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Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Chapter from a Dog's Life

Stray dogs are amazing beings. They are happy to live off the leftovers found in the garbage dumps or on scraps thrown at them. They find shelter under a parked truck in the day or curl up like a ball in a corner at night. Rain, sunshine, disease and hunger don't deter them. They aren't owned or cared for by anyone but they fiercely defend the territory that they live in. It is not hard to imagine how the idiom - it is a dog's life came into existence. Pet dogs lead a far comfortable life, irrespective of the breed.

As much as I'd like, I have not had a pet dog except for this one short time when I was 13 (Suzie died within 6 months). To make up for it, I have always forged friendship with all the stray dogs I come across on a daily basis. Feeding them occasionally, playing with them and picking their ticks off their hide means time well spent. Sometimes we have even helped secure a corner for their new born puppies and cared for the minor injuries. But when Whitey, the big adult dog was injured in the shoulder and hind leg in a pre-mating fight with a rival dog, we thought it could be healed with the normal - betadine + turmeric remedy.



He never turned up for the first few days after the injury. He went underground. Probably to heal the wounds himself. But eventually he emerged. He shied away from the betadine and shook off the turmeric each time I tried to apply it. He could be tempted to stand still with some parle-G biscuits but never did he hold on for too long. We persisted and hoped against hope that our remedy would work. For a few days, it went off well. We developed a schedule around the treatment. Late at night he would emerge from the darkness and packets of Parle-G, a bowl of milk and lots of turmeric would await him. He gave in eventually and we went off to sleep with some sense of satisfaction and hope. 

But one night, we saw him whining in pain, running around aimlessly. When I approached him, he wagged his tail slowly. He would run and then sit to scratch his wound with his hind legs. He smelled of rotten flesh. When I finally got around to petting him, I flashed my torch on the wound, only to see what I had been dreading. The wound seem to be breathing, a trickle of blood ran from it, and along with the stench it became clear that he was infested with maggots.



One of the most common problems facing all wounded animals especially stray dogs and cattle is Myiasis. In urban areas, flies regularly hatch their eggs into wounds and the larvae that emerge wreak havoc by boring deep into the animal's flesh, eating away at skin and tissue. A small wound can turn into a gaping hole, irritating the animal and may even eventually kill it.


What followed is interesting and can be tried at home, with some adult supervision. If you notice an injured dog in your neighbourhood - either call up Karuna or follow the procedure mentioned below. 
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We had to act quickly. His pain was unbearable to him and us. I knew chloroform could help but there was no way of obtaining it. Chemists shook their heads rapidly each time I enquired. In sheer desperation, I googled remedies and came across two very helpful posts. Jaagruti and Welfare of Stray Dogs had posted a detailed procedure of treating maggot infested wounds. I needed a couple of things which I bought from a medical shop that stocks Veterinary medicines. 

1. Topicure Spray (D-Mag or Himalaya's Scavon; available on Amazon) - Rs. 75/Rs. 220 (250 ml)
2. Neosporin powder (Neomycin) - Rs. 60
3. Betadine Solution - Rs. 80
4. Lorexane Cream (or Acrilin) - Rs. 45
5. Himax Cream - Rs 45
6. Negasunt Powder - Rs. 60 ( can be used if Topicure isn't available)

The procedure is simple if the dog is co-operative which Whitey was, but only partially. I often had to cajole him and talk to him during the entire process. Or sometimes restrain him with one hand. Make sure you are friendly with the dog before attempting this because an injured dog may bite out of irritation. Trust is vital. Use thick rubber gloves as a safety precaution if you are unsure. 

The procedure prescribed involved using Medical turpentine oil or chloroform to kill the maggots. Neither was available so I skipped this step and relied on Topicure spray. The stinging sensation caused by the impact and of the eucalyptus contents of it caused Whitey to run. Make sure this treatment is performed in an open space with no kids running around. Next step was to clean the maggots which had started to emerge after the first few applications, in the same evening. One had to use tweezers to pluck them off but again Whitey was resistant to it and instead he tried to lick them off, while I flicked some that I could with my fingers.

