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BLOG - ER Ramachandran

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yeh Bambai meri jaan





Yeh Bambai Meri Jaan….


Mumbai , Bombay, Bambai all mean the same – The metropolis. The city’s name might have changed to Mumbai but if you hail a cabbie in Masjid, barely few hundred meters from V.T. Station, he is likely to explain his refusal with ‘Nai. Mein Bambai jaa rahaa hun!…. Touching the base at V.T. or C.S.T. or Fountain, (Flora) is still Bambai for him.

I had the privilege of residing in this city for over 15 years between 1972 and 1995. Each time when I left the city, I thought it was for good, but the city pulled me back. When you get back you seamlessly get back to its life and after a while and you even forget you had ever left the city! Bombay grows on you and that’s it. You would curse its shortcomings; but would never dare to leave.

The city is an amalgam of experience.  Call it what you will; it can only be experienced but cannot be explained. With multi cultures, multi languages, multi cuisines all weaving a mosaic of million hopes, the city is really an El Dorado for immigrants far and wide.

Girls from Kerala without knowing a word of Hindi come here to take over Nursing in hospitals across the city and become experts in Bombayya Hindi after only few months. Cooks from Bihar, Taxi drivers from U.P. have all made Bombay their home adding their spicy dialect to Bomay Hindi.

How does one understand the city? You will never really quite grasp it completely. It will surprise you each time you try to paraphrase it. If you cut it open to decipher, it will open into something else adding a surprise of its own.

It is often referred to as the city that never sleeps; it is certainly true of most of its people. Either  some  are partying hard,  most working harder to make ends meet,  some rehearsing a new play or practicing a new instrument, playing cards while traveling to work in the suburban train or  traveling  from somewhere to somewhere else…

How does one travel in Mumbai? In as many ways as possible - right from walking miles at a stretch along the suburban rail lines as people do amidst gallons  of water that is Monsoon rains to get to their place of work; to zip across the city in double fast local trains hanging on to the overhead strap on one hand and two more necks on the other; to take a somewhat comfortable journey if you get a seat in the BEST bus otherwise stand for long time with some heavy shoes crushing your big toe; drive your own car cursing the traffic while sweating by buckets; to sit in the back of a sleek air-conditioned Mercedes  cruising at 10 kms per hour. But all of them WILL reach their destination - office, factory, school, market or whatever, do their work and get back more or less the same way! This happens throughout the year come rain or shine. Rain will be in sheets of water and shine will come with buckets of sweat, the only two climates of Bombay through the year.

How does one attempt to get to know Mumbai? The contrasts alone will warrant a document to  note down, leave alone understanding it.

Sample this:

 # No city has made such elaborate arrangements for homeless to study at night. There are well-lit parks with toilets and  water  to drink where you can study, sleep, wakeup, wash  and go across the park for bun maska, kadak chai  24 X 7 and resume studies; This, in a city where most have no place of their own and perforce have to sleep in the open. The number of street children who have studied in such parks and made to top positions and later started their own companies is legion. Most of them come back to the place for thanks-giving and create more facilities for new hopefuls. I have seen near Diamond Gardens in Chembur boys studying late in the night under a lamppost with Municipality providing clean drinking water from a tap.

 # considering the city’s diversity right from dress to religion, culture to food and what- have- you, it is presumptuous even to assume there can be any unity at all. It is here Mumbai surprises the rest of India! In smaller towns, even where a single religion reigns, people divide themselves in to sub-sects like ant colonies to slug it out and pull each other down a la frog- in- a- well.  In Mumbai this is unheard  of   as most of them have no time for these little politics and games, as life itself is one fast to-and -fro journey each day. You often get to hear ‘Marnekeliye vakth nahin’ or ‘Shwas lene ke liye pursath nahin hain’  at  least three or four times a day and it is indeed true! You are forever traveling, meeting someone and running off  to meet a deadline somewhere,  there is hardly time for small- time khit-phits.

People criss-cross the city after office hours traveling miles to meet at a dingy space to practice for a new play for which availability of a place to stage the play is still uncertain.  On their weekly day off some get up at the crack of dawn and travel to other end of the city to teach slum children supplying books themselves. Old rich Parsi ladies used to late night and kitty parties, will stay late night and brave the December chill to distribute blankets to people sleeping on the footpaths during shivering winter.

It’s another matter, film stars and high society kids mow down homeless, sleeping on footpath on their swanky cars with their brashness fortified by few pegs of Johnny Walker and ‘ Oh- I-know-the Police-Commissioner’ attitude. Or a girl is raped in train in filmy style. Or a person is murdered during daytime in the middle of a road by bhailog in front of non-caring crowd. The city is a bundle of paradox.

