The best of Mumbai posts

9 December 2008

My friend Annie’s post on Mumbai is a remarkable piece of writing. I am cross-posting it here:

The other day, I went shopping for veggies at the nearest supermarket, and found it almost empty. The girls employed there were kidding around with each other. I heard the word ‘terrorist’. One girl told another she’d set the terrorists after her friend. The other one alleged that she was one herself. Light laughter. Odd, somehow. Perhaps, necessary, somehow.

Yesterday, I’d stepped out with my own bag and a laptop, boarded a train and opened a book. My station arrived, I got off and ten seconds later, wondered why my shoulder felt light. I’d forgotten the laptop in the Ladies compartment.

In a mad rush, I turned back. I had no way of tracking down that same train even if I did follow it in the right direction. The train had started moving by then, so I jumped into the nearest compartment. I almost fell. A stranger reached out and grabbed me at the door, pulled me inside. Others asked me to sit down, catch my breath, relax. I was too worried to step away from the door.

Five years ago, I would have worried about somebody walking off with my laptop, about losing all the writing I’ve done over the last few years. Yesterday, I worried that somebody would notice an unclaimed bag and panic. I worried that somebody might call the cops and the machine might be either dismantled beyond salvaging, or that I would be called in to explain, and who knows if an explanation would be explanation enough.

A couple of days ago, a friend had told me about riding in an auto-rickshaw whose driver wasn’t in the mood for rules. He jumped a traffic light. The cops stopped him, asked for his papers. They asked him his name. Turned out to be a Muslim name. More questions. Many more questions. They wouldn’t just let him got with a fine and a warning.

A woman lives in our building. Introduced herself as ‘Nisha’. My mother, out of old habit, asked for her full name. She said, ‘Oh, it’s a long name, you won’t be able to pronounce it’. Turned out, her real name was ‘Badr-un-nisa’. Not that hard to pronounce, my mother said. If you’re familiar with it, Nisha said.

Another friend mentioned how, as part of a citizen’s initiative, she walked up to the nearest cop on duty and thanked him – the entire police force – for what the cops had done. He laughed in her face and said, why, because this time it was the big hotels, and all you rich people were in danger? He didn’t think our gratitude would last. So much cynicism, I thought, at a time like this? Odd, perhaps, but necessary, perhaps.

Yet another friend had minor shrapnel cuts on her chin. She had been out there with the other journalists, on the streets for two and a half nights. There was no food and drinking water was being sold on the black market. Spirit… city spirits.

Yesterday, I fretted and tried not to think unpleasant thoughts until the train stopped at the next station. I got off and ran back towards the Ladies compartment. The laptop was where I had left it, apparently untouched. Five years ago, I wonder if it would have been left alone.

By the time I found it, got hold of it and stepped down, the train had started moving again. I almost lost my balance. Once again, a stranger’s hands, and I didn’t fall, after all.

On my way back, in the compartment next to mine, a bunch of young women were talking rather loudly. One woman was asking if TADA was a place, because people were always being ‘put in TADA’. Somebody else said it was a special kind of jail. Another was explaining that it was a law. Somebody said something else about Tada-Bida. Light laughter. Odd, somehow. Perhaps, necessary somehow.






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3 Comments to “The best of Mumbai posts”

  1. Interesting article.

    More recently I left my wallet in public restroom on a plane for 30 minutes before I realized I didn’t have it. I went to check the restroom and it was gone. Someone took it – my id’s, credit cards and a little money. (I was only concerned about my ID’s since I needed them to rent a car after I landed.) The worst part was that I was on the plane with my thief for another 3 hours, since it was a US coast to coast flight. When I explained what happened to the flight attendants, they looked at me like I was crazy to think I’d ever see my wallet again. In most situations in the US, I would agree, but I thought there was some kind of understanding that if you try to pull that in an airplane, that you would be at high risk of getting caught. There’s only a 100 or so people to search. I insisted that the attendants made an announcement on the plane about the theft. I also went down the isle pleading for the person to return my wallet, assuring them understanding if they came forth. Luckily 20 minutes before we landed, someone anonymously turned in my wallet to the flight attendant, then to me. I was grateful, but then I realized how it’s definitely a sign of the times for the US. More and more people are getting desperate for money.

  2. Thanks Raza, for sharing the article.

    We all reach there, touch that, and come back, only to be shoved right there again…
    why?
    Not sure why i am incoherent.

  3. Talked to my brother in Mumbai.Two years ago he had stepped off a train, some stations before his destination, because his friend was hungry and wanted to eat something right away.3-4 minutes later a bomb had ripped through that very train.
    This time he was meeting someone in a building behind the Taj and had left the area a couple of hours before the mayhem started.
    I asked him to be careful.He replied,”How? Shall I stay put in my home all the time? And even then what is the guarantee? Weren’t the people at the Nariman House doing just that?”
    I had no answer.Welcome to this new type of terror.

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