“Mumbai Blues”- Aamjunta’s Aankhon-dekhi

It was almost quarter to eleven on a regular working day…

I had a tough day at lab and hostel trying to juggle with balancing my time and thesis writing. Additionally, summer seems to take toll on one’s energy level. That evening I got so irritable, stressed and exhausted that was unable to utter a single word. The demand and supply chain of the thesis writing was not matching. Demand was very high resulting in high pressure on the quality, quantity and the pace of my output. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner, had some biscuits instead in lab itself. Suddenly, my exasperation with the process made me think seriously of taking a break and I decided to go to either lake side or some where else and to sit there for some time by myself. I decided that I will not seek company and so did not ask any one to come along with me. On normal occasions, I have friends whom can ask and who will not deny their company. But, today it was different — just wanted to be by myself. Wanted some private and quite moments for myself.

I left lab somewhere around 11.00pm with my bag, laptop and books. Headed for an unknown destination. I was near the SOM kiosk, when I saw an auto coming from hostel side. Waved my hand gesturing him to stop, fortunately he halted. I asked him…“Boss kahin chaloge?” kahan? – he asked.. hmmmm HN chaloge? (will you go to Hiranandani?). He agreed immediately and I comfortably slipped into it. I was so tired that did not even feel like getting down at HN Galleria. But, the auto reached HN in no time. I got down, paid him, walked to the ice-cream parlour had some ice-cream and then cool drinks.

After a while, I started feeling better and sat for some time near the galleria arch. My phone rang…friends and family were trying to reach me…. But, I decided not to disturb others with my stress stories. Switched that off and kept in my pocket. It was slightly breezy that evening and I sat observing people — precisely people of Mumbai in the dark night. Many couples were around too, sitting very close to each other and sharing their life and thoughts. Mumbai affords so little of private space that people have to find shelter in the market-places, malls and theatres to spare some time for their love stories. Most of these couples were in completely engrossed mode, and it did not not matter to them who was sitting there, who was staring at them or who was passing-by. I felt slightly out of place being without a (female πŸ™‚ ) companion to share some intimate moments.

I left the place so as to allow the couples to enjoy their privacy, and searched for some other place to sit. It was almost 11.30 pm by that time. The chairs in front of Haiko mall were empty. Selected a corner seat, so that I do not disturb people and people do not disturb me. I sat for some time, looking here and there, luxury cars coming and going, the autos, the people around, the security guards and the “night-riders” like me. A unique aspect of Mumbai is that it suddenly bustles and jostles with the night moving into deeper darkness. The corner seat I had chosen for myself gave a nice view of many landmarks of HN: the Rodas hotel, the Haiko mall, the Pavilion restaurant and the main road. In the light of the street-lamps the roads of Mumbai glitter like the body of a slithering cobra.

There was no one sitting around me. I was alone. But all of a sudden, my attention got diverted when I saw an old man, ill-looking, in his late 60s or early 70s. He was almost on the verge of nudity as his torn dhoti and gamccha were in threads, hardly did help to cover his sickly body. He looked like a scare-crow who has been brought to life and left in the glitter and glitz of the mega city…. Trying desperately to hide his bare chest and body with his dirty old gamchha, the man was on his way to some unknown destination. He seemed to be only busy searching for something in the dust-bins placed near the roads and the malls. I was curious now and started to take an interest in this character who seemed straight out of some novel. The man came closer to where I was sitting, he had huge eyes placed on a completely dark skin. He stopped near the dust-bin that was placed close to my chair and started searching for some thing. I was curious… what must he be looking for and at this time? Many things came into my mind… starting from incidents of putting bombs in dustbins to searching for food…. I started observing him from a close angle as he hunted the dustbin as if on a treasure hunt. He was only picking up the cans (cool drink cans) and plastic bottles. Collected some 4/5 bottles, 2/3 cans, 1/2 poly bags… but was still searching for some thing else… became curious.. what is he looking for? and at that late night?

Before I could ask any thing, a lady in her late 30s came and asked him politely with a voice full of compassion, “baba kya dhund rahe ho”? The old man was surprised beyond words… for the words “baba”… he seemed to have never have come across these words! He looked frightened for a moment, but when he saw that the lady meant no harm, gathered a little courage and told her… “kuchh nahini”…. Then she asked, “aap ko kya chahiye?” He was quiet for a moment and replied, “nahin beti.. kuchh khana dhund raha hun… (looking for some food). I am taking these things (bags, bottles and cans) such that I can sell them get some money tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll get any food from here at this time of the night. But, can not sell these now…It’s late”. I was shocked to see that the man was not begging, he was just hunting for left-overs in the dustbin. The lady seem to stifle her tears and went back to her husband, got some 20/30 rupees…gave him that money and said.. kal ka bare me bad me sochna.. aab jao… kuchh khalo...(think about tomorrow, when it is tomorrow…go and eat something now)”. He took that money, smiled gratefully and left. And I… sat thinking… where is he going? I had only 30 rupees in my pocket, enough for going back to hostel in an auto, couldn’t even spare that with him. But, was extremely happy to observe that even there are people in the busy life of Mumbai who come and help a man like that on their own accord. What amazed me even more was that the man did not beg from any one…