Next, I filled a syringe with betadine and flushed the wound with it. Neosporin came next which helped to dry the wound. The following two steps were the most important. I took some Lorexane (you can also use Acrilin) on my hand and applied it over the wound (I was wearing basic disposable gloves). This helps tissue healing and fights maggots. Lastly I applied a liberal amount of Himax which essentially prevents flies from coming near the wound. This ensures that repeat infection doesn't occur. We also applied some turmeric powder each time. Remember, the effect of Himax wears out in about 12 hours so dressing must be done twice a day. 

The next day, I was relieved to find no signs of maggots. We continued the same line of treatment, ensuring that Topicure was spread all over the wound and Himax was liberally applied every 12 hours. I stopped using a glove but instead used an old plastic spatula to apply the lotions properly.

Over the next few weeks, we monitored him closely and even tried to feed him Amoxicillin 250 crushed and mixed in his milk, which he refused to drink. In the weeks that followed, the biggest challenge remained was that of convincing the community that an injured dog was not a mad dog. He could be spotted running around aimlessly because he feared humans would hurt him. Everyone had been treating him like a pest. But with the treatment showing some results, most of the folks changed their stand. Some even offered to spray Topicure in my absence (or presence because Whitey would run away each time he saw the can in my hand)

With a good diet, adequate rest, regular dressing - Whitey managed to heal himself. It was not a difficult process but it needed persistence. The life of a dog may not have value for a lot of folks, but those utilitarian thinkers might know an injured dog could easily be a threat to the society and at least for that, it must be healed.


The idea behind this post is to encourage community participation in the welfare of dogs. A small wound if treated promptly with Betadine, Neosporin and Himax will heal quickly without getting infested with maggots. And who knows, in the process you might even gain a friend for life!


The Portrait of a Photographer

Early January of 2015.

It had been a good day. A meeting with a friend had helped clear out a lot of things in my head. The way forward from there on, seemed a bit clearer to me. The Starbucks where we had met was a new one, located not very far the chowk. I wandered back to the bus stop to catch the 266 back to the station. But the sun had not set and it had been a while since I had visited the lake.



The lake, for most, simply cannot exist. For Lokhandwala can't have a lake. A lake in Lokhandwala? Lol. Just too many cross roads and shopping streets they say. But walk down on the Backroad as it is known, towards the jogger's park but don't enter it. Keep walking straight and within a few meters, look to your right. A small clearing opens up into what looks like a small pond but a healthy one. The Lokhandwala lake has over 70 species of birds, 50 % of which are winter migrants. It was a late January evening and I was very happy to see many ducks, a few raptors and also what seemed to be the little Grebe but I couldn't be sure.


Now the little grebe, true to its name is a small bird and without binoculars, I could not have confirmed it. I wondered why not many birders or even locals visit the lake and right then, a senior person in thick frame glasses and a small pair of binoculars walked upto me. He smiled at me and said that he always visited every evening in the winters. I asked him if it could be the little Grebe, there in the corner. He offered his binoculars to me and yes, indeed! It was the Grebe. We even looked at the ducks properly now and turned out they were the Lesser Whistling Ducks, visiting Lokhandwala for the winters.


He told me how the numbers, predictably, had dwindled. Since late 90s to now, Lokhandwala - Oshiwara area has seen unprecedented rise in construction activity - leading to destruction and degradation of habitats of not just the birds but also of the mangrove forests. He told that even then he was content at seeing at least these few visitors. He added that he was also interested in Photography and had documented the bird life around the lake. From his accent, it was not difficult to tell that he was from Kerala but he told me that he had spent only his youth there. Rest of the time, he had been with an oil corporation working in the oil fields of North East India and had travelled extensively in the region, even going right upto the historic Stillwell Road.


He said that he had a lot of photos that he had taken on his vintage camera as a young man and then later on his SX-series. He told me that he didn't live far from the lake, just down a few blocks, on the third cross lane. I was hesitant, I asked him if his family would mind and he said 'don't worry about them, come.' so we crossed the busy junction and walked. His gait was a bit unsteady and he blamed his age for it and added that he had to make it home before it got dark, lest he missed a pothole and fell.

As we walked slowly, I realised how senior citizens, people with reduced mobility are vulnerable - given the number of open drains, potholes, manholes and just loose paver blocks that one finds even on a small stretch of road. We soon reached his house. His son welcomed us in and asked me if I wanted tea. I politely declined and my new friend lost no time in pulling out his work. But as he sorted out his 'best' work, the photo frames on the walls caught my attention. To my left was the Qutub Minar, but taken from behind of an arch - very unusual angle. To my right was a street scene from Southern India (Kerala, perhaps), it was strikingly beautiful. I stood there looking at it, and it wasn't until he pointed out that I realised that dwarfed by the streetscape, standing in the centre were two children. His two sons.



