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 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 ?

3 boys and many potholes

7.40 AM. Mumbai

Three boys. All seemingly of different age groups stare at me through the windshield. In between their animated chatter. Two of them in football costume.

The goods van in which they travel hits a pot hole. And another. In a short while my tyres hit the same potholes. I wince. And then let out a yelp as the spine feels the shock offered by the pothole.

I look ahead at the boys. They don’t seem to bother. With all of steel flooring of a good vehicle for a seat, and a metal ledge as a support to hang legs…well.. can be pretty painful. Especially, given the size and strategic battlefield like location of these potholes.

I look at the boys ahead. They seem to be discussing something of importance. I cant fathom what. More importantly, i cant fathom how such potholes dont evoke a flicker of the eyelid!

They smile. They chatter. The one boy that sits on the ledge holds a string that hangs from the roof. Occasionally. Almost by reflex. That’s the only sign that the goods carrier didn’t have superior shock absorbers.

And as each pothole approaches, my heart skips a beat. Most for them. Part for me. The goods carrier hits the pothole. They don’t flinch. And when it comes to my turn, it hurts.

Is it age? Is it youthful exuberance? Is it the joy of company? Is it passion ? Is it football ? Is it joy? Is it holiday season?. Hypotheses galore !

I wonder how it would be to preserve this spirit for a lifetime. To face life’s potholes. And they go their way. In some time i stop. But seems that i have taken them along with me. That moment. The car. The joy of living in the moment.

I don’t know if they made it as ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in their football game. But they sure did make my day.

Point to Point Travel !

From a corner of the eye, the red looming bus with its booming sound and vrooming smoke , coming to a grinding halt was clearly visible.

Immediate clamour ensued. A small door opened. A smattering village got out. And another got in. They were all headed towards some place else. Out off Mumbai.And this was the scene. At a busy intersection on the highway that was to be taken to reach Pune.

The heat was real. And so were the crowds. Public transportation was not something to write home about. But it got people from point to point. That was public transport right ? Getting the public from point to point ?!

In a few moments, a Toyota Innova passed by. And stopped some distance away from the bus stop. A whole bunch of people rushed in and surrounded the Innova. Commotion ensued.

And in a small while a whole village launched themselves into the Innova. It took all of Japanese engineering & Indian ingenuity to take the village away rolling on the road. Off they went. One happy party.

Taxis that must have dropped off people in Mumbai and heading back to wherever they came from. And whatever money that the driver made was extra! For the return trip would have been paid for.

The rest of the crowd was restive. And then came a lorry. The driver slowed down. And yes. You guess it right. There was another village which rushed. Some haggling. Some loud gesturing.

And then, there were people jumping on to the lorry. And in some time, off they went. One happy party.

And all of the remaining were restive. Muttering and hurling abuses at the bus driver, the steaming sun. The stars. And their alignments. The neighbourhood astrologer. The Arab Sheik and George Bush.

And then, out of the smoke and noise, came a young man. On a horse. No kidding. No cart. No spare saddle. Nothing. Just him. His horse. And that red ornamentation. And number 76 written on his black T-shirt.

Astride on his high perch, he looked at the by standers who were awaiting the next red bus. The Innova. Or the lorry. A glint of a gleeful smile escaped his lips. A smile befitting Alexander the Great entering a conquered land appeared on his face. He pursed his lips and paused for a while.

And then sped away. As quickly as he had arrived. The hooves kicking up left over sand from the sides of a tar road. And as newly kicked up dust settled in the deepest recesses of gaping mouths, he was long gone.

And in that ten minutes people had moved on. The entire point was to move from point to point. And stay moving. Buses. Lorries. Cars. Whatever.

But, suddenly horses seemed to be a energy saving alternative to a Humvee !

Parking was a different problem though !

Parking Full !

One of the woes of driving in a big city like Mumbai is not necessarily in the driving. But in the parking. The good deeds that you did in the past three lives put together, determines the availability of a good parking spot today !

At least that’s the hypotheses that i am getting myself to accept. For i have consistently found that good ones don’t exist and the rest are taken. That’s been the experience. Every single time that the the tyre has rolled to get somewhere, it has rolled an equal distance to find a place to stop. Much after reaching the place!

