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Neglected Lot of Mumbai City


Again on Mumbai. Even in the Golden times and now in the worst of times, Mumbai still remains an attraction, enigma and fascination. The other day I rang up a friend in the nearby city and talked about the recent brutal carnage in our dear old city. “Even after a span of ten years the city still remains an attraction to me. I feel like the city still beckons me. In our times, city was somewhat calm and incident free and now  unfortunately it is in turmoil.

Law and Order in disarray, violent clashes and murders common in the Metropolis, terrorists roaming and roaring across the city like blood  hounds massacring as many innocents as possible, deafening bomb-explosions and mind-boggling and chilling sights of mangled dead bodies and amidst all these the ruling  politicians remain passive and also in deep slumber caring two hoots for the hardships of the Mumbaikars.

Even in these uncertain times, the city still remains a fascination and attraction. Strange! What about your response?”- I was in a state of curiosity. My friend burst into laughter and it lasted for a few minutes and I felt embarrassed for a while. “My case is also like yours. Several times in a day, mind flies back to the bewitching city and I feel like going back to the dear old city and settle down there. Not only my case, it is the same with everybody who had been to the city in the past. It is such an enchantress. The same enchantress of the yester years. Gateway, Taj Intercontinental, the vast expanse of the ocean, Nariman Point, Marinedrive reminding me of a neck-lace during nights, Malabar Hill, Colaba in short every nook and corner of the city”- My friend uttered those words in a breathless tone.

She was settled at a posh locality in Colaba with her family. They used to take strolls in the city, often visited the Leopold restaurant frequented by foreign tourists daily, Gateway, Taj Intercontinental, parks and beaches whenever they got time. Nostalgia with its full vigour. I often wonder, why this city still remains attractive and enchanting ever ready to embrace her old and new inhabitants even when writhing in pain due to the present day sorry incidents. This is not to sing ‘Osana’ (eulogise) for the ever beloved city. This is actually intended to picture the darker side of the city life of which I was a witness and part for some years.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had got chances of settling at various places in the suburbs. Labour Camp- part of Dharavi, Matunga Road, Parel, Borivalli and Ghatkoper- both east and west. But most of the time, I was residing at a railway quarter, sublet by a Mangalorean, MahabhalaBhandare. Railway Quarters building No:84, Room No:18, I still remember it.


Bhandare was living with his family of five, his wife Thamba, we Malayalees (Sala Madrasis in Marathi parlance) used to call her Amma, always clad in a dark blue sari, with a nose-stud adorned with a red stone, always talkative, daughter Geetha who was working in a private firm at Mahim, a slim, curly-haired pretty girl in her twenties dressed in maxi while at the quarters, she had also a nose-stud like her Amma, their three sons, Ganesh, Thara and Thama going on with their studies in colleges and school. We were three paying-guests, one Ravi, one Madrasi Brahmin, who didn’t mingle with anybody, always unfriendly, one Mr.Kutty, a short-statured youth, we used to call him Tinku and one Mr.Joseph, the senior most among us studying Hotel Management somewhere in the suburbs and My-self, working at the Foreign Exchange Department of a bank at Nariman point in South Mumbai.

In one sense we were all existential outsiders, not much friendly with each other, each with his own problems and worries once in a while exchanged smiles. Formal introduction to each other was already over in one or two words. I had a friend in the adjacent room and whenever we got time we used to walk down the streets discussing various matters both personal, official and city life, in short everything under the Sun. There was no cooking facilities in our room and hence to have our daily food, both the breakfast and supper, we used to go to a Malayali mess on the outskirts of Matunga area daily in the morning and evening. Lunch was always from our nearby working places either from a hotel or from pav-bhaji wallas with their vehicles parked by the side of the road. In the early morning after finishing our daily routine, my friend in the adjacent room and myself would step out of our rooms wearing shirt and tucking up our dhotis like typical Malayalees to the Malayalee mess affectionately known as “Sankunni Mess”. How that name got to the mess is still an unknown thing. Because there was nobody with the name Sankunni there.

