Sunday, June 29, 2008

And then...there was light.

I spend a bulk of my traveling time in readers of this blog must have figured by now. Thankfully my profession gives me the flexibility to travel off peak hours most of the time, which is why I find myself in stations and trains trying to figure out the many visages of this city that always seems to be on the run.

If you are not in tearing hurry to reach your destination and care to examine the faces of these people of the "daily passengers" they could tell you different tales…that are now entertaining and now full of pathos…. forty minutes odd minutes of solitude. If you look close enough you could almost watch many a thoughts fleeting across the faces of the millions that take the trains to work everyday.

But today I will shift focus from the train to the platform and tell you yet another tale…..

Daily passengers by virtue of stopping by the same station at least twice a day are most likely to be known to vendors of fruits or small household wares enroute.
These vendors park themselves on the footbridge overhead the platforms (albeit illegally). However the convenience of picking up one’s daily quota of fruits or other essentials keeps us lesser mortals from picking up a row. Since every living soul (at least the ones that travel in trains) is struggling to make ends meet in this city, nobody grudges a thing against these vendors.

I happen to know one such Nagamma whom I pick up my fruits from Goregaon station (my home station located in the western suburbs of Mumbai ) . A woman of generous proportion, she finds it uncomfortable to hunch over her big basket of seasonal fruits and is usually sprawling around till of course a customer comes around. On my way back home from work I stop by her almost everyday and without fail she greets me with a cheerful “kaisi hai madam?” helping me smile despite a woeful journey which more often than not sees me toppling out of an overcrowded ladies first class compartment in the evenings.

Nagamma is the most cheerful among the vendors around and is the undisputed leader of the pack. She chides when necessary and yet manages to see that the rest of her kin win their daily bread, for example she will persuade me to buy a “gajra” (as small garland of flowers) if Sridevi a young girl who sets shop next to her hasn’t made much sales during the day.

For the last few months I have noticed a younger woman who turns up at around 8 p.m which is the close of “bijness time” as Nagamma prefers to call it. This woman although young enough to be a daughter to a 50 something Nagamma looks older beyond her years…and is always dressed in a glitzy black outfit and garish makeup. Yet there is something about the woman beyond her clothes that will make you look at her twice. What it was…I found out much to my surprise.

Having asked the husband to pick me up from Goregaon station, one evening, I happened to reach earlier than I had assumed I would. As I waited for him to arrive, I saw Nagamma and Lata share a glass of cutting chai before a group of children gathered around these two women. While the older children chit-chatted the younger ones were making fuss around Nagamma.

“ Uff these little brats wont let me finish my tea!” grumbled Nagamma feigning anger as she asked Lata to take on! “ C’mon children..lets go to the platform I heard Lata say. “ Hang on Lata..that Raju is missing again…as she huffed and puffed and caught a little boy who was scurrying down the stairs.”
Thinking that Lata was taking these children down to the platform to beg for alms, the journalist in me toppled out of what had been a silent spectator.

“Wait!” I almost screamed…where do you think you are taking these children I asked with a tone of authority…as Lata and Nagamma looked backed in alarm! “To class” littled Raju chirped in..thinking I would come to his rescue! “Class??” I asked in a tone of disbelief. Nagamma a smart business woman had figured by then what was going on in my mind… “Yes madam..Lata teaches these children..why don’t you go with her” she said anticipating that I would not believe what she was saying. “Most certainly” I said..and marched along as if to prove that Nagmma was bluffing.

A small group of five or six children aged 5-10 scampered along as Lata walked a step behind me. I was led to a little makeshift room with asbestos sheet and plastic and I saw there took my breath away. There was a blackboard and some dog eared notebooks in once corner of the room. “ These children cannot afford night school, as they have to earn a living for their family.” said Lata. As I looked at her dumfounded with a million questions in my eyes Lata told me her tale of how her “husband” had brought her to Mumbai several years ago and sold her off to a filthy contractor for a few thousands. Though she had made her escape that day, she ended up in the flesh trade, just to earn a living “ I had studied till class seven” she said and I want to pass on whatever I have learnt to these children. “ It is a process of ablution for me. I teach these children till such time as my customers arrive around midnight. “ I wear black to work everyday, helps me merge with the darknees of the night.” She says with tear filled eyes. Raju having sensed something wrong comes and puts his arms lovingly around his Lata didi, as Nagamma arrives with hot vada pavs for the class! “Khali pet padhai thodi hogi” (as if you can study with an empty stomach!” this surrogate mother grins as Raju jumps on Nagamma. “Madam aap bhi lo naa…(madam why don’t you take one! ) she urges as genuinely as she sells her fruit. I bite into a greasy vada pav with a meek smile and before I can mumble an apology…Nagamma silences me…at least you came to our little classroom she says with a smile as I make an humbled exit, the scribe in me silenced. I walked away wth my head hung in shame and prayer in my heart for these two unlikely partners who were rendering social service in an obscure little corner of the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A lesson in the locals

For anyone who wants to know the real Bombay (or Mumbai as some wise men throw a ruckus if we don't call our beloved city by this name) you cant just limit yourself a visit to the Gateway of India and Juhu beach, I suggest that you spare some time and take a few rides in the local train. It is not for nothing that it is called the lifeline of the city.