I was lost in my own thoughts, when suddenly my attention got diverted by the parking sound of a huge Honda city in front of Rodas Hotel. A gorgeously decked-up lady in her early 30s got down from the car. She was accompanied by her little baby (hardly 1/2year old) and her husband. The husband was carrying the baby, was dressed in a neat three-piece suit. He was perhaps in mid-thirties, calm, composed with signs of prosperity. And she… I hardly traced any sign of clothes. She was also on the verge of nudity, her nano-skirt and figure hugging back-less top with low-cut neck lines, nine-inch sandals and dark luscious wine lipstick.… She looked like something which I have only seen in a few fashion magazines like FHM or Femina. The couple were heading for the Pavilion restaurant for some high profile party. I was wondering how come people dress like this? Are married ladies in Mumbai so liberal in front of their husbands? I thought may be I am getting old fashioned and orthodox. But, somehow could not help myself comparing this scantily-clad young lady with that semi-clad old man…. He was also barely dressed like her…. But the difference was painful, he could not afford, whereas she did not want…While the old man was frightened even of a dog crawling near him, this lady bursted on the security guard and scolded him as he did not open the door fully for her to enter….

Hmm, both the incidents took me away from my own state of troubled existence….I had enough of this world too…checked my wrist watch… it was almost 12.30 am and past midnight…. The scenes of HN had already overpowered me and cleansed my own tension of thesis writing. I started looking for an auto…to get back to my “home” for the last 7 years.

Aamjunta, do share your experiences if any…

23 Responses

  1. I think its wise to give right donation in the right hands , just like young lady in HN,rather donating to any charity institutions without giving a thought if it would be utilized properly, because corruption is every where!!

  2. In India we do notice these stark differences in living conditions. More so in Mumbai. I remember, I was at a conference in Grand Hyatt, Bandra. The hotel was bordering the Western Expressway on one side and a slum on the other, with huge aircraft thundering over its terrace every few minutes. A stark contrast.

    I know this is difficult, but it is always better to help people get themselves employed in some way or the other. By donating money to the poor guy, the lady did take care of his today, but as she said “kal ke baare mein baad mein sochna”. This cannot carry on for too long. The process of empowering people like the one in in your story is slow and painful.

  3. It looks a quite emotion is involved for watching certain things in a rush city like Mumbai..The story holds a quite amazing representation of instant life. This is a common to collect grabs from dustbin but the representation of writing has given it a total living life, scope to think about it and well immotion involved in it..

  4. I really enjoyed reading all your post. I like the content and especially the title of this post. I think this is the most suitable creative title for the content. Its very well written and convey the human feeling and emotion in the ever changing human society. Hope to read such article in future. Thank you.

  5. Good one

  6. Good narration Dada.

    I feel that this is due to the dominance of western culture in india. Rich think capitalism is the only way in society. It simply does not work in India where many people are starving for food.

    Moral of the story: Be a ‘firangi’ only when you are abroad. πŸ™‚

  7. reply@shanmuga:
    hey buddy..its not unfair to follow ur heart, if one feels life in being chic and sophisticated,whats wrong..its his/her life. Point is that he should have heart and compassion for poor, and donate as much as he can.

  8. Thanks whoswho, Vinay, Tulu, Shanmuga and Gaurav for your comments.

    Yes, as whoswho said, it is his/her life.. true, but that should create problems for other. Treat others as humans, not as subordinates or poor or rich or animals. This happens in many part of the world.

    In true sense the gratitude one show towards other is important, not the 20/30 rupees. Dominance of western culture will be there, and in fact will rise in future. We will have to live with that.

    @Vinay: you are absolutely right. The living conditions need improvement. Every human being’s life is precious, be it poor or rich. But, we have still not realized that. I don’t know when will we realize!?

  9. πŸ™‚ cool.. Mumbai rocks πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Just thinking … should we allow moral policing in some sense?

    So, how is your thesis going? All the best

  10. Hello Aamjunta,

    I have become a blog-addict after reading your blogs. Each title and every article is very nicely chosen. I like your Mumbai article because you have written something which many of us observe but never bothered to write.

    In Chennai where I live, near the Marina beach once I saw something like this happening. I was with my husband, a child of 4-5 years came near me selling flowers….I asked her if she wanted some money to eat, she said she had enough at the end of the day after selling flowers. She didn’t want to beg. Your story reminded me of that story.

  11. nice blog

  12. Well, I’d been to HN many times but couldn’t see this kind of situation. The potrayal of the difference between the rich and the poor is at its max in this article. l like the way it is written whihc is simple and concrete at the same time.