And after an hour of driving, the struggle to park can be downright trying. Praying for mercy from gleeful parking attendants and merciless co-drivers. ( Who can seem to know how to park a Merc in a space where you don’t think a Maruti 1050 will fit ).

Just as you are all set to park, your eye spots some message written somewhere. Some messages of them are downright simple. ‘No Parking’ they scream. Others are more positive. “Parking Full” they say.

(‘Parking Full’ means the same thing : ‘tough-luck-go-around-find-another-place’ )!

And then there are those that overdo it. Like this one.

Which says, ‘No No Parking’ ! Now, What does that one mean ?

For starters, Parking is a strict No-No is a meaning it can take !

And it could also mean ‘No’; to ‘No-Parking’. Double negative. Meaning you could park here. So go ahead. And try teaching double negative word play to the Mumbai parking lot attendant. May the forces be with you.

And then there are those that seem to symbolically convey this

Methinks a ‘No Parking’ board on a chair with no seat to park your back side….is a powerful symbolic message.

Huh. Thats one post full on parking full !

Egg Yoke ! a.k.a Pedal Power – Part -II

Its peak traffic. Buses hoot. And supply some free soot. Cars compete with each other, with a buzz about them, that it seems that they are girding their loins for the Nano. The policeman swears. This time, cursing the sun. The signal stays red. 

From the confines of his car, he sees a tower go by, on a bicycle. 

A tower of eggs ! Balanced neatly by a middle aged man, with rolled up trousers and a run down bicycle. He too awaits the signal to turn green. The signal stays red. The sun beats down. 

From his car, he looks intently at the big tower of eggs on the pillion. Each egg seems well ensconced. Smug. And unaware of whats coming its way. Perhaps the eggs were enjoying the sights. And of course, all sights are different, when there is elevation ! 

“Mass produced eggs”, he says aloud, to himself. The still air in the company devoid car soaks up what he speaks. “Eggs that are shorn of love but rich in protein and cholesterol and such else ! Eggs that are produced for the sole purpose of consumption ! Eggs that would disintegrate into an unrecognisable form upon being dropped or broken open !” 

Today, those fragile eggs seemed to sit pretty in the security of the pillion, the balance and the sun !  The sun continued to beat down. The signal stays red. 

In the blurr of the heat, he continues to stare into the Egg Tower. And suddenly, he sees his apartment complex in that egg tower !  And he smiles. Yes, he says. 

All eggs. All proper eggs ! 

The B-School type, the diamond trader type, the ex-army types, the corporate type. And all their families.  He sighs. He recalls watching children swear at the security gaurd, in front of their parents.  And ofcourse, he turns away, when a corporate type throws garbage in the alleyway. He stood perplexed when he caught his neighbour steeling his morning newspaper. 

Proper eggs.  He thinks.  He rewinds. And replays.  

Mass produced eggs. Eggs that are shorn of love but rich in protein and cholesterol and such else ! Eggs that are produced for the sole purpose of consumption ! Eggs that would disintegrate into an unrecognisable form upon being dropped or broken open ! The sun continues to beat down. 

And then, the signal turns green. That tower of eggs makes progress and moves away. 

‘Proper Eggs’, he says again.  This time, he includes himself.  

He looks in the rear view mirror and purses his lips as his alter ego tells him, that his yoke is his silence. It makes him culpable. He thinks so.   

In some time he hits a clear stretch and accelerates. That egg tower on the pillion is gone. But his yoke tower seems to stay with him. With a felt presence. Clear stretch or otherwise. 

Naah-No gazing !

Its been on the dinner table for some time. As conversation that is. Its been on the parliament’s table. For the same reason. And its been successful fodder to trainers and training programs : For a variety of reasons. ‘Innovation’. ‘Self Belief’. ‘Keeping a promise.’ ‘Positioning’. And an endless more.

Finally, the rubber is meeting the road. After all ! Yes. The Nano is here. You can buy one online ! But hold on. Hold on. Dont go away. This is not yet another post cooing the wonder that this is becoming ! This post isn’t about the Nano.

