I share here what my father wrote to his friends, as they near departure to Madras.....
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things:Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--Of cabbages--and kings--And why the sea is boiling hot--And whether pigs have wings."
From “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”, Lewis Carroll 1872
It has been 22 years' long sojourn for R and me in Mumbai. I don’t know if it is right to call it a sojourn. We have spent the longest period of our life here. But then, I don’t think there is any one place, which we can call our permanent residence (at least for the sake of government forms). As long as you have a few good friends and a meaningful daily work, any place could become interesting. In an increasingly consumerist world, where a job not only fulfils our basic needs but also panders to our ever increasing synthesized wants, it appears silly to look for nuggets of personal satisfaction and social relevance in the professional work assigned to us. But I do believe it can be done without sacrificing the so-called commercial interests.
Enough of that! Having been frequent visitors to the city, coming as residents in May ’86 did not create much of a culture shock for us. But there were a few initial realizations:
We had a lot of packing material after unpacking. We called the ‘Raddiwala’, pointed to the pile and asked, “How much?” He said, “Fifty rupees…” We said, “Ok.” What we did not realize that he was asking us fifty rupees to collect the rubbish and not paying us for all that hay and cartons! Anyway we paid up to save face.
After clearing up the rubbish, it was time to fix a rather heavy wooden shelf on to the wall. We had already been advised that the only way to manage in Bombay was to climb the walls and have storage places anywhere you plan to sit or sleep. Also minimum space should be allotted to walking and abulations. So we banged the wall to fix the iron pegs on which the shelf was to be hung. Soon the single brick wall had a gaping hole and we looked into the neighbor’s flat. From that moment, our neighbors could never think of us as anything but some idiots from a village.
Now it was time to begin my daily train journey from Mulund to VT followed by a bus trip to Nariman Point. My colleagues insisted on my starting at 7 am so that we could take the train to Thane, find a place to sit as it terminated and make the journey to VT with seats for ourselves. Getting a seat in a suburban train is nirvana for most Bombayites. Once you get it, you yearn for the one next to the window, and then you look for the one, which will blow the wind on your face. The ecstasy you feel is similar to one you get on reaching the 18th step in the Ayyappa temple.
The return trip has its own quirks. You generally miss the company bus. That means you have to walk to the share taxi stand or the BEST bus stop. On the way you will find small eateries. That is where you get initiated to vada pav and central obesity. If you miss that, you could pick up one rupee peanut packets. These operate on the principal of fixed EMI. The price remains same but the number of peanuts keeps on declining.
One of the contrarian rules about the train at VT or Churchgate in the evening is that alighting passengers are required to fearfully crouch inside the train till the departing passengers have charged in. Now depending on the balance in your karma bank, either you get a seat to sleep in till you reach your destination or wear a forlorn look till you someone near you gets up.
Days rolled, years passed and we changed (five) houses. Our daughter A learned to travel by local trains and buses to go to school. We did our bit for her by running around on the day of her SSC results to get her into RA Podar College, where she studied for the next five years and moved on to Ahmedabad.
Professionally, as a marketing person, I got involved with diabetes. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, where I could find a great amount of personal satisfaction and social relevance in my work. Whatever I did with doctors or patients of diabetes added value to the routine marketing of diabetic products of the erstwhile H. I would still love it if someone can think of using my knowledge and experience in diabetes in a meaningful way.
R’s stint at teaching English at a city college was a mixed bag of rewards. Her greatest satisfaction perhaps was when she would run into one of her former students, who would acknowledge that she had inspired them to better their English.
Along the way, we also acquired a house at Goregaon. It was a decade long wait to get the house. We now leave it with a Bengali gentleman. Hopefully we will return to it in about three years.
Well, to use a cliché, you can take us out of Bombay but you cannot take Bombay out of us!
Thank you Appa Amma, from the bottomest of my heart!