Going Home..

Posted January 29th, 2008 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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I am going home after two years–the longest continous time I have been away from home, despite being in the US for the last 8 years. The suitcases have been packed for the last three weeks, re-packed several times more. weighed repeatedly in a frantic attempt reduce the last 1 pound. Like all previous occassions, this time too there are a few gifts that won’t make the trip with us, our bags are already overweight.

We clutch “to-do lists” and check lists wherever we go just to be sure we are not forgetting anything. Stop the mail–check. Arrange with a friend to water plants–check and so on. From couting months to days …i am now counting in hours.

I can almost smell the sweaty air of Bombay. I am almost there…..

Missing Mumbai

Posted August 15th, 2005 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Rainy days and occasional floods are common for people in Bombay . In fact most people look forward to them, despite the potholes, late trains and the occasional flooding . When I heard about the rains in Mumbai, last week I was not very concerned. Mumbaites are not new to floods, there is always one every year, when drainage systems, the government and the rains combine together to force people to stay in offices for the night, or walk a few miles in muddy water.

But then slowly as reports trickled in I realized that this was no ordinary water logging. This was so much more. And that’s when I really missed Mumbai. I miss Bombay on most days. I miss Mumbai more when it rains. But I miss Bombay the most when Bombay is faced with some sort of disaster. It seems odd to miss being in a midst of a natural disaster and miss the fact that you could not experience it. But that’s what I feel ( so did Vidya, when I talked to her). I know that people have suffered like never before, I know many who have walked for an entire day to reach home. I know people who have lost a lot of personal belongings, I know people were worried about friends and family. I know people had one hell of a terrible experience. I know its stupid to wish that I was in the midst of this.

But call me crazy, I missed being surrounded by dirty smelly waist deep water. I missed being part of the group of people walking home in waist deep water, holding hands with those around you, so that if one of you steps in a pothole the others can pull him/her back, I missed the stink of dirty water, the sight of how water swirled with filth and scum at certain spots. I missed being part of the crowded trains being surrounded by the musty damp smell of other half-soaked passengers.

And now as Bombay limps back to life and heart warming stories of Mumbaikar spirit surfaces, I sit here and miss the fact that I am not in Mumbai and I am not part of this part part of my home.

Train Tales

Posted December 2nd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Every Mumbaikar worth his salt has a few vignettes about the local train travel. Without further ado here is a bunch of travel tales I remember.

There was the beggar child who taught us the value of inflation about 7 years back. As a rule, I never give alms to beggars and definitely not to children who beg. The lady beside me did not possibly have that rule so when a grubby child begged her for alms, she carefully removed a 25 paisa coin and put that in her begging bowl. The child fished the coin out of his bowl and gravely inspected it for a few seconds. Then he replaced the coin in the bowl and brought out another coin and offered it to the lady. It was a 10 paisa coin, Before the lady could respond, the urchin said an unemotional ,”rakh lo” and went off. Nobody around knew what to say at that moment.

Standing at the railway platform you can always differentiate between the veteran travelers and the novices. As soon as the train is seen entering the platform, the veteran ladies loose their lethargy and adopt aggressive postures. The sari pallu or the the dupatta gets efficiently tucked to one side, the handbag is firmly clasped, there is a quick check to see whether the necklace/chain that they are wearing is shoved inside the dress/blouse and if necessary it is held on to. The eyes dart here and there quickly to check for any potential pick-pocketeers and then zero in on the train door not resting till they have got in and find a place to park both the feet. Once that’s done, the quickly scan the train for any possible seat…The rule is 4 to a seat.. It doesn’t matter if the previous three incumbents are obscenely fat but if there are only three, they shamelessly squeeze in for the 4 th seat.

Sometimes I have got the chance to teach a virgin train traveler the ropes…It is always fun to see the horror on their faces when they see their first crowded train and it is remarkable to see the ease with the become pro travelers after a few days. The first person that I taught about train travel was a school friend called Somila. To my horror, despite being a Bombayite she had never traveled in a local train till her 8 th standard.

Priyanka and I decided to immediately rectify that. As 14 year olds we were not exactly pros ourselves so we made the mistake of going towards Churchgate in the peak morning traffic and trying to get down at Charni road station. We calmly bundled her into the train at Bombay Central Station, despite her shrieks at seeing the crowd and even managed to push our way to the opposite side. Getting down was another story altogether. We told Somila to stick behind us and just come with the flow. However after getting down at Charni road we turned behind to see that there was no Somila. All we could see was her bag jutting out of the crowd and weak cries from inside. So we pulled at the bag till Somila emerged and yelled at her to push her way out before the train started. But Madam was waiting for a clear path ,which clearly was not going to emerge. So Priyanka asked the ladies to just throw her out of the train…Thankfully the amused ladies obliged and just as the train started to move Somila landed with a thud on the platform. What I have never forgotten was how she got up from the sprawling position. With both her hands still on the platform she gave her head a little toss and flicked her hair behind and then remarked “Mera hairstyle ekdum bigad gaya hoga.” . We burst out laughing. We retuned back home by cab. Somila paid.

