Long Live the Spirit of Mumbai!

April 17, 2019

Pydhonie, Mumbai, April 16, 2019.

It is in the midst of the wholesale markets for everything. It is in this area that Dhirubhai Ambani began as a yarn trader. Millions of transactions happen every day. Supported by millions of people. Of the 22 million people that Mumbai boasts of, it feels like at least 21.999 are all in Pydhonie / Bhuleshwar at once. Just kidding – it only feels that way. In reality it is probably just 21 million.

This is Pydhonie on a typical weekday from 10 am to 6pm:

734005-parking-and-traffic-congestion

Yesterday I was one of the cars trying to get to a dealer-turned-friend.

As we moved at a pace of 1metre per second, the pedestrians zipped past me, weaving through the traffic of dogs, parked vehicles, moving vehicles, street-salesmen, loaded handcarts and other pedestrians crossing each other haphazardly in different directions all struggling to make a way to their destination in time. No one paid any attention to the deafening noises and the oppressive noon heat of April.

I watched in awe as usual. There was no thought in my head – I just sat in my air-conditioned taxi feeling left out since I didn’t have the key ingredient that pervaded that entire space: purpose.

Everyone there had a purpose and an urgency in their life and I envied them all as I sat in the comfort of the air-conditioned car. I used to have this purpose once upon a time in Mumbai from the time I was 15  – when I was a proud member of the working class in the summers – when the thrill of catching the next minute before it disappeared filled up my entire day and gave me an unparalleled high.

That high sadly could not survive in the later part of life that brought with it financial comfort.

But this is not about me. This is about the people outside the car that I watched.

***

My eyes saw – but my mind was too slow to react fast enough. To register what I was witnessing, to be awed by it, to formulate the thought ‘I should click this’ and then ‘I should talk to her’ or ‘I should do something to help’ …….takes at least 5 seconds.

The pace of Mumbai is measured in milliseconds and  in the 5000 milliseconds needed for my brain to wake up she was gone. Weaving in and out of all the chaos of Pydhonie like an expert – she disappeared before my stupid brain woke up. Gone.

No photo. All the words remain unsaid.

So here is a poorly-done sketch to keep her spirit with me forever.

IMG_4028

She had a huge bulky commercial load on her head. And her little 3 or 4 yr old followed her. She was married – wearing her mangalsutra and bangles. Her sari was clean and neat and not a rag. The boy was well clothed. And both had slippers on their feet. They were not beggars – that is a different level altogether. She was working for her livelihood. In the heart of the wholesale district of Bombay a man with a load on his head is a common sight. But this was my first sighting of a woman doing this.

Were they immigrants to Mumbai? Where was the husband – was he ill? Was he alive? Was he with her? Where were he elders? Maybe handling her younger child? Or maybe back in the village? Why was the child following her on this job instead of staying home? Did they have a home (or like Santra another street seller)- did they just pay rent to keep their belongings in a common room for Rs.50 a day while they slept free of rent on railway platforms)? Why was she doing this? And with child? What were her compulsions?

The child held on to her pallu and instinctively followed her as she was confident of his ability to follow and so without feeling any burden of his presence just made her way ahead unafraid for him. He stopped to playfully swing around each of the 3 metal bars. And then stopped once again to use his hands to play the drums on a metal door of a street shop yet constantly kept an eye on her to run and catch up. She didn’t stop for him. And she didn’t look back to check on him. And she didn’t fuss over him. She knew he was there. And he was happy – enjoying himself with all the toys of metal doors and metal barriers that the city had provided him with. They had the demeanour of people who are glad to be doing what they were doing. Glad that they had the opportunity. Glad to be where they were.

***

Salute to that woman who I shall never see again.

Salute to Mumbai for giving her the opportunity.

Salute to the Indian community spirit that kept the child a happy playful boy.

***

“Ae Watan Watan Mere Abaad Rahe Tu

Tu hi meri manzil hai pehchaan Tujhi se

Pahunchoon main jahaan bhi meri buniyaad rahey tu

Qurbaan meri jaan tujhpe – shaad rahe tu”

From the recent Bollywood film Raazi

Translates to “long live my dear land … you are my identity… and no matter where I may reach – you will remain the foundation on which I am built … ”

Long Live the Spirit of Mumbai! Long live the spirit of India!

jm

 

 

 

 

 

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