The crank metropolitan
Mumbai – 400001. Officially known as Mahatma Gandhi marg. More officially known as Fashion Street. That’s Mumbai. It is certainly, the weirdest metropolitan that you will ever see. There’s this really amazing movie called ‘split wide open’ which is something that you simply must watch if you live in Mumbai. Apart from exposing the dark underbelly, it really opened my eyes to the fundamental eccentricity that this city has. And now I see it everywhere. Just following a single person around, will really make a great story or movie or whatever. Every aspect of it is different from anything conventional anywhere else in the world:
For example, if you have noticed, this city’s bovines have this intolerable arrogance about them. I mean yeah, ok, Hinduism is really widespread and cows are respected more than the national flag and all, but don’t you think, people have really reached the limit when a big huge brown bull is impassively chewing the cud in the middle of the eastern express highway? I mean, just picture this, and I am sure it will not be difficult, because you have probably noticed and ignored this; imagine a busy street flanked by glass-windowed shops on either side, and vehicles easily doing eighty going about their busy metropolitan ways, and in the middle of it all sits this extension from some rural area patiently eating a bundle of grass kept in front of it. And I am not only talking about cows, but all those domestic animals that you expected to find in some stupid little farm a hundred kilometers from any city, all shamelessly amble about all over this city. There was this time when I was going to the station, and the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the road for about two minutes. I look out of the window to see around fifty measly mottled goats walk past. I was wondering if they were going on their own accord when I finally saw a tiny boy controlling the whole flock. And another time I was coming by train (early days, not having obtained the concession form) in second class, towards this college when some guy with two bears looking like very plump hairy dogs, just climbed on. You may think that businessmen, beggars, foreigners or policemen walk around like they own the place. That’s one rally wrong notion; no one does that like the animals. You have bovines, dogs, cats, pigs, donkeys and leopards all walking around as if a metropolitan encroachment on their jungle has done nothing to change the inheritance of their ancestors. Mumbai has the unique and outrageous distinction of being the only metropolitan in the world with a full-fledged jungle in its heart.
Then there are these beggars. The other day I was coming to college, and some guy who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a National Geographic documentary on cannibals suddenly appeared from nowhere and began whipping himself hard with this long thick whip and then pestering people for money. There was this other time when I was strictly minding my own business when somebody hit me with a broom. I looked around to see what they were thinking, when I saw these two people looking like extras from some Arabian nights movie, and they were holding some rich cloth between them on which people were pouring cash. I have still not found out the significance of the broom. Then there is the class of train singers who think that they are doing us harassed commuters a favor by singing the cheapest of those bad remixes that you hear these days, usually accompanied by two stones that they clap together. Sometimes if you are really lucky, you’ll find a beggar with a harmonium that has most of the keys still intact. Then there are the hijdas, who I feel really sorry for, and this time, not in the comic sense. What has happened to them is really painful. These unfortunate people were once revered by the people, and were considered a source of wisdom and blessings. They were paid to bless the people. In the obtuse semi-orthodox world, these people find neither jobs, nor veneration, and are forced to earn a living by begging.
Just a notch above these beggars are the peddlers. Now these are the innovative class of people, sell things really cheap. The city is saturated with these guys. Everything from clothes, to toys, to shoes, to CDs, to cameras all are sold on the street side at dirt cheap prices, and all these commodities emerge from the fabled Ulhasnagar area. I know two people in my classroom, one of whom, wears a two thousand five hundred rupee watch that is indistinguishable from a two hundred one of the other. Some of their products are really innovative and you cannot expect to find them anywhere else, no matter how much you are prepared to pay for them. For example, there was this guy outside the thane station who was selling inch-long working torches that give out enough light to find your way in case of a power failure. Another time there was this little tube with some plastic jelly in it, which when pressed around a straw and blown gave out enormous somethings indistinguishable from big soap bubbles. These (I’m guessing) polythene bubbles were as long lasting as balloons!
Be weary of the people selling food though. If you do not have a really sturdy constitution, then go ahead, and you will probably develop a new disease. Maybe they will even name it after you. There have been cases where some pani-puri fellow with a cut finger spread AIDS to two students who were eating from his stall. Imagine my disgust, on another occasion, when a woman from whom I was about to purchase perus from, used her huge knife to cut a part of her toenail that she had just noticed were looking toxic and revolting, thankfully, just in time as I was almost about to make the purchase.
That brings to mind about the condition of hygiene in the metropolitan. Sewers in Mumbai – the place to go if you want to find anything from delighted piglets playing with the water to immobile dead bodies. These sewers are flanked on either side by slums, who mistake them to be the water supply. Especially dangerous in ulhasnagar, from which sweets and mineral water move out to all over the city. And then again health conscious people of Mumbai have proved that cities can, in fact be dissolved in spittle. And it won’t be uncommon to find some poor soul who has not watched the street properly, now trying hard to get the excreta off his shoes, and unfortunately ends up getting it over his pants too. The monsoon rains come as a boon to these people, as the water dilutes the said umm… lets say metabolic wastes, and spread more or less harmlessly over a larger area, so that they are unnoticeable.
And then, there is the underbelly, the wanton corruption and violence. The less said about that, the better. And in such times, the real, resilient and unblemished spirit of the city shines through. Being a part of Mumbai, gives you this strength, and this confidence. You are already brought up in the ‘real world’, and you have this arrogant, blunt-headed capacity to face anything. Every individual stands for the attitude of the city, and according to various views, this attitude can be good, bad or ugly. According to me, being a Mumbaikar, stands for being downright cool. That’s why I love calling this place a home.