Tuesday, October 26, 2010

City that never sleeps often keeps you sleepless

Of all the cities I have been for work, leisure or studies, Mumbai definitely is unique and has a different impact on everyone. It has its own way of welcoming strangers and quite strange in its approach towards that.
I remember the first time I came to Mumbai, I had no clue about the city neither the desire to know as I was a guest for a day. Now that I have spent five years, I see that I was lucky and very fortunate that the first time I came here I got to stay with my relatives at Breach Candy. That was really good luck, I feel today. The place is one of the most upmarket residential localities in Mumbai and has the nerve to make you feel that you are so small. As a student, I had come for an interview 12 years ago, to get admission in a reputed MBA college in suburbs. Suburbs was not a word in my dictionary then. I did not know how far or close was this suburb and what makes it the so called suburbs. There were pictures of the city in my mind and I had made up my mind to visit them in reality, but was wrong as I didn’t know where they were and how to go about explaining anyone where I wished to go. These were pictures that I had registered while watching Bollywood movies. Bollywood movies were the only gateway to know the city which was 1700 kms away from my small town in the East. I still feel, the way Bollywood created the hype of Switzerland, thanks to Yash Raj Films, the same way I had impressions of Bombay in my mind. For e.g. the scene where Mr. Bachan driving his motorbike sings the title song of Muqaddar Ka Sikander, my favourite song, in the 80’s. Others being the car chase scene’s of Mr. Bachan’s movies and many other movies on Marine Drive , the bungalow on Band Stand which now is owned by King Khan was a favourite, the Kabutar Khana of Parinda where Mr. Anupam Kher gets shot, the Juhu beach where several romantic songs have been picturized, the bungalow from where Mr. Bachan used to wave at the fans, the hospital where he was admitted post the accident in ‘Coolie’ and many more . But these impressions were very un-glamorous and not heavenly like the snow clad Alps.
I had planned to make my 24hrs stay the most memorable one but unfortunately 6 hrs of that went in only visiting Mr. Bachan’s bungalow at Juhu. But the ‘moment’ standing there at the bottom of his bungalow dreaming that he would come out and wave at me and I would make that one big impression for which he would call me in and I would tell him how big a fan I was, was the most dedicated and foolish dream I have ever seen. He never came out and I never got any chance to wave back at him and cast my spell.
The most interesting and cooperative citizen of Bombay (in those days) was my black – yellow cab driver who did not let me down. His patience and enthusiasm, both were like ice on my wounded heart. However he was upset when he realized that I was a visitor for a day and would be leaving back for home the next morning. I also came to realize that he was my neighbour from East Uttar Pradesh, quite close to my place in the adjoining state. And he very well empathized with my condition. He took on himself to show me the more generous monuments for which you did not have to wait endlessly for a two way communication. The Fountain, Kala Ghoda, Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel were a delight to some degree but I was still upset. This time the reason were the people, pardon me, hundreds of thousands of people. I was too amazed to see the overflowing population of the city and people were like the bricks on the wall. While they moved they did not respond. They were like robots walking the talk, in their busy minds. They were all going somewhere, precisely, and were only focused on their destination. They were not bothered by who was walking next to them or who passed by next to them. But a small disturbance in the equilibrium, would cause the people swarm like bees around the spot. I also realized that somehow people who were exiting the Victoria Terminus outnumbered the ones going in or was it an illusion. Where were all these people coming from?
By evening I had lost all my strength and curiosity to wander any further. So I was dropped off at Colaba in a cafe for a few beer shots. I didn’t realize that you are not supposed to go everywhere without knowing where you are going and what for. Every place has its own ambiance and loyalists. I happened to visit a small cafe in a lane behind the Taj and was shocked to be in odds with African nationals. They were the only people hanging around in the cafe and were really very loud. They seemed to know almost every waiter, manager and the menu. They were gulping beer as if it was going to be a dry day the next hour. I was too insignificant for them, both in size and space. I perched myself on the bar counter with little room for 360 degree view. For the next hour or so, I guess I learnt how to make few cocktails and mocktails while staring at the bar tender, but have never tried offering my unique talent to someone till date. I did not realize in the beer buzz coupled with new talent acquisition that it was past midnight and in some time I would have to leave for the station to catch my train and end this whole episode of adventure.
When I stepped out, I was overwhelmed to see the density of heads and legs in that one street, which was smoky and barbecued. The whole place smelt of non veg being cooked on coal and barbecue and people were hogging as if curfew was going to be imposed in the next hour. At first I didn’t notice the place where all this was coming from and kept wondering if I had intruded in some one’s street party. Never heard of such a concept, but in this city you could expect the unexpected. I cursed myself for filling on burger and fries in the cafe, which is the last thing I would like to have after drinking beer. But the smell was so penetrating that I could not resist the temptation and gave in to the delicious kebabs and rotis.
This treat at two hours past midnight took away all my sorrow. It completed the adventure and filled in the gaps of disappointment during the day.
I can say for sure that this was the first day in my life (at 19 years) that I was awake for 20 hours in the day. The remaining four hours had to be given to sleep, to a night, that left me sleepless as I couldn’t get over the whole experience of the day even when I was asleep.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The City with One Flyover