He explained as we settled on the sofa, that the idea was to focus on the street and not let the two humans dominate the scene. It was clicked on his Bessamatic way back in the 70s. He had developed the prints on his own, in a dingy dark room. He had wasted many prints and 'so-much' chemical in learning the technique but he was entirely self taught. Over the next one hour or so, I found myself reliving my recent trips to places across India which he had captured on print many decades ago.

There were temples of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, there was even the ruins of Hampi and Mammalapuram (Mahabalipuram), while his trip with his family to Delhi captured the architectural grandeur of the medieval times to the many emotions and moments of his family. And then, there were photos of a foggy morning by a lake in Calcutta (70s), for which he visited the lake every morning for a week to get the best angle. While seeing certain frames, he asked me to shut one of my eyes to notice the 3-Dimensional effect that his angle created on the image.



There were also many photos of birds - including the common Kingfisher, white throated kingfisher, coppersmith barbet, the ducks and plenty of other water boards that used to be spotted quite commonly at Lokhandwala Lake. He was delighted to show them to me. I asked him how had he managed to nurture the hobby for so many years. And he said that he really liked clicking photos. That's all kept him going.

However, it wasn't just point and shoot for him, he was a strict disciplinarian and thus irked his family on many trips! He explained why. His routine when arriving at a new place was simple. He would simply walk around for a few hours, studying the place and composing his shots or waiting for the sun to move more to the west and then just at the right minute - take the shots. Photography is for the patient he added.


It made me think of my impulses to instantly capture a structure on my phone without paying any thought for better composition, influence of natural light, leaving all that upto the filters on Instagram. There were photos of Bombay, of the Marine Drive, of lakes in Calcutta and many more that were stored away or were lost. We didn't realise how fast time had flown. It was a fascinating journey, virtually into the past, into the world of Photography and the serious disciplined work that went into capturing the moment right. I thanked him for his time, promised to meet again and bid my goodbye to Mr. G - the man who liked to click photographs.


Monday, February 1, 2016

कॉल्ड्प्ले in Bombay

कॉल्ड्प्ले केम टू बॉम्बे टू शुट थेइर लेटेस्ट विडीयो.

थे टूक अ कॅब अंड वेंट टो प्ले होळी इन वरळी अन्द सेंट सोनम कपूर टू वसई फोर्ट.

बेयोन्से बेकेम अ हिंदी मूवी आयटम गर्ल कॉलअड राणी.

व्हाट ईस व्रोंग विथ इत?

I saw the video only to see if I could spot the locations. Yes, there is Bassein Fort (How did they get the white peacock there! CGI like Beyonce climbing the stairs of the fort?) shot in the monsoon months with the foliage glorious and overtaking the ruins of the past, there are bylanes of Worli, the fort and the small harbour, Banganga, random streets and yes of course, the Gateway.

But there are some great visuals and some really made up ones. Sadhus doing yoga, kaleidoscope man, outdated tv sets but hey, this is a music video not a documentary on India on Discovery Channel. All I am thinking is how much fun those b-boying boys must have had and how proud their parents must be. I hope someone tracks down the group and does a story on them.

Check out the guy to the right at 3:11


Then of course, there are the fishermen from Worli Koliwada whose dinghies Chris Martin sails away on. All in all, good song, good video - if you want to learn about India through a music video then I am sorry for you.

Also, if you are still crying hoarse about cultural misappropriation and being an apologist (We also have skyscraperzz!) then to you I'd like to say, what we say it in Bombay, khaali-peeli kaayko bomb maarta hain? Khaali fukat time waste mat kar. Culti maar, chal.




Sun, Sand and Safety

The death of 13 college students off the coast of Murud beach comes as a shock. The relatively cleaner stretch of sand, with a narrow road running parallel to it is a great place for an evening stroll. I remember spending a leisurely afternoon there. I know how tempting it must have been to enter the waters and maybe splash around for sometime. I am sure the professors accompanying the students would have thought it to be a harmless activity.