We would take a few steps along the tarred road and then turn to the left, there were railway quarters buildings here and there both vertically and horizontally, passed through the route and would enter a gully untarred and pot-holed with innumerable slums lined along both sides of the way. In the mornings, it was a common sight to see women in queues with their vessels in front of water-taps to collect water for the day. Their husbands were a rare sight in the locality in the mornings, might have been in deep sleep after consuming illicit country-liquor in the evenings till their senses go out of control- a sort of inebriated condition. While passing through the way, we used to watch the ladies and among them, one of them caught my attention, a moody, young woman in her thirty’s always engrossed in some thoughts. I used to see her husband, a lean man with untrimmed beard in an old torn dirty shirt and a lungi, always in an intoxicated condition.

On holidays in the afternoons while passing through the gully, I could see him with his drunkard friends sitting in a circle playing poker game. Except in the morning, his wife was not seen at the premises. They had three children, all girls usually seen with their mother. In a slum, a mother, father and their three children, living in dire straits- I used to imagine their life with horror and compassion. Their only source of daily existence was the sale of illicit country-liquor to those visiting them.

One evening, I along with my friend reluctantly decided to visit their slum- a small dinghy room with asbestos roof and walls built with tin-sheets, the atmosphere permeated with the pungent smell of country-liquor. Alongside the walls there were three or four benches for those coming to have their drink to settle down, the three girl children could be seen sitting in a corner, playing some games, oblivious of the happenings around them, (innocence personified) the wife and husband pouring the colourless liquid with pungent odour into the glasses and supplying to the clients. Among the clients, I was shocked and embarrassed to notice a police man with his lathi in his lap taking liquor. A model custodian of law and order in the city of Mumbai. My God! The house-owner while supplying liquor to everybody there found time to have a gulp or two once in a while with warm smile displaying his smoke-stained teeth to each and everybody there. The wife even didn’t care to notice him the anger and hatred towards the man visible in her face who tied the ‘Mangalya Sutra’ around her neck once. She might have nursed wonderful dreams while accompanying him to the city after the marriage in the northern district of Kerala. Everybody in the world nurses dreams in their life and weave a lot of attractive pictures inside the inner chambers of their minds. Dreams, we must have, whether they will fructify or not is another matter.

Days went by. Months went by. One day while walking through the gully, we came to know about the man admitted in the Sion hospital, the result of an illness due to excessive drinking, a serious disease often suffered by the confirmed drunkards, often leading to death. It was not about him we worried, but about that lady and her three innocent girl-children. How would they proceed with a penniless existence in the city with nobody to look after them? That thoughts were gnawing, even though they were nobody to us and such unfortunate happenings were common in slum areas. Within a week or two the expected worst news flashed across the area- the end of a sad story. After his death, whenever we passed through the gully, we used to recall the man, sometimes, we could see the lady with her children in the morning, infront of water-taps  with vessels in their hands, but she didn’t seem to notice anybody passing by. The thought about the lady and children tormented us a lot and would think, how they were pulling on their lives without livelihood. We were mistaken. Livelihood, she had already found out. She had to look after her children. Without her who was their to protect them from the wily people in the area in that part of the city. Along with the sale of liquor she turned out to be a a women selling her body to those who approached her for momentary gratification. But what about her children? That thought began to nag us. She caught train with them to her native district in the north of Kerala entrusted the upkeep of the children to a distant relative, promising her relative to send money for education and other needs of the children and came back to the city with determination hiding all her tears behind a mask with make-ups and adorned her head with flowers.

A new avatar. The birth of a prostitute in the city is not at all a news. That kind of wretched life went on for a while. A guilty conscience began to prick her constantly and that might have been the reason behind the formal ending of a chapter by bathing in kerosene and lighting of a match-stick....The incident still haunts me and will continue to haunt me in my entire life even though she was a nobody to me. But was she a nobody to me? No No No…. 

Contributed By   K.R. Surendran, hailing from a village called Pulluvazhy near Perumbavoor. Four books in Malayalam are there to my credit now, Pooviriyumkunninte - Santhathikal”(Stories), Gloriyayude Dinarathrangal”(Stories) and “Mumbai- Sketchukal”(Novelettes). A novel
“Indiayude Bhoopadam” was published recently.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed above are solely those of the Contributing Writer. We, at do not take any responsibility for the views expressed here.

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