“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 🙂 ) 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…

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