Had it been any other beach with a slight gradient and low undertow; it would have been a perfect beach holiday with an excursion to the nearby Murud Janjira fort. Was there lack of oversight among the teachers? Perhaps. Were students so naive; maybe. But were they warned? Was there anyway of them knowing that the beach is known to be dangerous for swimming?

During the afternoon when the incident took place, the locals and tourists don't frequent the beach. It is quite isolated. Naturally, with nobody to turn them around the big group must have made straight to the water. In 2014, some folks from Chembur also drowned in these treacherous waters.

If there is any takeaway from these sad incidents, it is that local capacity building is vital. Fishermen in the vicinity can easily be trained to become full time Lifeguards with the necessary knowledge and equipment. The cost can be borne by the district administration, tourism department and the gram panchayat.

The beaches of Maharashtra deserve to be promoted as International beach holiday destinations but not without taking these simple preventive measures that would ensure that the holiday doesn't turn into a nightmare.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"From Shadows to the Stars"

Much is being written, said and debated.
About Rohith Vemula.
Of course, but for how long.
26 days? He was 26.

Born in Guntur, dead in Hyderabad.
His birth his fatal accident.
His ambition to become a writer.
His work - his first final note.

His mother sewed clothes
Father guarded a hospital.
He wrote, he fought, he was expelled.
From the University and the world.

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An original voice was extinguished. It is pathetic. Is this what a death of a writer feels like? Perhaps. Whose poignant note remains his best work. It makes one think, reflect and retch at what we have become. A newspaper carried it in the Op-Ed section with a smiling picture of him. I read it once. And once more. I couldn't read it again. But I did. You must read it too. Several times.

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I have always defended reservations. In colleges, in universities and in jobs. My largely urban peer group, mostly from the upper castes, ignorant of the problems and issues faced by the Dalits, always criticise my stand. They don't think caste barriers exist.

In Bombay, it is easy to be ignorant. We don't have the time. We don't think that there exists a barrier, a bias, a prejudice, a dogma, a hatred. But it does. In our minds and in our matrimonial meetings and dealings, it does. It permeates deep within, in dark corners unknown to the best of us. Reflect.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Lies Ahead?

There is no better test of my concentration than the loud music blasting from loudspeakers as tall as the average Indian male. Sound waves bounce off the walls of the tiny room, cutting through thin one layered brick walls, reverberating nerve cells making them dance. But I plod on with my work. With my task. Under the dim glow of this table lamp procured from the subway leading to Churchgate station. Bargained for a princely sum of 100 bucks from Mohan the guy from Moradabad who runs a successful enterprise of electronics made in China. His lamps stop hurrying commuters in their tracks. They take a moment to stand and stare, daring to miss their 734 BO Fast. They avoid the puddles formed by the leaky roof (deep potholes?) as they look in awe at the toys for adults on display.

What is this task, you may wonder, that keeps me from joining the thin crowd outside my window gyrating to the sounds of Koli music. Of course, in the land of Bollywood, it is the music in pockets of the slums, chawls, mohallahs not dominated by migrants from UPBihar, that underscores the (now seemingly) tenuous link that the Kolis share with their land. The task is not complicated but it requires dedicated concentration nevertheless. It is the process of sculpting what lies ahead. Is that even possible? Perhaps not. But no one died trying. Or something like that.


Who am I to decide what lies ahead, you may wonder. Of course, indeed, really. No no, you are right. What power does man hold over what lies ahead? Pertinent question. Perhaps uttered in the rhetoric sense. Maybe. But I’ll answer it anyway. What is future but the outcome of one’s actions, isn’t it? How would you reach a place if you didn't walk towards it? If you just sat there, typing away prose that nobody would read. What lies ahead, nobody knows. Nope, not even Daruwalla. Not even those twinkling (dead?) stars.


But.. but, is everything then predecided, predetermined, programmed as they say in this Brave New World? Or is Karma at play? Today determines tomorrow but tomorrow never comes. If things were set, written on your forehead (with invisible ink?) when you entered this world causing much consternation and pain to your biological mother, then the trick would be to decode the cipher. To find the keyword that would unlock the mystery to what lies ahead. Sure, the time of my birth holds the key you may yell, clutching the Kundali chart made by a priest who wouldn’t be able to tell Pluto from Uranus. Now don’t you say Pluto is not a planet anymore, you are probably right but it does have a heart (hail New Horizons!).


