Mumbai

Covers

There are some covers that stay. Many others are coming off. And yet others are coming on.


The rains usually bring in fantastic innovations from Mumbaikars. As we rankle the informativeness quotient ( if one such exists ) of our brains and cover up our bikes. Our cars and such else. Of course, there are many types of covers.



Thick leather ones. Thin transparent plastic ones. Run down ones etc. The idea is to keep the rain from doing damage to the bike.

And in summer time, there are other less common covers. Like this one. Seemed to be made of a fur like material. But one cant care about the fur.


Its about the looks that this fur will furnish. From ‘gaaawd’ to ‘yeaaaah’ !
And there are those that take care special care of these covers. Designing them meticulously and wearing them neatly.

For instance, this taxi.


And of course, this goes beyond pure functionality of protection. That would lead us to people and their dispositions. But we will not go there today.

But of course, people are wearing this funny green masks these days.


Swine Flu cover. Scenes of passengers in a air-conditioned car wearing such masks with their drivers not wearing any, shows more than what the mask can cover.

Messages and jokes on swine flu hit your phone with an alarming regularity, that beats the virus itself.

One such states, ‘ You wish some people kept their masks on even after the virus is gone’. And almost as a rejoinder came a comment from a colleague. In jest, i presume.

Speaking to another who was talking about a mask, ‘ You don’t need a mask. You already have one on’ !

This swine flu business is beyond me. I’d much rather admire the cover on the taxi meter. Whatsay ?

In-dependence day


So its independence day. Again. At the apartment complex.

The security guards create the background synchronised movement. With some loud banging of their boots and arching their vocal chords! Children play in gay abandon. And some stare with surprise at the normally ‘normal’ security guards playing ‘statue’ !

Kurtas rub shoulders with Hawaii shirts. And a ‘i love New York’ t-shirt, has the Tricolour pinned on it. Like the one pinned on every other shirt and saree. There is discussion about the water problem and swine flu. But all of that dies down soon.

The chief guest arrives. The tricolour hoisted and the rose petals fall. And the National anthem is sung. The tricolour continues to struggle to disentangle and catch the breeze !

And of course, a speech. By the immaculately clad chief guest. A speech that broadly rests on Kargil. On India becoming a superpower. Our pride. The army’s brilliance, the economy’s resilience.

There is mention of hunger. Poverty. And such else. A gentle nudge that we all should work towards a greater India. Of course, the sacrifices of ‘our forefathers’ are mentioned.

I sigh, as the speech ends. People shout out ‘Jai Hind’. A kid standing close to me, asks her mother, “Mamma is it ‘Jai Hind‘ or is it ‘Jai Ho‘ ” ! I struggle not to erupt in laughter.

And then, children sing ‘Patriotic songs’ as the lovely lady compering the event says. ‘Patriotic Songs’ gets the emphasis. Many times. Sure thing, that must be specified.

In sometime, i get home. Generally rant, about independence day speeches. About ‘all that empty flowery language and a lack of purpose’ !

And the missus, clearly annoyed, jumps in. ‘So, what would you have talked about if you were giving the speech?”

That catches me by surprise. But i still bravely list out.

Perhaps some stories from everyday lives…. Of teaching children basic manners. The value of money. Water conservation. Closing taps. Treating household help with dignity. Respecting other countries. Other religions. People that are different from us.

Perhaps some stories…. of tolerance and respect for each other. And that means parking cars properly, sorting out garbage, not playing loud music, loudly. Respecting mother Earth…

Independence day is not about a strange alien man or woman who lives somewhere, who will take India and the world to great heights. Its about each one of us. And all of us are dependent on each other…….”

And i notice, she is already walking away. She turns around. And says, ‘Thank God, you didn’t make that speech. People would have moved on before it ended’.

From the other room, she shouts, ‘Now, don’t go put that on your blog’. I think about it. And head here, to post. Heck. Today is independence day !

Happy Independence day people !

VIP !

There have been numerous ads for new flats going on sale. Enticing they seem, from afar. Only when you go closer, do you realise that the asking rate for these flats is an arm and a leg.
From this birth and the next one too.

You drop the idea and want to walk away. Only to be enticed into seeing the sample flat. And the salesman wants you to remove your shoe to go inside and look at the sample flat.

You frown hoping that he gets the translation of the frown as ‘you must be nuts to ask me to remove my shoe’. Surprisingly it works. He asks you not to bother, and leads you to another part of the room. To this box.


