Get the hell out of the way!

Oh my gott, my dear Mumbai has been judged the rudest city in the world! Must I keel over and feel like lightning has struck me (that would be cruel, for lightning in fact did kill a girl recently)? Or must I get all ballistic because this is just so rude? Or should I get self-righteous and start giving examples of how we ooze kindness from every pore?

“Reader's Digest magazine sent reporters into the principal cities of each of the 35 countries where it is published, to conduct a survey of local politeness. Three tests were employed: dropping papers in a busy street to see if anyone would help; checking how often shop assistants said ''thank you''; and counting how often someone held a door open.”

1. Assuming you are walking down a busy street and going someplace with a bunch of papers, why would you drop them? That reveals carelessness on your part, not rudeness on the part of passersby because I think it is extremely rude to eye anyone’s personal papers.

2. In Mumbai shop assistants will unfurl yards of cloth even if you look like the kind who would not wear much, so it is you – the customer – who should be doing the thanking. And anyway, having travelled to many parts of the world, I have not encountered too many ‘thank yous’ after a purchase.

3. What doors need to be opened?? Most doors in Mumbai are already open. People leave lift doors open, store doors ajar with airconditioning seeping out. Our chemists have open entrances, gates are left wide open for strays, thieves and visitors.

Returning to the invigorating subject of rudeness, it is such a huge relief compared with the “Helloji, how’re you ji?” of Delhi, or the “Bhalo, hain?” seemingly sweet as rossogulla enquiry of Kolkata, or the rocking of the head with the accompanying, “Good no?” down South.

Mumbai does not ask you how you are; it tells you. In a fast-paced life where people discover who their neighbours are after they have been killed, there is something comforting in the thought that you are given directions to the state of your well-being. And the fact is you are as good as you are made to feel.

Yes, we Mumbaiites have been accused of brazenness, of being callous, uncaring. We are perhaps all of these and we make no excuses. I like it if someone tells me they are busy rather than saying, “Oho, pliss come, come, anytime” and then the person disappears or makes you wait.

Mumbai traffic moves like a turtle, but you won’t find rickshaw drivers climbing on to the pedestrian walkways “for shortcut”.

Mumbai has little time for niceties and that is the nicest thing about it. You don’t have to plan to meet it with fake smiles. Mumbai welcomes your scowls and you merge with it effortlessly.

This sounds suspiciously like love. Perhaps love is the rudest thing two people can do to each other…


Karoge yaad to har baat yaad aayegi...

It was a small box, nondescript. There was something written on it – the name of a jeweller. I opened it. On the red velvet were two tiny bottles, their necks sliced off. The bottles had their labels intact. They were injections.

For 14 and half years I had preserved them. They were the last shots my maamu, maternal uncle, had been given before he was pronounced dead.

The last shots before he had looked into my eyes, his large eyes flashing with an unknown need to connect.

Those last shots that had pierced his flesh a few minutes before I had let out the piercing scream that would leave me semi-conscious.

Why had I preserved them? I know that a couple of days later I was in the room and found them on the side table. I knew that heart failure is normal. Was this evidence against anyone? Or was this to be a helpless reminder that when nothing can be done, then nothing can be done?

Had I preserved them to remember or to forget?

How can anyone forget if you keep a memo pad? You can. It is like those bottles with their sharp heads would tell me everyday that it was over. In those initial days – months – I would keep the box within reach. Then, with time, I moved it to safer places. Finally, it was in the last draw in the cupboard that I rarely use, the draw that cannot be opened unless I move a small seat I have propped against it.

I use this seat every day. It is a half sofa. It is a beautiful rust colour, a bit like flaming autumn leaves.

It is strange. Among the many things I found during my ‘looking for something but don’t know what’ time were foreign currencies in small change. Several countries had left me with heavy metal. I looked at them from all angles. Right now where I am they are worth nothing. Once I am on wings again, they may not buy me a piece of the earth to lay my weary head on, but they will surely make a homeless person in some alien street happy. Just a coin dropped into a bowl – for music played, for still statues, for hunger, for the desperate urge to live.

I ran my fingers over those coins and understood their true value.

In the black bag that held my discards, I finally picked up the courage to throw those two bottles. I ran my fingers over them too. And in one final moment of deep loss, I poked myself with its pointed edge. No blood.

Had it become blunted?

Or have I stopped bleeding?