Although if you have reached so far. Then you must have safely concluded that this is the kind of writing that they include in English Comprehension sections of the CAT and I am the kind of writer, who is cursed by millions of future Managers of the Corporate World subjected to the torture of figuring out — the central idea of the above passage.


So let me lay it down for you. I don't think there exists a script. Not for you, not for me, not even for the monsoons (thanks a lot, El Nino). Laws of Motion apply. See why hanging around apple orchards is good, I recommend the ones in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Success is directly proportional to effort and hunger drives the world. Ergo, even as the Koli songs give away to Honey Singh, I must resume sculpting tomorrow, I must chip away slowly and patiently. Smoothen the sharp edges and polish the rough surfaces. Who knows if my work will live like the Gandhara statues of the Moustachioed Buddha or whether it will be crushed mercilessly like others? Yep, you said it — no one knows. Full marks.




 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Case of the Missing Ball

From where I sat, I had an unobstructed view of the playground. It wasn’t a huge maidan where people assembled for rallies but a small open space in the otherwise congested Nehru Nagar where housewives walked in sports-shoes and boys from the nearby slums and small three storeyed buildings assembled to play every evening. It reminded me of Delhi where every Kaloni (colony) has a park of its own. Lush green spaces with a walking track, playing area, shrubs and flowering trees and many birds. (Oh the birds of Delhi!) But this playground was just an open space, but a welcome respite from the standard view of a Bombay property - living rooms of other people.


It was a lazy evening, work seemed boring so I called up a friend. Even as we spoke, I was looking out of the window. The playground was beginning to come to life but what caught my eye was a small boy, standing not taller than three and a half feet, dressed in old faded jeans and a purple shirt. He wore glasses and was playing catch with a red rubber ball by himself. He seemed quite engrossed in his little game and I wondered why he wasn’t playing in the ongoing cricket match.


As I continued the conversation, he threw the ball a lot higher than before and it fell down, but this time outside the boundary of the ground. The boundary wall was much higher than three and a half feet so he had no clue where the ball had fallen. All he knew was it was outside the boundary wall. It had landed not far from the wall. But, a group of college going boys were passing right then and one of them picked up the ball (as is the convention while passing a playground), he threw it back in hoping that some fielder would get it. Little did they know, that it was a one man cricket team playing with the ball. Just then, the little boy after dodging aunties in sportshoes had managed to go out onto the street.


The college boys told him to look for it inside and walked away. From my vantage point, I could see where the ball had landed inside now. It was much farther away from the main gate and our hero in purple returned to retrieve it. But alas. He could not spot it. He ran towards the gate, looked out, came back in and stood still, looking in all directions around him. I hoped he would spot it but alas. By now, I wasn’t paying attention to the call but looked intently, waiting to see what would happen.


But I wasn’t the only one with his sights set on the ball. Another boy of the same height and age moved surreptitiously towards the ball. He was a fielder for the ongoing match and he had noticed the ongoings curiously. He stood next to the ball, all this while keeping his gaze fixated on the purple chasmiss boy who was standing at the same spot. The moment he looked away, the fielder picked it up and made a dash for the boundary line, where along the walking track lay many garden pots. He hid the ball behind one of them and resumed his position. The chasmiss boy continued to stand there, dejected.


It was time to climb down from my perch. I anyway needed chai and had resolved against the in-house masala tea made by the staff for in favour of the flavourful Rajwadi chai made by the jolly Marwadi at his stall that stood at the junction, about two hundred meters away. So passing security, I ran down the many floors, crossing another security desk I reached the other side of the ground. I peered in through a gate that was never open, wanting to signal the boy but I couldn’t find him. Ah damn.


I decided to go have chai anyway, and as I exited the cul-de-sac, I saw him. Walking dejectedly towards the slums. His shirt was torn and his jeans were faded, his small face behind the black rimmed spectacles was crestfallen. I walked upto him and tapped him on the shoulder.


“You’ve lost the ball, right? Come with me. I know where it is”


He didn’t react but I egged him on. 