Eunuchs in train always frightened me. Admittedly they are still not my favorite co-passengers but they are not always a nuisance. Sometimes they are ready to fight for you. The people I really dread on trains are the infamous fisherwomen. Enrage them slightly and you get the full knowledge of all the latest abuses in their vocabulary. A lady next to me learnt this the hard way…Dressed to the hilt, she boarded the train only to find the entire central area occupied by a couple of fisherwomen with huge baskets and the whole compartment reeking of fish. Not exactly comfortable traveling…this lady gave a couple of irritated glances at the fisherwomen and then committed the cardinal sin : she wrinkled her nose. That was enough to infuriate our friendly fisherwomen. They showered so many abuses on the poor lady that she was almost shrinking in the corner. The abuses ranged from how the rich folks can eat the fish but can’t bear the fishy smell to the comments on the size of her heels and the nature of her entire family.

That was when the eunuch in the compartment decided to join the melee. In strident voices she started yelling at the fisherwomen, quickly took the spotlight away from the frightened lady. Soon there was a yelling match with both the parties enjoying themselves thoroughly, the rest of the public had an enjoyable drama to while away the tedious journey and the person who started the whole proceedings managed to get down at her station calmly while the fight in the train continued.

Bombay Blasts

Posted August 26th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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The two blasts that rocked Bombay yesterday brought back the memories of the earlier series of blasts in March ’93. Bombay was just recovering from the horror of the riots that took place in January 1993. Schools had been closed for over two weeks during the riots and after two months people were just getting over the riots and its terror . Parents had just about stopped escorting their children to school. (As 10th standard students we were spared the indignity of parents having to drop us to school every day !)

It was during our SSC exam that the bomb blasts happened. I had just come home after the day’s exam and was having a well-deserved glass of “nimbu pani” from my mother, who was on leave to “help” me cope with the stress of exams. In other words, my mother, ever the opportunist, made my exams an ideal excuse for bunking office. It was at that time when we heard a loud blast. There didn’t seem to be any reason for firecrackers at that point of time, so we were not sure what to make of that blast. Reports soon poured in via the phone and TV that there had been a series of blasts at different points in Bombay within a short time. Rumors were rampant….we heard stories of regular workers at the stock exchange, who stepped out for some reason and thus were fortunate to escape being killed and others who were at the site of the blasts by accident or on a rare visit were killed or injured and yet others who by a quirk of fate missed one blast but was killed in another location. Tension was in the air, the riots were just over and everybody feared another possible breakout of communal violence. Of course at that point of time,I was equally worried about my next day’s exam. I was disgusted when my geography exam was postponed to the end eventually extending my exams by one more day.

But those blasts changed the attitude of the average Bombayite ( it was Bombayite then and not Mumbaikar!!) ..if only for a short while. Of course the change was not a drastic one and it was not even a very obvious change but you knew that behind the “bindaas” attitude that everyone sported, people were worried. The media for once did a good job of boosting the morale of the people. There were hoardings all over the city describing how the blood banks were full about an hour after the accident and how several Hindus helped Muslims and vice versa. Next day, the news showed clippings of the local trains which were as packed with people as before as Bombayites got back to their regular routines snubbing the terrorists in their attempt to disrupt their existence. There were spot interviews of some random people in the crowd who declared that they will not allow any such incident to upset their lives…We were all proud Bombayites then,,,scared , worried but proud!!

Everybody was a bit wary, those days after the blast. In the ladies compartment in the train, women smiled awkwardly at each other before peeking below their seats. At railway stations public announcements warned the people against any unattended objects or suspicious person. Buses were stopped mid route when people discovered a small box or parcel accidentally left by previous passengers. I remember my friend Priyanka unknowingly dropping a packet ( it contained Veg Manchurian ) at Bombay central station and then to our amazement finding it there ( on the platform steps) when we retraced our paths 15 minutes later. Inspite of the crowd ,nobody had even touched or stamped the bag.

