ ‘On the top’. In English.
Nobody recognized him. He was the clown.
He looked beneath the clown’s dress to see that Tutu’s shirt was smooth.
‘Memsahib will send someone to fetch me once all the guests have reached’

However no one came to fetch him. It was getting dark and he knew that the missybabas would get cranky with sleep. He climbed a stair or two and then sprinted down afraid to leave his post.
He waited out till the party got over. Desolately he played with the gelatine paper making a crinkly sound.
‘Goo! Blub! Blub, he heard.
The missybabas, carried by their cousins were looking at him through sleepy eyes and smiled knowingly.
Choo! Choo! Kolkata,Howrah, Mumbai…he cried.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Urchin.

As I waited at the bus stand,
Shielding my eyes from the wind blown sand,
and felt the earth rotate by,
echoes of human being’s anguished wails and cries,

The sun in a scathing rage,
Disallowing the entry of the rain,
Destiny turning life’s every page,
And man carrying his cross of pain,

Then I saw this little girl
with a toothy grin,
I realized she was a price of some adult’s sin,
Her hair brown,tied up to a pig tail,
Walked up to me,confident of making a sale.

She stood wih aplomb,clanked her bowl in front of me,
and suddenly life’s irony laughed for me to see,
Her bowl was a Budweisser beer can,
Here she was standing naked feet and hungry,
and asking for alms in a premium product can.

I stuffed my hands deep down in my pocket,
and saw her eyes gleam in their dark socket,
Took out a five rupee coin
and heard it clink in her beer tin.

Oh god!why did you give me a rupee more and her a less,
I thought equal was our share in this cosmic mess,
Your wisdom I can’t understand,
or is it that the lines were simply strong in my hand.

Other passerbys rebuked me,
maybe right in their view,
and prophesised she would my rupee squander,
but I never let my thought wander.

Proving their prophecy true,
buying ribbons of differant hue,
saw her at the peddler,
she was nothing but a mere toddler.

Well,I shrugged my hands,
who am I to challenge life’s command,
maybe that is why I am here,
to bring back a smile and cheer.

But now bereft of my rupee,
It was very simple for me to see,
I had to walk back home,
The sky a reminder of a ribbon flying somewhere alone.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Letter.

Dear Ashfaque,

‘I saw you on the television. That should have been said with pride but I am ashamed. Maulvisaab was there too. It’s been five years since I wrote you. I never returned your telephone calls. But today……I saw Pari’s body lying dead on the snow. Her red salwar and the dried blood on the white snow seemed like the vermillion dot on her forehead. And inset was your face gaunt and your eyes…desperate.
You never ever wanted a separate room and today you want a separate state…...’
When you went missing I thought you ran away to Delhi or Mumbai. Maybe because I could not afford to buy you a play station or that fancy phone you wanted. And today you own an Uzi.
‘Allah! Give me the strength to bear this’.
Did Lal Uncle plead for his life when you shot him? Did you have the courage to look into his eyes? Lal Uncle carried you to the school on his shoulders and Pari was your playmate. The television girl said you…I can’t bring myself to write what you did to Pari. Like always please say, ‘Amma, they are all lying’. This time I want to believe you.
How many more lives did you take? What did you want? Lal Uncle’s land or Pari’s hand? Remember the rhyming game we played? That was such a long time ago!

When you were very young, the town witnessed a bloody riot. The two communities were killing each other. I was afraid for you. Just the two of us in a house with a door that could be broken with a little brute force. Lal uncle took us to the safety of his house. Lal Uncle answered stoically to the everyone who came looking for us, ‘She is my sister and that brat is my nephew. If God wills he will take care of my cloth shop.’
And that day when you did not return from college, Pari went looking for you. It was then that she told me about you leading rallies and making political speeches in the college ground. Seeing my worried face she consoled, ‘Everyone wants to be a young, handsome rebel. And our laughter echoed in the valley.
The valley is tainted with blood and the spring flowers look a deathly pale. Military convoys pass on the winding roads where once upon a time shepherds walked. The scented whiff of the kahwa is replaced with the nauseous smell of gunpowder. Most of the times there is a curfew and I dare not step out. I have neither neighbours nor friends. All are killed or have fled. I stay alone in this house that has been in my family for ages. The roof has been destroyed by bombs and that stump in the garden was once our apple tree. I have stopped trying to figure out who is bombing whom. And when rarely I am asked about you, I long to say he is dead..
Son, I write this letter to ask you of a favour. Promise me that you will oblige.
Please spare me of the indignity. Kill me.
Khuda Hafiz. God be with you.’

News from the wire agency: Ashfaque, twenty four, a dreaded terrorist wanted by the government was found dead in a tent in the Hind Kush area. Apparently, he had killed himself using his revolver. The reason for his suicide is unknown. Found on his person was a letter written presumably by his mother. The folds of the letter were torn indicating that it was opened and probably read many times.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

They grow and go!

I peered through the high cast iron gates to see my three old twins, Aaliyah and Aaria walk hand in hand to their class in school. They did not turn back. If they did they would have seen a proud mother albeit a teary eyed one. The distance from the gate to the class may not be more than a meter. For their tiny legs it may seem a long walk. And also considering the fact that most of the times the adults give in to their demand of carrying then and stopping when they like.

The young teacher standing at the gate said in a loud teacher- voice,’ Parents, please stay away from the gate. If your children see you, then they will start crying’.
Perhaps she does not understand that all the young ones are preparing for their flight. This is the first step and we watch with trepidation their trajectory.

I turned my back and walked away my thoughts stirred like the ripples created by the migratory birds in the lake near the school. They will soon go to the high school, and then to the university and then maybe to their first jobs. I will be waiting at the gates seeing their journey and praying that they go always together. And some person will be always admonishing me to go away because if they turn they will cry.

The twins paediatrician, a mild mannered Parsi, Dorab always tells me, ‘See, now they don’t cry. They are grown up girls. And sure enough, the doc does not frighten them any more. I look at them and I am wonder struck. Their tiny brains are comprehending this weird logic that we call our reality. I hold on tight to their hands resisting their pressure to break free from me and fall in line with my steps. I understand the dangers they do not. I work hard to make them realise the bad world.

And the day would come when they would introduce me to a man. The man they want to live with. And I am sure to ask a hundred questions forgetting about the rebellious ways I defied my parents. Their hands no longer little, would be adorned with henna designs and they would be holding the hands of their partners ready to step into a world of their own.
I would be still waiting at the gate and seeing their journey. If they turn back they would see a teary eyed mother.