He asks you to put your leg into the box. And voila, there is a plastic cover that envelopes the footwear. Like a spiderman web. Or something like that.

And tells you that after walking about in those blue semi-transparent overalls, you can discard the plastic and walk away !! And keep your shoes on.

You stare open mouthed. The salesman is quick to spot that all his talk about the flat, its layout and features didn’t get you as excited as this plastic vending gizmo. He adds. ‘This is for VIP customers sir. We cant ask everybody to remove their shoes’ !

VIP customer ! You try best to control the laugh. A chuckle escapes. And almost at the same time, he says, ‘In the US this is used in hospitals. Doctors use them’.

You are silent. Still struggling to come to terms with a label like VIP customer, and a special distinguishable perk : A blue plastic covering your shoe.

He walks you around the sample flat. It is immaculate. He explains every corner and commode. With a swollen chest and beaming pride, almost certain that he would get you to buy the flat, he asks, ‘So, sir…do you have any questions?’

And you answer. In a hesitant tone.

‘err…can i keep these plastic covers on my shoes?’

His swollen chest shrivels. He still smiles. And walks you to the door.You walk with pride. You are a VIP. With a funny blue plastic on your shoe as proof.

Destiny Gallops

The seamless co-existence of life in all its beauty, pace, strata, speed and such else, needs to be experienced to be understood. Each of us has our own context. And each city has a culture that brings the context alive.

Take Mumbai for instance. The seamelessness gets a new meaning and definition. In the living. In the people. Here is an example, that happened to me. you must not miss.

And on the roads too. Take for instance, this scene. On LBS Marg at 7.30 AM. A raod where big trucks, sleek cars, jazzy SUVs and simple automobiles jostle for space.

And here is another such vehicle.


Cusioned seats. High rise. A grille work that would put Land Rover to shame. Head rests. Number plates. A driver. And a passenger. And a branding of Naseeb Santro! ( Naseeb means Destiny). And of course, Santro stands…. hmm… for Korean !

And as the vehicle moves on, it acquires the distinct disdain for other vehicles on the road. Very much like an foreign SUV ! Nobody honks. Far too less even give it a second look, as they take the trouble of veering out of the way.


It was but logical to do the same. And the reason became apparent. As the signal turned red, the horse power became clearly visible. With red feathers to adorn their forehead, the horses were indeed powering this SUV away !

Some destiny indeed.

The Morning Meeting


Adjacent to where we live here in Mumbai, theres this new apartment complex that’s on its way up. And there is so much life to watch in a construction activity. ( just try watching one)

Different characters adorn the landscape. There are the engineering types. With helmets et al, who stand in a corner and bark. There are the supervisory types who speak both to the workmen and the engineers.

There are the workmen themselves and their wives. Carrying the load up those floors or heaving cement or doing whatever they are paid to do. And activity sees the towers climb up. All the time.

But, there is one group activity that takes place in the morning. And that is the ‘morning meeting’. (I see from the balcony far away from them, and i cant hear a thing of what they say. But looking through the camera’s lens i make my own dialogue. To their gestures and moves).

They sit, usually, in a single file. On those iron rods. And they always seem to be an engaged lot. Often there are the supervisors who seem to be doing all the talking. As the rest of them sip their tea. Or whatever.

Occasionally there are others who point to the building that’s coming up and say something. And then, you can see the supervisors talk for half an hour.

Around them bricks, steel, cement and such else.

Very often, I read my newspapers. with one eye on them and their meetings. Often times, their meetings are far more interesting than the news. For news doesn’t get beyond Swine Flu or dacoity or rape or recession. Or of Buchanan writing a book and every quaint dust particle in the neighbourhood fluttering a protest.

And so, i watch these meetings. One day a neighbour peeps out of his balcony. And sees me seeing them. He smiles at me. ‘Meetings eh !

I nod. And smile.

And then looks into his watch and says, ‘in half an hour, i will be at office. And there will be a meeting there and action replay. And i will be part of the drama’

I want to add..’Perhaps new Scene. Old plot. Same drama ! But he is in a hurry. He is gone. And i tell myself, poor man, he has to play his part. Soon.

And then i hear the missus shout, ‘aren’t you getting late for work‘ . And i look into my watch. And hurry for breakfast.

She spots the hurry. With hands on hips, she asks, ‘so you have a meeting today’. I think of the supervisors below. And let go of a sheepish smile.

Old plot, you see !

Rain Day Lessons

And so its been pouring its heart out. There are puddles on the road, wherever puddles are possible. And wherever not possible, puddles are created. For the road stands ‘washed away’ in bits and pieces.