Slowly things reverted back to the old state. People stopped checking below their seats, unfamiliar objects were bypassed calmly without calling the cops, petty thieves even dared to pick some of them up…. The bandhs stopped, politicians found new issues to blame Pakistan and the opposition. The terror and worry seemed a thing of the past

And now it seems like it is a repeat performance of the whole scenario…Several killed, and still more injured. Political parties do what they are best in doing : blame everyone else. A few weeks later all this will settle down. Headlines will be dominated by some other news . People in Bombay will get back to their busy lives , will still hail a cab without thinking of this incident and will still take their evening walk near the Gateway of India.
As they say….this too shall pass.

Books :

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg : Life in a small town in middle America, with all its quirky residents and their everyday troubles and happiness . The book deals from 1946 to present . All her characters are distinct and interesting and the book itself is a happy book that makes you smile as you read thru and leaves you feeling happy and cheerful and as Fannie Flagg would say with a smile in your voice!

The Bridegroom by Ha jin : Short stories, based on Chinese people in China. Most of the stories have very predictable endings but each of them are very different from each other. It was interesting to note that most of the prejudices, and the so called traditional values were so similar between India and China.

Movies

Prem Deewane : I loved the movie when I saw it the first time. I always wanted to see it later to see whether I would find it equally good years later. And yes I still was laughing at the antics of “college ke Laila –Majnu” . The flashback was a bit irritating and but If you want mindless funny entertainment I recommend this movie.

Teen Deewarein : Great movie and amazing performances. Juhi Chawla and Naseer were wonderful but Nagesh Kukoneer matches their performance with his role as a middle class Hyderabadi accountant. I especially noted his accent that seemed to be quite authentic and without the Amru accent which was evident in Hyderabad blues and to an extent even in Rockford. Each of the three prisoners had different characters and what is more maintained their characters throughout the movie.
But regarding the story and especially the climax , it seemed very familiar…as though I have read a similar story somewhere else. Anybody have any ideas?

9/11

Posted August 17th, 2002 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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It was 9/11 again last week. As I changed channels on my T.V all I could see were the images of the world trade center collapsing from different angles. The many “miracle survivors” were invited on the talk shows..they re-lived their tragedy…many of them breaking down and weeping copiously and America wept with them. Several other people in far corners of America took the day off from work to sit with their families….Others simply couldn’t work on such a day….May people prayed especially hard that day…american flags waved from most houses, offices and cars. It was the anniversary of the national disaster.

Try as I might I really cannot feel the anguish of the people here…Don’t get me wrong I am definitely sorry for all the people who perished that day and all the people who mourn their dear ones. It’s not something I ever want to happen…..but again its impersonal. Every person has their own views of their national disasters. For me the worst disaster I ever experienced and the day i shall always remember is the December 6 and January 6, the anniversary of the Babri masjid demolition and the Bombay riots respectively…That to me was probably the worst tragedy to strike in India and especially Bombay. The reason that I feel that way could be because i was in the thick of the riots.

So this 9/11, I was thinking about the riots, its victims and its repercussions. In the last few years i have heard several stories of people who saw atrocities, committed them, escaped them or are still haunted by them. Some of these are ghastly, some are trivial but these memories are what associates many people with those days of rioting. Here are some of the stories, I heard …

Atul’s story :

I was in my fifth semester engineering. We had our exams and my center was at RAIT,Vashi. We did not think the riots were that serious and we didn’t bother to check whether the exams are being held or not. My friend Milind and I were on our way to RAIT. That day buses were not working properly. We decided to take a bus to Bandra and catch another bus going to New Bombay from there. When we reached Bandra we saw that none of the buses were running. At that time the only thought was my exams and the scare of KT. So we decided to take a cab to Kurla thinking that once we get near Mankhurd we can always get to RAIT.

Our can driver was a Sardarji who promised to get us to Kurla..Unfortunately the route he chose was through the areas which had active rioting. As we were going i saw a car which was still burning ..I didn’t even want to think whether it actually had somebody in it. Far away we could see the smoke from other burnt cars and houses. There was a huge crowd gathering in front of us. They were Muslims holding swords and other weapons….The Sardarji told us to duck down in the seats and remain hidden. We did that and we could hear the crowd demanding the Sardarji to answer “Kyon Sardarji kya unlogon ne jo kiya woh theek kiya..Masjid tod dala”,The Sardarji said “nahi saab bilkul galat tha”. Pleased by the answer they said “theek hai tum sardarjee hai isiliye chod dete hai…par aaj band hai…gaadi mat chalao”

Sardarji assented and told bas udhar tak jaakar rok deta hoon

As soon as we went past the mob there was stone throwing…one stone came and hit the rear windshield of the taxi. Turning behind we saw that the police had already cordoned off that area and were trying to control the mob. The Sardarji dropped us at Kurla station and scared we ran away from that place..We reached RAIT late ,found that exams were postponed .We stayed over at New bombay for two days ….we were too scared to come back. Looking back i can only thank my stars that the can driver was a nice guy and a Sardar. Otherwise……..