“Chal chal, jaldi” 

And he followed. We walked in silence till the gate and I stood back. From there, I could see the fielder and the pots where the prized possession was hidden. I told him to go look for it there but told him to walk on the walking track quitely. I didn’t want to be the mediator of a confrontation. So he did just that. I waited. He looked through the pots and then stood up and looked back. From where I stood, I couldn’t tell if he had found it so I egged him to look further. But he shook his head and showed me the ball that he had unearthed. He smiled and threw the ball high up and I turned around. 

The Rajwadi chai would be waiting for me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Daily Battle

Trepidation as the train approaches. Spot jog to calm your nerves. Wear backpack in front, kevlar like to protect your ribs. Finally, moment of truth. Engage your core, stance like a boxer, elbows and fists ready to strike and charge. Play eye of the tiger in your head. And charge like an army making the final push. Once inside, duel with your comrades from a few seconds ago for temporary ownership of space for your arse. Defeat the weak soldier and grab space enough for half your ass. The Fourth seat. Battle is won. Shoulder bruised. But ass rested. Sleep heavy on your eyes, sleep. Sleep as the battle continues to be waged, at every station, as weak soldiers continue to fall. Charging, tumbling rumbling and fumbling. But you sleep until she announces the name of your station in Marathi, Hindi and English. Yawn and stand up. But don't relax, the evening has the same battle in store. The fight for some space for your arse.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Rail Yard


There seemed to have been a sliver of hope when the last train pulled into the platform. But apart from a few drunk passengers and an old Marwadi merchant, nobody seemed to have got off from the train. The lights of the train went off and the ghost train moved out of the platform to be deposited in the yard that lay a few hundred meters away to the south. The RPF Havaldar finally called it a day and dozed off with his rifle on his helpdesk. The food stalls had long shut down and the autorickshaw drivers outside slept off, crouched on the seat meant for three-passengers-only( four if you paid extra). The slightest hope was extinguished as the rumble of the train became distant.

Manjula, 38, mother of three stood looking at the taillight of the train as it made its journey back to the yard. She felt disappointed, dejected, standing under the whirring fan of platform number 1. It had been a bad week. Every evening since May, young girls were appearing outside the station. Inexperienced but innocent, unwilling but attractive and most importantly under the protection of a madam named Rosie. Of all the girls, she hated Reshma the most. All of 18, she had taken the adda by storm. She was the new queen of the station and Manjula, although renowned in the circle was shaken. Nothing but laali ki dukaan saali Manjula spat each time her sisters mentioned Reshma and her strong marketing skills.

The older guys, the rich traders of Dalal street who disembarked at the station had until recently chosen Manjula because unlike others, Manjula was well known. She didn’t come cheap either so automatically, anything that was expensive would be good concluded the traders. They were used to commodifying everything around them. But she was indeed the expert and believed in exclusivity and human effort. She was a brand without a facebook page but commanded such loyalty for which, most brand managers would sell their B-school degrees. Her close friends did warn her though. Working beyond 35, just like it is in cricket, is not possible but she called herself Tendulkar of the Adda and continued. A reputation to maintain was fine, but in reality it was the three children for whom she had to continue working.

So, when she stood without having had her ‘bonnie’ at 130 am on the platform, she questioned her life choices. Forced into the dhanda since she was 15, Manjula had come a long way from a shanty in Kurla to a 1-room-kitchen-touching-highway flat in an old to be redeveloped building in Samta Nagar. The first few times meant sheer mental trauma. But it paid. And that was her answer, each time she questioned her decision. Until tonight. The month was almost over and reminder calls to pay the bills had already began. But money? was it the only thing bothering her tonight?

Was age catching up? Was it time for her to retire and look for employment elsewhere? Even the goddamn dance bars band hain!, she thought to herself. If she moved further north of Bombay, she could always get an employment in one of the unlicensed bars but then she risked arrest by the SSB. On the streets, it was simpler.

Have I lost it, to those girls, afterall?

Not far away from her, in a cabin under the staircase leading to the foot overbridge (FOB), looking nothing like a certain boy-wizard, sat Deptee(Deputy) Station Manager Ashok Sharma. Of medium build, hair neatly parted, dressed in white shirt and trousers, he sat behind his desk having his fourth cup of chai since his shift began at nine. On the flickering screen of the CCTV monitor number 5 (which streamed video from camera number, you guessed it, five) affixed over the stinking toilet on the northern end of the platform - stood a lady in a green saree. He had been staring at her since the past few hours. She seemed different than the rest but that was probably only him exaggerating. He wanted to get a better look. This pixelated view didn’t do her justice. He thought of going on an ‘inspection’ of the platform, but dismissed it, lest he scared her away from her current location. He stood up and went to the window to look at the platforms which appeared ghostly in their deserted and lifeless avatar.