Privacy is guarded zealously and there is an unwritten signboard on most Mumbaikar’s faces that read ‘don’t disturb me!’ ‘ My Neighbor’s business is none of my business’ is practiced so religiously neighbors living in a flat not having met each other at all is not uncommon .Most people prefer it that way. You have parks where apart from regular stone benches for a group or family, you have single seat for a loner! Loners are a major component of this crowded cosmopolitan city. Solitude and Mumbai are comrades in arms in a city where people live cheek by jowl.

  # Pickpockets strip you by the time you take  half a breath even as you have your pocket fully covered; but  total strangers will walk you to safety when you are caught in a neck-deep monsoon rains lashing the city for days at a stretch. Poorest of the poor and even the friendly pickpocket ,will  feed chai and biskut to an industrialist when his Mercedes breaks down in the middle of a night as  rain water enters the carburetor. In New Orleans they left a busload of senior citizens to starve and die.

That’s the difference between other metropolis and Mumbai.

During the serial bombing in Mumbai in 1992, the whole city was ravaged when concealed bombs ripped through the city in an hour in half a dozen market places killing scores of people and maiming many more. Even when the city was traumatized, by late evening so many people were queuing up in hospitals to donate blood to the injured, the authorities had to call off the appeal.

How is it for foodies in the city? Idly and Dosa were basically South Indian breakfast once, not anymore. For quite a few morning walkers, especially Gujarathis, a visit to Anand Bhavan in Matunga is a must for delicacies like Masala Dosa, Medu Vada and Idly with filter coffee after their fast walk in Five Gardens in Matunga. The rush at Mama Kane by Non-Maharashtrians is seen to be believed for the Maharastrian breakfast of Pohas and sabudana vadas for breakfast. In the evenings as commuters walk their way to Churchgate or CST to catch a local train, it is the Maharashtrian dish Vada Paav. South Indians take cookery classes to learn how to make Gujarathi dishes like Khandvi, Khamand Dhokla.

If cricket is a religion in the country today, the ABC of  cricket lessons  start  from Sharadashram school under Ramakanth Achrekar and dozens of clubs in  Shivaji Park, Cross maidan and the various Gymkhanas along the Marine Drive.  This is the home of Indian cricket with Bombay winning record number of Ranji Trophy which can never be matched. This is the home of all time great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and greats in their time like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ajit Wadekar.

 Not many know ‘Sunny’ Gavaskar, during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai in 1992,  stood between a frenzy blood thirsty mob and a Muslim family who had given up all hopes of survival. Sunny’s brave and gutsy deed helped the lives of the family. It is a deed far more menacing than facing some of the fastest bowlers ever and India’s original ‘Little Master’ intervened without caring for his own life!

As you peel layers of Mumbai you will see little Gujarat,  Bengal,Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjabs etc doing their own thing in various layouts of the city. But they are all fiercely Mumbaikars first due to what the city has done for them.

Gujrathis do their Navarathri, Parsis their Pateti and Navroz, South Indians celebrate their Pongol and Sankranthi. But they all become Mumbaikars and celebrate Ganesha at home in street corners, in mitra mandali in parks and where have you. It is that festival which unites a Mumbaikar like never before.

What drives a Mumbaikar day in day out, roughing out the long haul in crowded trains and going through the grind with his uncomplaining attitude for years? How do the dabbawallas manage to feed half the city carrying a home- cooked food in a Tiffin carrier using a distribution system that has confounded the management Gurus so much so they have started similar system in Boston?

When does a citizen turn in to a shock absorber and carry on as if nothing has happened and carries on her duty without a care or fear that she could be the next victim of a bomb in a train, market, near a bus stop and travel through the very same places she has seen a bomb blowing up  brains of her friends,  relatives or fellow travelers?

This enduring spirit, this ability to look in to the eye of a disaster and muster enough courage to go on with life is what differentiates a mumbaikar from others.

It is this spirit which will defeat every design of a terrorist no matter how many attempts he makes. The same spirit will once again defeat the Raj Thackeray ‘Thamasha’ as it did once to defeat Bala Saheb’s cry to divide the city.

Sure Bombay like a mega city has mega ills – the filth, the underworld, the unmanageable population. But these are the results of city fathers who failed to foresee and plan for city’s growth.  But the spirit of Mumbaikar to get on with the job ‘come what may’ is typical and usually rubs on any newcomer to the city quickly.

That is why Mohammed Rafi and Johnny Walker sang ‘Yeh Bambai meri Jaan’ , O.P. Nayyar's song in CID, a picture directed by Guru Dutt even as early as Fifties. Even today the same spirit reverberates in the city.

……………..
E.R. Ramachandran
Mysore
21/09/12
erram@rediffmail.com

1 Comments:

  • Brilliant!

    Thank you for introducing me to this blog. Following the eye in mysore

    By Blogger Slogan Murugan, at 6:14 AM  

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