Shyam’s’ story.

I was in 10 standard when the riots took place. Our area was a predominantly Hindu area so we did not see much trouble. It was relatively calm and quiet. At school too we were pretty much oblivious to the tension outside….busy preparing for our prelims. One of the guys in my group in school was Shadab. He was a roly-poly guy…fun to be around with. Soon after the riots he stopped coming to school. We later found out that he along with his family had moved away. At first we wondered why he did that….later with the typical callousness of school boys we forgot about him. Our lives were busy our board exams, results ,junior college and the twelve standard boards, admission tension and then engineering.

3 years back I met Shadab again in the local train. After cheery greeting and a few friendly swears, we exchanged information about our current education . I asked Shadab then”abe yaar tu dasvi ke baad gaya kahan….dikha hi nahi” and Shadab replied “You know i stayed in Jogeshwari. We were the only Muslims in the building. During those times it was so difficult to stay there….We only had to open our doors and somebody would be swearing at us. We were fed up of hearing all those insults...dar lagta tha bahar nikalne ko…..isiliye hum bandra shift ho gaye jahan hamare log rehte hai

It was an awkward moment ……..i didn’t know what to tell him. All i knew was that Bobmay was divided into “hamare log” and “tumhare log” and it was religion that divided it and it was the riots that perpetuated that division…

Meenaz’s story ( told to me a few days after the riots when i asked her why  she was wearing the same clothes for more than a week..and that too not the school uniform)

Sab kuch jal gaya….bas yahi baaki hai. Why are you looking surprised….It was these dange u know. My father you know is a taxi driver….he thought there would be trouble so we went to our khalla’s house…We stayed there for a week…Jab vapas ghar aaye to dekha ki poora ghar jala diya hai….ghar se bahut cheezen gayab hai..…Luckily we are all alive.

Did i see anything ….oh yes i did…

All our neighbors were not this lucky….several people were wounded….suna ki kuch gunde ghar mein ghus aaye aur bahut peeta mere bajuwale ko. I also saw a young girl running away trying to save herself while some louts were chasing here….pata nahi hindu the ke mussalman. par humara to sab kuch chala gaya…..

agar mere paas bandook hoti to mein aaj har hindu ko goli maar deti....hmmm may be i will spare you Deepa ….

Asma’s story ( She was on the phone with me on the day of the riots)

Asma: Hello Deepa ?

Deepa: Hi Asma…everyhthing ok there?

Asma:(weeping): I am so scared….there is a lot of noise outside…I can hear lot of people yelling. I am scared

Deepa: Arre don’t worry , these are probably just one of those awara guys out to scare people….u relax. I assume you have shut your doors

There is silence for some time on the other end….in the background i can hear arguments and in the far background noises made by the mob outside.

Asma : My abba is not listening to us ,,,,,there are people fighting outside..He wants to go and pacify them…He says samjhate hai ki jhagda nahi karna hai…i am telling him not to go and he is not listening….(sobbing more ) Deepa he has gone out…I am frightened….i hope he comes back in….

Deepa (confused ): He probably knows those people….nothing is going to happen he will be back soon see

Suddenly there is a loud noise .Although it sounds muffled through phone i can make out that it sounds like a gunshot.

Asma (screaming): Thats a shot….kisine golimaara…..pata nahi abba .…(she is hysterical now….)

Deepa: Asma don’t cry don’t cry….

There is a sudden click and the receiver is kept down…..

It took me all of 15 minutes to recover my guts to call her back again just to make sure her dad is safe….

Fortunately he was…..He saw the guy who was shooting and the guy who was shot…but came inside before the mob took over.

Sanjay’s story

Riots….haan yaar solid lafda hua tha….chee par yahan par kuch nahi hua….ekdum shanti tha…It was really boring you know. But then we organized watches,,,,public raat ko baithta tha…guard karne ko..kuch hota nahi tha…par phir bhi….pathar jama kiya tha…

Hum logon se socha jaate hai kisiki ko hull dete hain par phir kuch kiya nahi……………….Woh peeche ********** street pe kuch logone ek katlu ka dukaan loota…glass vaas tod diya..par uske siva kuch hi nahi hua…Electronics ka dukaan tha…phir suna public TV radio sab utha rahe the…Jaana chahiye tha kuch apun bhi le sakta tha…par phir main to dar gaya baba..isilye gaya nahi …..main bolta hai parle ekdum boring jagah hai…yahan pe kuch nahi hota…..

.....and these are stories I have heard first hand….I know there are countless others….more horrifying more thought provoking, more callous……still…..

Most names have been changed…..