    Coming to rich-poor differences, whom should we blame for these differences? the question itself is a big debate…At the best we can do is help the poor who come across our path though we can’t help everybody.

  13. There’s a famous Chinese proverb: “If you give a fish to a man, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” …But in case of this old man, he might not have perhaps lived through the night if the lady didn’t give him some money to buy food. And she cared to break free from her leisurely time, walk up to the old man & ask his problem. It was infact her humility towards life that stirred her heart for this noble act.

    And it is really noteworthy that the old man didn’t beg. He wanted to earn his living and honestly so, even at his age and in his situation. Whereas, the other lady & her husband (whether or not they had lavish lifestyle) failed to show minimum compassion towards an old, ill-clad & hungry man searching for empty saleable cans from a stinking dustbin in the darkness of the night !!!!

    In a different shade…..
    This also reminds me of several beggar-couples in cities, struggling hard everyday to minimally feed themselves. Forget proper cladding & shelter… I have observed a few such pairs since 6-7 yrs, quite around the same place. One of them being very old, others quite young. But despite all odds, they never desert life..they never desert each other. Rather they support each other very strongly, in whatever way they can. Some couples have one member much handicapped even… Whereas, very well-to-do couples sometimes fight over trifle matters or materialistic things – they create big scenes and are un-accomodating /un-cooperating /un-forgiving for sake of some peace just between themselves even ! Life is really strange……..

  14. Reblogged this on Life of an "Aamjunta" and commented:

    With Food Security Bill pending in Parliament and debates over the implementation of it in real-life, I remembered an old story… This was there and now, it has perhaps become worse in most parts of India…

  15. This reminds me of a video-clip that has been doing rounds of late in the Internet- it tries to glorify a “seemingly” noble work undertaken by a six-sigma rated food distribution company in India. I do not know exactly whose idea it is but it is grossly wrong ! The video shows distribution of ‘left over food in tiffin-boxes’ of people…

    1. If there is so much left over everyday, that means people are really not sensitive or caring !! So to prevent wastage of food, they must order food in small measures.
    2. We must take to “equal sharing” of food and not get stuck in distributing only excess food.
    3. If there is any excess food in the kitchen or wherever it is cooked, that food must be directly sent (as separate or fresh packets) for consumption by the hungry and poor. And not from our plates ! That will ensure proper hygiene and their dignity.
    4. Food distributed in the way mentioned as per #3 would also comply with the directives of world bodies.

    But sadly, even most of the tech-savvy fraternity fails to notice this and appreciates the idea in the hats-off category !

  16. Near IIT I have experience that huge so called “class difference”.. Unless very much needed never went towards HN, Galleria in my 6 years stay in IIT. Somehow I still feel irritated when I see the contrast in life. Very nicely written experience and thanks for sharing ! I am sharing on FB πŸ™‚

  17. Poignant. At the end of the day its all about food and shelter!! Loved reading this post.

  18. People call Mumbai as ‘mayanagari’. It is true my friend. The old man could have begged or could have involved in stealing (betting was possible in his case), but he did not. He wanted to live in ‘mehnat kamai’ (hard earned income), a true gentle man.

    Contrary to that the young lady!! Perfect example of ‘money is life and life is money’. See what is happening in IPL? Like UPA government, the BCCI and the IPL are also becoming thick skinned corrupt entities in India. God save the beautiful country.

  19. Nice to see you paused and pondered.
    Nice narration and you made me feel sorry for the old man. Powerful writing.

  20. I have a different perspective to this … Its the fate which decides nudity too…one willingly the other forced to !
    I actually could not draw any conclusion from both the incidents as blank as probably you would have felt experiencing it !
    Distribution of wealth is uneven throughout the world .. Someone is already at the receiving end.
    The best thing life teaches is .. NOTHING !
    Nice post !! Reminded me of my lonely nights on Dadar Streets trying to solve life

  21. Thanks Ipsita, Paresh, Sangeeta, Pinak Pani, Indrani and My Say.

    @Ipsita: Yes, I agree with you. First of all one should not waste food. Giving the left-over food in this way is not appropriate. We should treat all human being with dignity, not the way it is being promoted in the video.

    @Paresh: There is a “class difference”; you rightly pointed out. The contrasts between the poor and the rich some times become the root cause of other social problems. Moreover, rich and poor are just short-term states of one’s life, they are not permanent. We need to realize this. Thanks for sharing in FB.

    @Sangeeta: Thanks a lot for your comment.

    @Pinak Pani: True, Mumbai is really the ‘mayanagari’ with many things happening every day. As you rightly mentioned, BCCI is another version of UPA government. To that, our 24/7 media is just sensationalizing the stories.

    @Indrani: Thanks a lot for your encouragement.

    @My Say: I like your different perspective on nudity. Actually the teachings of life are different, cannot be applied in all cases though. Thanks again for your comment.

  22. It was a moving description of the incidents..Even I stay in Hiranandani and as you said you will find people of all kinds..

  23. Perfect posts and neat writing. God bless you.

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