Rainy Evening in Mumbai: The Other Side

Pitter patter of rain is not always Bach or Mozart to your ears. Trust me. When you have slogged for hours and prospects of reaching home is somewhat bleak, you don’t fall back on subtle faculties of brain.

In my case, it was more than pitter patter. It was boisterous downpour. 6:45 in the evening. Three chapatis for lunch must have lost their way in my stomach by that time and new wave of hunger was making inroads. Between the exit of my office and auto stand is a distance of 500 meters. The bigger needles of water made the distance look inter-continental.

I gave up the idea of venturing forth after torturing myself with a series of ‘shall I’ and ‘shall I not’.

You feel like a pauper when you don’t have an umbrella to take rain head on and plunge into struggle.  7:50 pm and neither rain nor panic agreed to budge.

Breaking the fetters of patience, I went ahead and requested the security guy if he could lend me his aged umbrella that was eyeing me for quite some time. The umbrella was lying in a full-bloom position. The guy said a polite no and he had strong reasons (although he uttered them in an apologetic tone). The ‘babu log’ from other offices would ask for the umbrella to reach the parking area from where their cars will escort them. I was convinced even before he finished off with his reasons.

Waiting resumed, this time with a pinch of disgust. Why did rain choose to be so persistent?

I took it upon myself to find as many reasons I can and dig out my mistakes. My mistake number one:  Not thinking it necessary to buy an umbrella, especially when you are being chased by monsoon in Mumbai. Mistake number two:  Not taking colleague’s raincoat despite him being insistent.

Before the third mistake could show its face, two unknown faces turned up.  One gave a stealing look and muttered something to his shorter counterpart. In a quasi-suspense turn of events the shorter guy handed over the umbrella to me and posited, “You can return it to me tomorrow”.  Oh Lord! That moment of gratification came after a long hiatus.

I thanked him and made a move.

Getting an auto on a torrential evening is akin to wishful thinking, but as they say, “aim for the stars and you may reach the sky”, I kept my hopes alive.  Hopping down the street for almost half an hour took me absolutely nowhere. A feeling of a jinxed day was fast advancing.

Destination was still miles away.

If you are a newbie in Mumbai you can trust strangers to bail you out. A man in his 30s was steadily heading in my direction and he readily agreed to my feeble request to be my path finder. Another 20 minutes of brisk walk and he had already injected in me the tidbits of the place.

My impatience was shelved for long but when I felt there is no respite from rain, my replies to his suggestions started getting curt and impolite. Even he could sense that.

His ‘SBI Life Insurance’ umbrella was big enough for his short countenance but he managed it well to prevent water from rolling down to my left flank. He was considerate. I asked him about his bit of story and his impromptu narrative on his journey from Nashik tasted like hot snacks on a rainy day.

It was well past 9 when I could recognize my neighborhood. My companion halted and said he would take leave. His steps were steady and genuine when he left for those shanties. His rubber footwear made a squeaky sound as he hurried away.

Earlier, he had insisted on paying my auto fare and prevailed. He was all praise for his locality and people around him. It was with a sense of pride he narrated how happy he was with his four brothers staying with him and aged father trying to walk with his new crutch.

A Hamlet And Few Handsome Hours

I gathered myself on my way out of the platform and boarded an ogre-sized three wheeler. For company, I had January nip, ruffle of a shawl (borrowed at the last minute) and an indigenous roller-coaster. For those who don’t know, I was heading ‘Bankathi’, a quasi-obscure hamlet in West Bengal’s Bankura district.

A short ride and I am in the midst of thatched nests and whistling trees. Festivity was written all over the place where I rested myself. It has long refused entry to modernity.

A hurried lunch of rice and lentils and I sank into somnolence.

Evening was lighted in patches. A common assembly ground turned out to be a confluence of devotional songs with minstrel-like jingle and random body movements. Being oblivious of the occasion, I wandered unfettered. A not-so-confident podium graced solemn looking guests with beads around their neck and sandal paste on forehead. From them came rustic epigrams decked with wisdom. Audience soaked in their sayings as oracles waiting to see the light of the day.

In Bankathi, observing rituals is a common hobby. Few hours into my arrival and already a host of divine names did good to my already shaky general knowledge.

