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.