(You sure must have read about the cobbler and the bus conductor queueing up to buy. And amongst the many images, i am also told by a neighbour of those driving into a Tata Dealership in a Ford Endeavour to check it out for their ‘college going daughter’. It would have fit into his Endeavour as a take away from a restaurant would have !!)

Closer home, a friend’s friend, has booked 3 Nanos for the home. For the wife. For the mother. And one, generally. Monthly installments on the car, my friend supposes to range in the range of Rs.1,500/- ( $ 30 ). Suddenly, the car becomes a distinct possibility for a small man like me.

Ok. Ok. No. No. This post isn’t about any of that.

This is a crystal ball gazing post into the middle and long term future. And now, armed with the might of my incisive arm chair wisdom & a looming Monday, these are predictions of what the Nano will do.

With the rich, the middle class, the inbetweens, the pretenders and just about everyone else ( save Mamta Banerjee ) wanting to get one, Indian roads are all set to change. India too is all set to change !

Circa 2015

a. Employment Generation increases manifold
: You need more policemen on the road. More mechanics. More arbitrators. More insurance agents. More scrap dealers. More driving schools. More RTO offices to grant driving licences. More agents in the same RTO offices. More road building machines. More operators of those machines …. You get the idea right ?

b. Construction industry is booming: With all the world on the road, where would you park. Of course, Parking skyscrapers are being built. And cars would be parked right up there !

Corporations across the country have made it mandatory for apartment complexes to house one more sky scrapper : The parking sky scrapper. With five cars for a four member family, you wouldnt owners to park in living rooms right ?

c. Meters’ Down : For the rest of the folks who still have resisted the revolution and chosen to go without purchasing the Nano are travelling by Nano taxis ! Mumbai no longer has Premier Padminis as Taxis. And Kolkatta has consigned all Ambassador taxis to Singur.

d. Fashions’ Up :
Fashion officianados make their cars fashionable. Paint their cars with objectionable images and articulate graffiti. If some local leader, didnt like it, they scrap the paint. If it costs as much as it does to buy, it costs a fraction to paint ! Better still buy a new one !

e. And a new culture is born: There is peace and harmony in the lives of all Tata Nano homes. When other cars bump into them, they are remarkably calm. If a police officer catches them doing something wrong, they are remarkably calm. For they have in them, the right of first refusal. I mean, they hand over the keys to whoever cares in that area, and walk away !

f. Shoe sales is way up :
Seriously. Now hold your breadth. Drivers, owners and brand loyalists of other cars are jealous of the Nano and its mass appeal. With a general air of irritability, they have been throwing their shoes around ! Now, a common habit ,that was introduced to them in 2009. So, shoe production is up !

Naah-No !?!

Pedal Strength – Part 1

Atlas. Hercules.

The first one walked around with heaven on his back. And the other destroyed dangerous monsters. Both popular for strength and valour.

Greek mythology is as far away from me, as far as nation development in a politician’s agenda. Ok. Perhaps not that far. I know who Atlas and Hercules are.

But hey this post is not about politics. Or mythology. But of bicycles ! If you are from India, chances that you are aware of Atlas and Hercules as bicycle brands are far higher than knowing them as mythological strong men.

The Atlases and Hercules es doing the rounds on Indian roads are a sight to see. Mythological strong men would arch their eyebrows in respect ! For the Atlases & Hercules of today carry everything from Crackers to Pappad to Milk to anything that you name.

In the slightest of possible spaces they make their way, in the busiest of roads. These are not fancy cycles used by people with ‘environmental friendship’ as a credo. ‘Saying save the world’ that with a fancy helmet and a T-Shirt to that effect.

No. This is part of everyday mainstream living ! That these wheels will have to be pedalled so that the wicker at home is lit. That a kid goes to school. That there is roti to eat. (Ok. Rice too).

To see an Atlas or a Hercules pass by with all their load is often a salute to ingenuity. To innovation. To the spirit of labour. And of course, to the reality balancing a life on two wheels.

Atlas may or may not have shrugged. But he sure does balance life on a pedal ! God knows for how long !

Of Potholes and Plastic

The car itself was sold to a young, hardworking, handsome, upwardly mobile geek, with a beautiful, charming, etc etc etc wife and a playful, charming, lovely etc etc son some weeks back.