Ashok was never the one to pick up girls, right from hi-iskool to graduate college, he was a shy man, engrossed in his copy of Quantitative Aptitude by Dr. R. S Agarwal for Competitive Examinations (S. Chand Publications). He had been a 27 year old virgin until he got married to Reena Kumari from Semaria, District: Bhojpur, State: Bihar. It had been ten years and yet he lived like a bachelor in the spacious Railway Quarters at Matunga allotted to him by the Indian Railways. He didn’t deem it fit for his kids to grow up in a city like Bombay. He felt homesick and hated the cutting chai made in adulterated milk but he had risen up the rank and being the Deptee earned him enough salutes to keep his morale sufficiently high.

He turned around and glanced at the wall clock, two hours to go, he thought to himself. Two hours later the first local would chug out from the yard and the machinery of the station would rouse from its slumber and get to work, barely resting until it was the time for the last train. He glanced at the monitor and there she was. Lost in deep thought, still standing right there. “Two hours” he muttered to himself before he took a deep breath and ventured out into the still night. The RPF sentry had dozed off on the helpdesk sponsored by Suvidha. Good. He walked briskly towards the end of the platform.

Who is this man? Not another havaldar please!” thought Manjula as she saw a man in white approach. He seemed to be some official-authority type man. She wasn’t new to dealing with them, these type of men who signed notices that said ‘By-Order’. They were easy to handle. Bigger egos than her customers. She knew the tricks well but tonight she wasn’t in the mood to negotiate for his permission to stay on the platform.

The green of saree was a brighter shade from the one that the camera had shown him. She is different, yes of course. She was looking at him hesitantly almost begging him to go away. “But I don’t mean any harm, I just wanted to take a good look at you, that’s all” But he couldn’t say it out loud. He walked up to her, hands clenched into tight fists, cleverly hidden in his pockets he couldn’t resist but ask “How much?”. He knew the hard disk in his office was recording this entire encounter so he tried to appear angry. Before she could answer with her fingers, as was the convention, he barked “mooh se bolo, haath se nahi!”

Taken aback by this question and his manner, Manjula blurted out “400”. She would’ve added another zero if this was evening but this man in white was her only hope. Puzzled by his unfazed look, she wondered if she had quoted the right amount.

“Yard ke peeche” he said curtly and turned on his heels. A myriad questions and possibilities ran through his head. Passing the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) exam had been his greatest achievement in life, why he would risk his entire career (job security and pension and perks and quarters) he didn’t know. By the time he reached his cabin, he had made up his mind. He knew the easier route to the yard, like her, he wouldn’t need to walk across the tracks. Instead if he walked all the way to the south and took the FOB to PF 4, a paved road, restricted for passengers led right to the yard. His absence wouldn't be questioned and he could always say he was on a surprise inspection of the yard.

She got down from Platform and walked through the middle of the tracks. She was following the route of the last train. Where exactly, he hadn't specified but it was okay, she would find her way. A temporary shed built for the workmen in orange, behind the yard is where the man in white was seated. He beckoned her and didn’t speak at all. He handed four crisp 100 rupee notes to her and without a word, started unbuttoning his shirt. With his heart beating twice as fast, Ashok unzipped his pants and waited. For the next few minutes, his heart only beat faster. There were no sounds, akin to an adult film made before the Talkies era began. He was being cautious but each moment seemed worth the risk he had taken. The lady in green was good, no wait, excellent. She was a master, he couldn’t imagine how being impulsive could turn out to be this great. But it had to end and it did. And Ashok found himself, lying under a foggy night sky. The darkest hour of the morning had begun and within a few minutes, the motorman of the first train would wake up. He cleared up and thrust some more notes into her hand. He didn’t have to bid her goodbye, she was gone long before. His expressionless face belied all the excitement and pleasure that he had just experienced.