A small town in Bihar was transformed into capital of a new state overnight. It was a struggle for almost a decade before separation, which finally came, but people could hardly make sense out of it. As always, change is criticized, so was the new found land. People were very skeptical about the future and governance, but after a decade when I look back, I feel proud and thank the people who took the ownership without rights, roles, responsibility, motive or profits. Its been a decade and the growth doesn't seem to stop. A lot of this change is attributed to the youth of the city who were once like the frog in a well.
I am referring to a small town on a plateau which was once the Summer Capital of the region and was renowned for its wonderful climate. A town which was a popular tourist destination for the travelers and people who were keen to go on holidays with family. There was one street in the town that was the centre of attraction for the whole of population. Very rightly it was called ' Main Road". It was an address that reflected the wealth and pomp residing in the city. There were only shops and shops on both the sides of the road. If it was a bridge it would have collapsed under the pressure of the number of people who visited the place every day. Still there was room for everyone and stands long and wide. Even today the most convenient mode of transportation in the city is the paddle rickshaw which is not obliged by any RTO and can carry as many passengers as can be dragged along. People were highly creative in those days as they managed to fit almost everyone on the 3X3 rickshaw. I am sure the small car brands could find a deep insight from them. Time was ample and it didn't matter how much time it would take from point A to point B. The point was to reach in one piece and with all in the family. In fact the male members would often get down and push the vehicle from behind on slopes or pull back when going down. It often resulted in re-arranging the seating position. The extra weights would really feel pity rather than embarrassed. They would cover up by giving another 50paise for the muscle that got pulled or could have and get going. Children would get squeezed in between or get perched on someones lap but never given proper seat. Often hanging from one side fiddling with the bangles or watch, held only by the arm and being dragged upwards once in a while when the ass was repositioned.   
This was a city with one flyover that was the bridge between the rich and service class people. A bridge that connected the commercial capital to residential haven. It was the bridge that was a deciding factor, at what age children can go beyond or remain within the boundaries. For the teenagers/young boys and girls, crossing the bridge without adults was perceived as rebellious. People (mothers/fathers) would often talk about seeing someone across and question the presence. Neighbours would often judge others children on the basis of the latitude and longitude of the notice point. And back home one had to think of a really good excuse or answer to justify the existence on the other side. One often wondered who was this person who was so interested to see who crossed over the bridge and who was doing what on the other side. I doubt if they were descendants of border security guards or paid spies.
The bridge had two different lives on either side. One side for purpose of simplicity was referred as "Colony". This side was full of peace, greenery, traffic signals, zebra crossing garages and cooperatives. The 'Colony' was inhabited by the more conventional intelligent lot working for PSU's, banks, hospitals, schools & tutors. Parents were more controlling, disciplinary, career oriented. Vehicles were more of the fiats and ambassadors. The first Maruti 800 was brought and driven on the Colonial side.
The other side was referred to as Main road and was full of jams, shops, motor transport, cattle without any fields but concrete roads, loud chanting of shlokas from gita, quran and granth sahib. People would park at their convenience and stop wherever they wanted to get down. The sides would be lined up with stores of all sizes. Those days there were no supermarkets, malls or departmental stores. And of course the dimly lit bars and restaurants. Eating and drinking in the not so well illuminated spots gave a sense of luxury and upmarket. There used to be one prime restaurant that would never stop serving. If the seats inside were full, orders would be served in the car by the road side. One sweet shop that was considered respectful and valued more than the wealth one had. If one would not carry sweets from this shop when making a social visit, it was considered disrespectful and cheap. One mega shop where being seen was attestation  of being modern and well off.
In all this, life was difficult for the growing up population as well. No girl would dare to walk the main road all by herself. And if noticed, there was something fishy about it already. And believe me, parents would have to go through hell explaining. Any girl with a boy was a disaster, even if the brother was mistaken for a stranger.
Today the city has changed completely. While the chaos still remains but the colonial and main road divide has fallen apart. Unlike the Berlin wall, the bridge was not broken down but has more brothers and sisters. The access to either sides have become easier from different points of the city. Flyovers have taken over but the charm is lost. No more are boundaries so relevant for social conclusions and freedom. 
They city has been set free.
Thanks to the same generation which used to suspend from one arm on the rickshaws. They have brought back a new lease of life for the city from wherever they have come back from. We can see Barista, Levis, Mcdonalds, Inox, Audi, Citibank, Delhi Public School, Wills Lifestyle and many more such miracles. All these brands have acknowledged the needs of the generation that saw the big divide ruling their lives and will continue to charm the no more suspended babies but the peeping out of the car window generation, while the streets still continue to clutter with more labour intensive transport.
There can never be any other Ranchi, even in my dreams. I miss even though we have changed.