The best of Mumbai posts

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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