Although I must confess that even after having lived in this city for six years, I am simply in awe of those who can board a running train deftly and dart to the window seat in the wink of an eye... I belong to the hopeless few who can just about cross the foot board and cling on to a railing for dear life while some brave souls stand on the foot board enjoying the breeze on their faces!

Yet it is in these first class ladies compartments of local trains that I have had the most humbling experiences..experiences that have taught me to count my blessings every single day of my life!

One such incident occurred only yesterday. I was on a Churchgate bound local at around 2 pm from the suburbs , a journey that takes approximately 45 minutes. For the benefit of those who have no idea about the Mumbai locals, the trains are comfortable to travel in for about two to three hours in the afternoon when the office goers are busy at their desks and late teens are supposed to be attending lectures in colleges. This is the time when the housewives decide to take a ride in the train, sometimes for work that they have reserved for the post lunch hours or the visits they have not made in some time.

A motley group housewives boarded the same train that I was in. Even before I saw them, I knew there was a Bengali among them (the accent and the sheer effort being made to speak in Hindi was unmistakable!) Just as they boarded the train they made a big fuss to get the youngest among them seated ...while the older women stood patiently till they got a seat. However the wait was not too long, as they were soon seated comfortably and chatting away to glory...the thread of the conversation was hard to decipher as the women were deftly fleeting from one topic to the other.

At one moment Ghosh didi (as the Bengali lady was being addressed by the rest of the group ) was waxing eloquent about a new recipe she had just tried out and the very next Parulben was discussing the stock market with insights that would put sock broker to shame. In 40 minutes odd they had discussed everything from a saas-bahu soap to the state of the Indian economy.

The quietest among the bunch was Lata --the youngest among these ladies who were grandmothers while Lata had school going children. It was evident that everyone was trying to include Lata in the conversations, while all Lata could manage was a smile when the others were trying to make light of the mood. As their destination was approaching, and the ladies were preparing to alight Lata fianally spoke..."Darr lag raha hai (I am scared) ..she said softly nearly choking "Pehli chemo hai (first chemotherapy) she clutched on to Ghosh didi's arm.

Dont worry one of the ladies said as she put an arm around Lata ...bhagwan sab theek kar dega (have faith in God. Everything will be fine). At this point I could not help stare at Lata's face, this seemingly hale and hearty woman who was a cancer patient. I stared in awe of her companions who were evidently no blood relatives but were thick enough to stand by her in her moment of greatest fear, to give her the strength to carry on!

Such is the solidarity of womankind I thought to myself and such is life in this city I call home. This is the wool and warp of life in this cosmopiltan where one's neighbourts and friends are the ones that stick by you through thick and thin....this is what makes you salute the spirit of Mumbai and not the spirit that people talk about when unsuspecting passengers are blown to bits in bomb blasts!

I pray for Lata and all those seemingly simple women who are making Lata's pain a little easy to bear....

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This morning, being a perfect lazy Saturday.. .. the husband and I took a quiz on "What kind of marriage do you have ?" and found that we are actually quite a compatible couple (much to our surprise!!). Sure we have our pitfalls, but we work hard to overcome them- the quiz results said .
The husband, sensing my glee...thought of being witty and announced that he thought an extra marital affair would make our marriage even better!! ( He does it all in jest ..but I think he secretly wishes that some pretty young thing would fall head over heels for him and make him feel like a college kid again!....)
Of course what followed is a chase that ended in him being subjected to pillow blows.....
In those rare moments when we are chatty (and not biting each others head off), we have often had long debates on extra marital affairs. He justifies that it is necessary to have an extra marital affair or at least a no-strings attached fling , to keep a marriage fresh.
He claims that men usually get into extra marital affairs initially just for the sex, and it takes a lot from a man to make an emotional commitment to the "other woman" when he gets involved . The truth according to him, is that and a man can never "get over" his wife. In fact the man would always come back to his wife and she will only remain his true companion.
Well, we have seen that haven't we? In n-number of books or films a man has a whirlwind romance , and then when things do not really work out between in an autumn-spring relationship, he comes back a broken man to his benevolent middle aged wife , and she the magnanimous, dignified woman....accepts him and ironically nurses him back to his emotional health.
However, if the woman happens to look for a little appreciation from another man who may just feel like her a "woman" instead of a housekeeper she is promptly termed a whore and is likely to be reminded of her "sin" every single day of her life, just in case her husband does accept her back . In most cases though, a woman is made to leave her home hearth and rot in hell....So much for equal rights in the society!
But those are tales of the days gone by, the modern woman is unlikely to do any such thing, and may just throw her husband out of her life or better still have an affair herself, but the fact remains that she will hurt and blame herself for "driving her husband" away. The revenge will only be an afterthought. She is likely to ask herself "What did he find in her that I couldn't offer?" and I am not talking about the carnal pleasures here...There is much more to a marriage for a woman ..its the companionship that a wife cherishes the most and is possessive about. The ability to be a part of each other's moments that makes a marriage. What breaks her heart is that another woman is sharing her moments of simple joys or little sorrows with her man.