Manjula hurried back to the station exit, clutching the extra few notes. It was dark and she didn’t know how much it was. She woke up her regular autowallah and reached home only to discover that the man in white had added a generous zero to her remuneration. At the same time, Ashok sauntered into the yard to be greeted by the energetic young motorman of the first train. Acting pompous, as he was expected to, in an official manner he had cultivated in his long years of service, he climbed into the motorman’s cabin and informed him that he was inspecting the yard and expected to be dropped back to the station. The motorman nodded and felt privileged to give the Deptee a ride back and honked longer than required as he put the first local in motion and woke up the entire station.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Superman of King's Circle - King Uncle

I generally walk to places. I choose the bus over autos or taxis but even that involves walking to the bus stop. It’s not that I can’t afford taxis but I simply prefer walking. It is a great way to know a neighbourhood, and that's why to encourage this, we at Breakfree started Walks across Bombay this year. But, walking in Bombay isn’t easy, crossing the road, even at signals is difficult and each time I find myself jaywalking even when the figure on the signal has gone green.

As a child, I was taught Z for Zerba crossing. I didn’t know what that was, never having seen the white stripes painted on the road. Those were meant for pedestrians to walk on to cross over to the other side, when the signal went red. In the suburbs, the concept of a Zebra crossing never existed. I first saw them on a visit to Churchgate, though not many motorists bothered to stick to the boundary line and encroached upon it. Almost as if this would boost their chances of gaining a few precious seconds on their journey. As I grew up and started walking more and more, I began fighting with those who didn't toe the line, shouting at the taxi drivers who hoarded every inch of space reserved for pedestrians. But nothing ever came of it. 




Last Sunday, while I was leading a walk around Matunga we came across the Superman of King's Circle. As we waited to cross over from the Koolar side, we stood and watched an old gentleman clad in a loose red t-shirt monitoring traffic. He stood right where the white stripes were painted and ensured that at each red light, all vehicles stopped and stopped behind the crossing. If a motorist broke the signal and rushed, he would turn around and shout after him. If an eager biker inched forward, he would face the music. Just when we were about to cross, he stood in the middle of the road and stretched his arm wide to stop a speeding BEST bus right before him. The driver slowed down and so did the other vehicles. After about 40 seconds, when the signal went green, he clapped his hands and motioned the vehicles to move. 

He would keep repeating this throughout the evening. Tirelessly, this retired gentleman went about doing a thankless job. I was inspired. His rage was inspiring. In a country, known for its callous attitudes towards basic issues and the infamous chalta-hain attitude, coming across such a man who could very well sit at home, have strong filter kaapi and read The Hindu can’t be anything but inspiring. We've become tolerant to bullshit. We sigh and tolerate traffic offenders, failed institutions, lethargic workers, people who spit on the road and litter the train compartments, mindless political propaganda against migrants, minorities and the list is endless. Where is the outrage? I wonder. We know very well to rant on social media (just like this post) but how many of us take matters into our hands and ensure the rules made for our safety and welfare are followed. We are highly intolerant of each other though, the vast diversity in terms of religion, culture, cuisine, language makes us uneasy, we prefer our own ilk more but we can tolerate every other thing that is really wrong in the country. This attitude, we must change. 


Monitoring and regulating traffic maybe the job of the traffic police but until we deploy highly driven, honest, well paid, traffic personnel at every junction working on an 8 hour shift, I highly doubt if pedestrians will be able to cross over to the other side by walking on that part of the road which is rightfully theirs. Therefore, when people like this man don the role of an informal traffic regulator, I feel that all hasn't been lost. If only, fellows behind the wheel were not in such a hurry and followed traffic rules - the road would be a great place. For a city facing traffic snarls daily, making its streets pedestrian and cyclists friendly could go a long way in solving this problem of congestion on the roads. A lot remains to be done, and I will not give up, but until then, I will be grateful to the Superman in the red t-shirt, who stands at King's Circle and tries.

Update: 



P.S. Subramanian Iyer fondly known as King Uncle passed away on 25th October this year. On a recent visit to Matunga, my friend Afzal gave me this news and these photos everywhere in King's circle confirmed it. His presence will be missed. 

An article about him written in DNA earlier this year can be found here. 

A documentary on King Uncle was posted on Youtube on 23rd October. Do watch to hear his message.

Photos by: Mohini Bhavsar and Biswajit Dey