An early morning walk and my lungs rejoiced. At the breakfast table, hospitality was unrelenting.  In few minutes, I was heading towards the temple town – Bishnupur. The milky sun on my shoulders and wind followed behind until metalled roads found me.

Mind you, history is in town’s favour. 17th century kick-started cultural reformation and Bishnupur waded deep into culture. Terracotta (Italian for ‘baked earth’) temples and their daily struggle to exist are so glaring. Instructions and ‘do not’ caveats make them unapproachable, if not less admirable. The labour of past had yielded applause and mentions across the world. What craftsmanship! Peerless is the word to describe engravings on episodes from Mahabharata.

Local rickshaw puller and a self-proclaimed guide served a few anachronisms, and as a story lover would do, I allowed him to continue. The structures small and big, flat and bumpy, formidable and suave, burgeoned the dormant photographer in me. And suddenly, camera was invented just for me. Taking shots of the marvels and potshots at visitors’ arguments I left behind some handsome hours.

With evening, came longing – as if to bind me to the place.

The dimly lit hamlet resembled a cake with half-extinguished candles. It was a jamboree of silence and darkness. Morning arrived much before I could get acquainted with the night’s mumblings. Not to forget, the night was spent in company of folk songs.

Inebriated, I had announced my sleep.

Before I could reflect on nature and consume the unbridled greenery, the trip neared its end.

Journey downhill always takes less time even though you want it to procrastinate. The travel bag, when realization struck me, was petite with local produce. The soil of the place followed me to my city. May be that is nature’s way of reaching out to civilized ones with a hope of one good turn in return!!!

Delhi: Long and the Short of it

After a lot of deliberations I decided to start with the obvious. Delhi is fun to be with. The city can be dicey but only if you are not living ‘with’ it. Looking at Delhi as an onlooker will give you a parochial view. It doesn’t work. Board an overcrowded metro, try ‘Rajesh ki Mashoor Shikanji’, gorge into plump ‘aloo ke parathe’ and allow yourself the luxury of ‘Chhole Kulche’.

Most people here barter hygiene for taste. It goes well with them.

Never question things. Why does the bus conductor sit pretty in his cozy seat and passengers fight for space? Why are full-grown men reluctant to leave the seats reserved for women? Why do people take over-sized yawns with their hands nowhere near to their gaping mouth? Forget all these and you will be forgiven.

Sutta is always sutta because fag is a term reserved for the Elitists. Recklessness runs in the family of drivers and don’t blame the septaugenarian CM for this.

If colored routes in Delhi Metro confuse you, ask the guy standing next to you. His situation is not any better because woh bhi ‘naya aaya hain’. Console yourself for things you can’t get hold of. Give Time a chance.

If the nation rues Fiscal deficit, the capital is home to trust deficit. Mutual distrust goes a long way giving birth to fear in residents’ mind. One factor that makes Delhi a ‘must-explore’ metropolis is its ability to remain a stranger to the majority.

The city throws surprises at you and watches your reaction. It is a homeland for strangers – living life all by themselves. The city of nagars, vihars and flurry of flyovers has very little space to accommodate your inflated sentiments. Your reticence is replaced by a forced pushiness and you lease a razor sharp self.

I like the way how people address miscreants as ‘Kalaakars’ and have fair amount of disregard for those who jostle to get in and get out of metro.

If lack of belonging makes a pigeon-hole in your heart, dark chocolate kulfi can work wonders. If arid faces have struggle written all over them then remind yourself of one thing – dust never settles here.

Weather God is crazy. Come summer and the city shimmers with no trace of repentance. It remains a hot oven even well past midnight.

Shed off the foreigner’s finicky look and spare a thought on how far the city has come. Formula One roads, progressive metro rail, swanky malls and 7 branded shops in 100 mts radius tell you how the city has hugged comfort and convenience.

While NSD and Indian Habitat Centre give a strong kick to get your intellect working, CP’s dazzling arcades and ‘Pebble stone’ lounges take care of the frolicking mood in you.

First world sleeps with Third World in Delhi. The maid from Kanhaiya Nagar gets a cozy corner in plush Rohini bungalow and the amateur helper from Okhla manages square meal at NFC’s expensive condominium.

Delhi can be a versatile crook or a jilted lover, you either get used to his ways or you don’t.