Often there is a brouhaha about him "sleeping with the other woman" but what a man needs to realise is that once he has an extra -marital affairs, his wife will never ever be able to go to sleep without a care in world once she is his arms .....

THIS is what I have against extra marital affairs...and I am positive other wives feel much the same (I hope the husbands are listening!!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Mumbai rains and a mother's legacy...

The romance of the rains is perennial..even in maximum city of our dreams...Mumbai....despite the traffic woes, the crater sized potholes, and public transport that threatens to give up on a day where the skies open up!

Even when you are stuck in the train, and the journey that should not take your more than 50 minutes takes over an are likely to find something that warms your heart and makes you want to live and enjoy life to the fullest...

I was on a Churchgate (the final destination from the western suburbs) bound train...stressing about an appointment that I was getting delayed for, thanks to the rainwater making the tracks slower than it should be. No amount of pulling down the window panes would keep the rains at bay, so I had just given up trying to keep myself dry..when I saw two young mothers with a bunch of super excited kids raincoats and umbrellas et all...making a big din, while two hapless ladies tried to keep them quiet...

Needless to say the other passenger in the ladies compartment looked on half amused as the children would all but keep themselves seated....though the children were vocal about the excitement, the mothers could barely keep their excitement enquiry to six year old Hetal Patel...told me why..."Mumma and maasi withchintu bahiyya and dimple didi, my bhaiyya and me are going to get wet!"

Now that's a funny statement...I thought to myself, why would somebody "go"to get wet...whereas the rest of us were struggling to keep ourselves dry??

I was close to dismissing Hetal's answer as a child's fantasies when curiosity got the better of me and I did what I normally wouldn't do....I asked Hetal's mom.. what her daughter was talking about....turns out what Hetal was saying was indeed true!! Anita and Rupa were taking their kids to marine drive(Mumbai's answer Sydney harbour)....all the way from Andheri just to get drenched in the rain and enjoy a treat of bhutta's and cutting chai...." We havent done this since we were children ourselves" quips Rupa..while Anita reminsces how their father and mother used to take them to marine drive to enjoy the first showers of the city just before schools reopened..." This is a legacy we want to pass on to our children...a last summer vacation treat as our dad always incentive to look forward to the next term at school!"

Now here's what you call...pure unadulterated...non commercial joy. This is when multiplexes and amusement parks are vying with each other to woo kids during the vacations..two mothers of moderate means are still able to give a taste of pure joy to their children.....they don't mind travelling 20 kilometres in the train just to give their kids a good time the Mumbai way!

Although I was getting late for my meeting, I did see them off till Marine Drive...and though I was stay back and enjoy an afternoon of getting wet wilfully..I had to go! One my way back instead of whizzing past Marine Drive...I stood at Marine drive for a raindrops jived all over me.....I could see Hetal and her cousins playing in the my mind's eye.

I pray that Hetal remembers these simple pleasures that her mother's passing on to her as her silent legacy!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The women we have become....

" Aaji jhar jhar mukhar badal dine..jaani ne..jani ne kichu te keno je mon lage naa" thats a rabindrasangeet-- that aptly describes my mood's a close translation " This day awash with rains...has made me melancholy and I cannot concentrate on anything....."

Well that explains why I am gazing aimlessly at the rains lashing with full force against my window panes...instead of writing about the economy of monsoons!

So just to take a break..let me speak about this is not a post where i will wax eloquent on the merits of feminism nor will make this a statistically relevant study about women and their position in society....none of that...I am just going to be talking about the dilemma of many a modern woman like myself...

