Friday, February 13, 2015
Monday, November 24, 2014
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
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?
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
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.
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.
An article about him written in DNA earlier this year can be found here.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
1. Café Bharat, Opp Churchgate Station
Tucked away in a small corner, next to a mini supermarket on Indian Merchant Chambers road Cafe Bharat is a bustling place, complete with a mezzanine floor. Generally overshadowed by the nearby Satkar and even fancier places all around, it goes unnoticed. The food served is simple, delectable and cheap. Puri Bhaji and Misal Pav rule the charts. I always prefer having a plate of Misal with Pav. Misal is nothing but Usal with some farsan thrown in. Usal is a spicy pulses curry eaten with rice otherwise. In this part of town, finding a good Misal Pav is rare unlike in Marathi strongholds like Dadar (Hotel Prakash) or Thane (Hotel Mamledaar). You may opt for the batata vada with some usal which again is a fantastic combination, not available at every outlet. The vada is made in the typical Maharashtrian way with the filling containing good amount of garlic and coriander.
Be prepared to share the table during peak hours.
Misal Pav: Rs. 30
Also, MLA Canteen, next to DGP office.
2. Hotel Deluxe, Pitha street, Fort
Now, Hotel Deluxe deserves not a small mention but an entire blog dedicated to their wondrous food items that they serve. One of the few places in Bombay serving Malabari cuisine, you can visit HD anytime of the day and come out satiated. Sadhya, Fish Thali, Fish Curry, Biryani are served and devoured with great delight during meal times but between 4-7 they have a special menu. Three baskets woven out of coconut leaves are laid on a small table next to the cash counter, filled with three types of snacks. Fried bananas, small vadas, chicken rolls, sweet preparations. The best part is that the options keep changing every day. One can even order for a plate of dosas which are served with a small bowl of fish curry or a dollop of chicken curry! Both curries, typical of Malabari cuisine with a good hint of curry leaves.
The chai is unique too. Served in a tall glass, it isn't milky but neither watery. It is frothy and packs a punch, I generally have it after my dosa and fish curry. I have had several good meals at this place about which I have blogged here and here. Also, it is probably the only place that remains open on Sundays when this bustling business district goes silent.
Meal for one: Under Rs. 50
Non veg options: MLA Canteen next to DGP office for Bhurji, Omlette Pav.
3. Hotel Poornima, on the junction of Bombay House
I am a sucker for south Indian snacks. I can have them at any time of the day. But finding good authentic, Matunga type fare is rare. Therefore, when I visited Poornima the first time, I knew I had found my SoIn place at SoBo. Entering Poornima is like stepping into an era goneby. The decor hasn't changed since the 90s (except for new steel tables on the floor and the cash register), there's no menu (sign of a real South Indian joint) but a board which states that it will be 50 naya paise for extra sambar and two waiters that recite the entire menu each time. They also have a mezzanine floor where orders are taken while on the ground, you have to serve yourself.
I love the Vegetable Upma here along with some coconut chutney. Worth trying are the Mysore Masala dosai, Idli Vadai and Onion Uthappa. And the best part is that they serve good, pure filter coffee (Although, recently they switched to paper cups and ditched the tumbler-dabara combo to save water and time). In the afternoons, they serve a very good veg-thali for Rs. 66.
A snack and coffee here should set you back by Rs. 50
Other Filter Coffee places worthy of mention: Hotel Ramanath, Colaba and Hotel Swagat, off PM Road, Fort.
4. Moti Halwai, Cawasji Patel Marg
Located at a short walk from Horniman Circle or Fountain, Moti is a fairly huge place that dishes up Chole Bature, Samosa Chaat, Kachori, Daal Pakwan and of course Chole Samosa. If you are in the mood for some heavy stuff, Moti should be your stop. They also have a wide variety of sweets on sale. I love trying out the warm Gulab Jamnus on display. Bhajiyas are passable so stick to the Samosa served with some Chole and finish off with a tall glass of special lassi(less creamier version is also available).
Alternatively, you could opt for the special chai which is quite strong and brewed fresh on order.
Meal for one should be again around Rs. 50-60 including a snack and a chai.
Puncham Puri at VT is a good option too.
There's also the Irani - Cafe Military on Nagindas Master Road that starts to serve beer along with Caramel Custard at around 4-5pm.
I am sure there are plenty of other joints that serve equally delicious and cheap fare in and around Fort. If you have any recommendations, do let me know!
Thursday, January 9, 2014
I would urge anyone interested in colonial art and history to make a trip to the surprisingly clean Juhu beach to see this magnificent structure. Although it is a reminder of the relations between the rulers of the princely state and the British Empire, it is also symbolic of the wealth possessed by the king which enabled him to commission such a lavish work of art. Entry into the lawns would be ideal to appreciate the intricacies of the structure better( the news report mentions - The Royal arms are sculptured on the front of the pedestal, and the Star of India on the centre of the canopy. On the enriched part immediately above the statue are the rose of England and lotus of India, accompanied by the mottoes. "God and My Right" and "The Light of Heaven our Guide." Other accessories have been introduced into the design, such as the oak and ivy leaves, respectively the symbols of strength and friendship, adorning the plinths and capitals of the columns; with the oak, ivy, and lotus leaves enriching the mouldings that surround the whole. On the four panels at the sides and back of the canopy are inscriptions in four different languages - namely, in English and in three Indian languages) a look from the periphery is also satisfactory.