After a few weeks, he is taken for a spin. And as his senses soak up the interiors : the clean dashboard, the distinct odour of new rexine (or whatever), the super clean floor mat etc. And he sits. Forgetting the rest of the world.

It was then that he hears the rustle. It is then that the rustle of plastic on his behind was…, hmm…lets put it this way : is slightly more than a patently evident ! And with every pothole and stone that the tyre cares to caress, the collective weight of four bodies on plastic creates a sound that seems louder than the Korean engine inside the hood.

With the resolve of a Tamil film hero out to avenge the injustice meted out to his mother, his hands seize the plastic cover on his seat. To yank them away. His action would spell freedom for the seat. And peace for his ears.

It was obvious that he wasn’t prepared for ‘Don’t do that’ shriek that came in unison from his co-passengers. One of whom was his wife. ( Yes some men never learn). For all that could escape from his stunned lips was some hot air.

Like a pick pocket caught in the act by CC TV, he shrunk. ‘Let the plastic remain. The seat covers will get dirty. Let the car stay new for some more time’ they tell him. In Unison.

‘Its been five weeks. For how long….?’ he manages to mutter. Hoping to get the others aware of the futility of such efforts.

His wife shoots an unsolicited reply into the air-conditioned air of the korean car. “They will be there, as long as those plastic covers on your books back home remain. As long as those empty cartons of your perfume bottles occupy space in the cramped wardrobe…..”

In a jiffy he makes peace. He smokes the peace pipe with the flip-flop of an election time politician. The white flag waved with alarming ambivalence. And for sometime the only sound that punctuates the still air is from the air-conditioning vent.

Then in the middle of the road, the rubber says hello to a pothole. And a collective rustle of four bodies on plastic abounds. By now, he is aware that he has made his peace. And he stares into the outside world.

The potholes and plastic make him aware. Of his beginnings. Of his circle. Of his friends. Of his family. Of his country. Of its roads. And one more, much reviled, cliche: “middle class ” !!

PS : To the young upwardly mobile geek & family, with the new car, who will read this sometime : Sorry. This photograph is shared without your explicit permission. Hopefully all the adjectives showered in the opening para will compensate. OK ?)

Aching Thigh !

For, here i am. With aching thighs. And a knee which announces a flex of the leg with a sound that is getting louder by the day. I still can walk. And run a kilometer or two. Thank all the Gods above for their big mercies.

But frankly, the ultimate strength lies in sitting with your backside close to hard surface. But not on it. Yes, In my mind, to squat is to have special prowess. And No. I am not kidding.

At another of those dull days, i wait, with my laptop bag strung across my shoulders. I wait by a Mumbai highway, for a friend of mine to pick me up.

There is a family that waits alongside me. The weight of the world seems to be on my shoulder, as the friend calls up every 7 th minute to tell me he is 5 minutes away. I yearn for a chair. I cant sit. Forget my backside, the thought of placing the laptop bag on the mud and dust of the highway, is non existent.

And then, i hear the lady of the family standing next to me tell her husband that her legs ache. And the next minute, she sits down. I mean, she squats. And there she was. In that position for many more multiples of ‘7 minutes’ till my friend finally showed up and i left the place !

Her sitting position was perhaps the most hygienic possibility. That you almost sit. I mean, your backside, gets as close as possible to a surface. The knees bend. The calf muscles touch the thigh. And you are not standing. Well, by those definitions, it definitely was sitting !

Phew. I wonder how many of you can do that. Many of my cousins who live in the rural hinterland, sit in this position with ease. For hours on end. I guess their daily morning routines give way for practice too.

But the fact remains, that if the next bus / train / friend doesn’t show up on time, i am going to walk about fiddling my finger and running my hand through imaginary strands of hair. While some chap will squat elegantly, right in front of me ! For hours on end !

And i would swear to myself that the next post on my blog would be on inadequate infrastructure !

And here is the icing on the cake.

You know, I try and go to a gym. And the instructor asks me to squat and get up ! 20 repetitions. And charges me for his supervisory act. I know i am missing something.

For, here i am. With aching thighs.