Sometimes I really cant decide whether all this women' s liberation that we talk about is good...Sure, we are all educated..can earn our own living...need not care two hoots about the world our own short we are FREE...yet most of us want to get married make babies and be an all rounder --superwoman...but doesn't all this ambition take a toll somewhere?

Lives if you ask me have become more complicated for the woman...

If its a single and successful woman working in a big metropolitan city then u would imagine life's perfect with designer clothes and footwear (yea..yea...all you sex and the city wannabes) but its anything but...there's speculation about every aspect of her life..personal or professional..people will speculate..rumour mills will work overtime and before you know it..she will be tagged the "rich bitch"! Not to mention the pressures of tying the knot and "settling down" from the kin.

Then there is the "settled down" woman...So she did tie the knot after years of persuasion...has a job and an "oh so loving" husband who will get flowers and chocolates for his wife for the first year of marriage and then before you know it the woman will be juggling her career and home.(make notes about grocery shopping while running on the treadmill, or think about what has to be cooked for lunch the next day before going to bed) ...pressure..pressure..pressure!! That's all that remains..the flowers and chocolates disappear..and then husband plonk themselves in front of the idiot box or the computer and the woman is staring at a cauliflower in the kitchen (yes..that's pretty much the flower that remains fair and square in her life) yet, the woman cant give up her job...the money is important and the family cant do without it now....and given the constant rise in prices...being the housewife is quite out of the question!!!

And yet...when the occasional get together with friends do happen..the men will all be gallant and make jokes about being married or being happy!

The "settled woman" becomes a mother and there is yet another dilemma about what to does one leave the little baby and go?! yet work..we life begins to revolve around baby food diapers and maid servants the single most important being in her life!

She goes to work, comes back home, plays with the baby....plonks herself on the bed...and that's the end of her day..repeats it round the year..before she decides either to quit or job...or to leave her baby with an elderly family member....

So called normalcy is restored...but what does it do to the mother? Is she at peace with herself? What about the child who is growing up never to see his or her mother around when he is gurgling is amusement when his pulls out a baby thumb out of his mouth...or is crying just to be held close!

We are the modern women...the fairer sex who have it all...but what has all the liberation done to us? Have we become modern day monsters, who refuse to be like our mothers? Frankly, I have no answers..hope to God SOMEBODY does!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

back to blogging

After a gap of more than a year and a half I- the pensive scribe am back to blogging...a typical journalist as I am I share a love hate relationship with blogging...sometimes I am criticising the way some people spew venom on a public forum and the other times I am gushing about the wealth of knowledge that you can find. Over the past year and a half I was in the " I hate blogging" mode and now that everyone...and I mean blogging I thought what is holding me back from posting some random thoughts everyday...If not anything I can at least be fashionable!! Haa...haa...Not that anybody I thought I will do this for myself...write something completely different from work and feel good about it!

Let me speak about something that I just had a very long telephone conversation with a friend about: " Sibling relationships" ..It is often seen in families with two or more children, that siblings invariably fight oer the most mundane of things and are at each other's hair for apparently no given reason! Sometimes it may just be over you having finished your chocolate and eyeing your kid brother's piece....the fights get so bad that sometimes parents are forced to keep siblings physically apart! But these fights between siblings become fond memories for parents and their children alike when their kids are all grown up and are often repeated at family gatherings and everybody goes " sweet!" the key word children one has no malice no vicious exchange of reading between the just fight...and the next thing you know is that you are going for a chat treat together....

What happens then when we are all grown up...why do relationships strain between much so that sometimes that we are hunting for the right words to say....and mentally making notes about what "shouldn't be said" while speaking to one's sibling?? The awkward silences or the superficial talk about the latest film you have watched or book you have read....

"If you overstep the line...there might be dire consequences" you think....but why?? Where do these invisible lines in a sibling relationship surface? Why cant siblings speak without thinking of consequences....what have our modern lifestyles done to us? Your brother, or your sister with whom you have spent a better part of your life becomes a stranger you cannot recognise...and then we all opt for the convenient path and say " oh he's changed!"

Well if he/she has...haven't you as well? what is stopping you from just saying the first thing that comes to our mind about something you feel strongly about without thinking of the consequences? Easier said than done you must be thinking...but sometimes doing is far simpler than the thought of execution! maybe we should all give it a shot!!

The grown up world is far messier than the world of children!! They don't think...they just say it! My five year old neighbour...has just had a baby brother...I heard her announce this to her friend yesterday " I am going to play and fight with my babu..when he starts walking" you know its really that simple...siblings fight! Lets just cherish it..instead of holding it against each other in our grown up worlds!