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.
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
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….
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).
“Indiayude Bhoopadam” was published recently.
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