The rain batters your windshield and your car’s wipers are working overtime. As you constantly hear your tyre finding a fresh pothole. You realise, that its been a wet night.

And then, out of nowhere, you see a thin slender post standing. In the middle of the road. You take this road daily. And you know this post is new. And as you near it, you realise that its a prop. A prop of a old rags and clothes, on an iron rod. Stuck into the road.


Jutting out of the road, almost like a natural formation. Something like a erupting jet stream from a broken underground pipe. ( ‘natural’ for a city dweller ) !!

For a brief moment you wonder who must have put this up. And why should they have done it. The rain continues to fall.

The car behind honks.

You move on. And in some distance a group of men, standing by the side of the road gesticulate. The rains pour on them as well. You realise that there is quite some water on the road. Not only that, there is a steady current, in the water that’s running under your wheels. Although, this is still the same road.

You realise that the men by the side of the road are attempting to guide you. They stand there. Showing you exactly where the potholes are. And you navigate. Looking at where they are pointing their hands. And in a few quick minutes you cross the stretch.

The rain continues to beat your windshield. With the same force with which it beats their back. You watch them through the rivulets of water that are sputtering off your side mirror.

The men have moved on to guide the car behind. Far beyond, the slender post with rags, is still standing.

And you wonder, how often you gladly suffer, so that someone else has it slightly easier. You hear the rain drops fall on the roof. Silence envelopes your mind.

And your soul as well.

Pleasing the rain God !

The rains have played hide and seek. Especially with the Met Department. Turning up when the Met writes off. And pouring through the roof, when there is ‘No Chance’ of rain ! That apart, the municipal corporation has effected a 30 % water cut which has had 100 % of the media make 150 % more noise !


Suddenly, the prospect of the next summer going without water in the tap, is very real. And as suddenly as that, th
ere are newspaper clippings, figuring on the apartment’s notice board. Asking all to ‘spend water wisely’ !

And of course, there are these small notices which have periodically appeared just outside the apartment lift. Like this one. “As per BMC Notice, there will be short supply of water. Please co-operate’ !


You cant miss such notices. And if you are in a naughty mood, ‘please co-operate’ can conjure up many interesting things for your mind.

But quite often, there is conversation about this ‘notice’ in the lift. All the way up. A conversation that dies off, only when people reach their respective floors.

Ranging from the most common ‘This is ridiculous’ to other strands of ‘What do they expect us to do. Dig wells here? or “why don’t they just drill ten more wells here, we will all pay types”. ( All in accents of a distinctly foreign land which i spell as ‘HBO’).

Contempt for mother Earth & mankind and/or wearing stupidity as a valour medal get my gut. They look at me and other ‘dimwits who preach conservation with a certain unconcealed disdain which is fully reciprocated.

Many times i wonder if the rain Gods are playing hide & seek just to have some fun at the expense of such folks. That’s my grand premise.

Anyways, here i am. In the lift. And there is a family : husband, wife. two kids. And they converse. Between them, of course. I know this gent. On previous occasions, we have had, lets put it this way, ‘differences of opinion’ on water conservation.

And so, the man goes on. ‘These admin fellows, they are not going to get any result with such generic messages like ‘please co-operate’. They must mention, exactly what we should do to conserve water. With a double emphasis on EXACTLY.

Yes. Yes’. I go in my mind. Looking into the corners of the lift. They have to tell you EXACTLY how many litres of water you need to wash your teeth, clean your face. And of course, they have to tell you to close the tap tight. To wash cars lesser …just to think of water.To educate your children…… THEY have to tell you all of that !

And just as i was thinking that, the kid says, ‘big deal dadda. Don’t take bath. Apply the extra perfume. Which you anyways do every weekend’. With a similar double emphasis on ‘EVERY’

My eyes try to look into the man’s eyes. He looks at me. For a brief while. He then looks away to search for mysterious cobwebs in a super clean lift. Theres a deafening silence.

I don’t know about the rain God. But i am having a ball. But you know what, since then, we have been having rains. Serious rains.

Drives. Part – II

Read Part – I here

Its morning. Meenakshi temple at Madurai. We stand outside in the queue. There is a puja on, inside. And we are in the queue. And i watch this man, with a giant ‘fan’ made of peacock feathers.

With one sweeping movement of his old frail hands holding the giant fan, he directs some still air onto sweat drenched devotees.

Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Everybody. For a brief, a very brief moment, are comforted with that muscle powered gust. And i watch. As i have been watching him ever since i was a small kid.

His frail frame gives away the fact that he has kept at ‘fanning’ for a long time. And he keeps at it. Even when nobody was watching. Even when nobody specifically asked for it. His body is frailer. The man himself has become older. The fan, though, with peacock feathers et al is the same.

What must drive the likes of this old man? I don’t know. He doesn’t give a clue.


Its another morning. Madurai. And i walk by this sugarcane juice machine. Its too early for the familiar sugarcane juice vendor. But he will be in. Soon.

To stow in the sugarcane, and give that wheel a strong twist, arching every sinew and causing his biceps to bulge. And of course, some there would be some fresh juice for thirsty throats ! My brother has been a regular here. For 20 plus years.

Ever since the price of sugarcane juice was Re. 1/-. In 20 odd years, the price of sugarcane juice has moved by all of 6 rupees. And the chap is still at it. At the same roadside. Sugarcane. With the same Wheel. And all.

He gives you a good glass full. His glasses are clean. He does not overcharge. He adds that dash of ginger and cuts open those giant ice cubes. To be just right for the juice that you are drinking. Every single time, with a perfection of a 6 sigma factory ! For 20 plus years. Modern day corporate world will dub him strange names.

Thats immaterial. For he is a happy man.

What is material to this post is this : What drives this man? I don’t know. The wheel doesn’t give a clue.

And then these last lines on the memorial rush back to the mind. ‘his love of justice and his kindly heart endeared him to all classes of the community. and thus he bore without abuse, the grand old name of Gentleman’.

There is an elegance in a pioneers work. And theres another elegance in the lives of ordinary men and women. Who go about living this ‘one life’.

And i think. Of that giant peacock fan. And that wheel. And wonder. About life. People. Men. And their drives.

In praise of braids

The braids have almost but disappeared. (Except in rope designs, ofcourse). In the neighbourhoods that I live in. Or maybe, I am not looking thoroughly. But their omni presence in smaller neighbourhoods bring about the curiosity about what makes them disappear from the big cities !

‘It takes a while’ said a young mom back in the city. And went on to explain that hair has to be oiled well, combed free of small intertwining, and then, carefully ‘woven’ together and finished with a flourish with a striking red ribbon! (statutory disclaimer: This is both a recounted and translated version. So, mistakes could exist in the order and content. Please do not attempt it in this order, without expert help).

With fast lifestyles, TV and late nights, there’s just about time to make it to the school bus before the helpful school bus driver’s second honk! And of course, with twin careers (both in knots) and thoughts braided within the brain, who wants one (or two) more outside? And not in the least, the kids!



But, this is still in vogue. Atleast in South India. Atleast in villages. And most definitely, in certain sections of society. Where the hair is worked on with care. And the braids come on with a certain shiny oily elegance. Finished with love and a flourish of white Jasmine to go with the gloss of oiled hair topped with a blazing red of the ribbon.

I am told by people with insider information, that this process helps in strengthening hair! I have the faintest of ideas. The balding plate is further excuse. The closest that I have come to such knotty affairs in recent times is knowing Lolla Kutty has a group on Facebook. (Of which I am yet to become a member. Ok ?) Just saying.

The travelers roving eye spots many things. Many stay knotted in the mind or on the camera. Some find a way to the blog. This was one such.

The Red Sumo philosophy !

The morning rush hour has slices of life to offer. Many times i wonder, why all this has to happen in the morning. To me ( only ). On a week day.


This red Tata Sumo was ahead of me today. Holding up all traffic with its confounding slow pace and a strangely meandering wobble. I thought this car had a flat tyre.

But the chap behind me neither saw the wobble or my thinking. He was seething. And i could realise that he seethed through his horn. Blaring.

The whimper of the pace of the Sumo and the madness of the honking behind, had me in a state of a juxtaposed animation. Not suspended. But juxtaposed. I swore at Murphy. And wondered if he had made unannounced plans for cohabiting with me.

Thankfully, in some time, with some dexterity (that can give me the right to claim that i too drove in Mumbai), i pulled away.

But, i was not quite prepared for this.


Later in the day, i showed these pictures around. To colleagues and any other that might care. And asked them to come up with ‘what it means’ to them.

And of course, i got well thought through answers.Ranging from ‘holistic perspective’, ‘economic spectrum’, ‘human conditions’ to ‘life cycle’.

Wonder what your mind comes up with when looking at these pictures.

Frankly. I think. People are just getting ready for the Mumbai monsoon !

Whatsay ?