Everyone is welcome
Chintan Girish Modi : 05 Feb 2016
Chintan Girish Modi offers snippets of a Mumbai life
The 'urs' annual festival at Mahim Dargah
The fish market near Lower Parel station is yet to come alive. It is too early in the day for customers to start lining up but the cats are already lurking around, hoping to find a meal somewhere.
I am on my way to The Loft, an art gallery cooped up in a place that was once occupied by cotton mills that were shut down following a long strike in the 1980s. The area bears a new look now – fancy restaurants, night clubs, fashion labels. This city keeps changing. I don’t know whether to call it survival instinct, or death wish, or just good old karma.
At the gallery, I meet Aisha Abid Hussain, an artist from Lahore whose mixed media works are on display. It turns out that she studied at the National College of Arts.
“Aap NCA se hain? Arre waah! Wahaan ek kamaal ke security guard hain. Unka naam nahin pataa. Jab maine bataaya ki main India se hoon, unhone mujhe pyaar se bithaaya, aur ice cream khilaayi,” I tell her. (You’re from NCA! Wow! There is an amazing security guard there. I don’t know his name. When I shared that I was coming from India, he lovingly sat me down, and treated me to ice cream.)
“Woh Ramzan Chacha honge! Woh hain hee aise!” she says. (That must be Ramzan Chacha. That’s how he is!)
She has been loitering around the city on her own, going to Crawford Market, J J School of Art, Marine Drive, the Gateway of India, and many other tourist attractions. Her mother is a bit petrified. She calls Aisha every day to check if she is fine, and also wants to make sure she notes down taxi numbers.
Aisha explains, “My friends too were a bit scared. This fear comes from what they read in the papers. So often, there are reports of rape cases in India, especially involving foreigners.”
***I don’t know where my mother comes up with these things. All of a sudden, right in the middle of shelling peas, she remembers something her father told her forty years ago.
“Bombay is a crazy place. You could tie a shoe to your head, and someone would call it fashion. You could fill up a fancy bottle with mud off the street, and people would pay you a thousand rupees for it,” he had said.
How true! My humble doodh patti is way better than the expensive crap that passes for coffee these days. Uff! The things one has to do for high-speed WiFi!
***My friend Raghav and I love to explore new places instead of meeting at the same spot every time. Today, we have come to the Mahim dargah. It is a remarkable feeling. Neither of us is Muslim, and we do not know the fatiha. That doesn’t matter here anyway. Everyone is welcome, and that is the beauty of it.
An old uncle helps me tie a handkerchief around my head, and says, “Allah aapko khush rakkhe!” (May the Lord keep you happy). My face lights up with a smile instantly. We sit in silence for half an hour, then head towards Bismillah Juice Centre. There is very little space here. It seems like all of Mahim is thirsty.
“My humble doodh patti is way better than the expensive crap that passes for coffee these days. Uff! The things one has to do for high-speed WiFi!”Two taxi drivers are chatting right beside us, over large glasses of juice. One of them has had an interesting day.
“Aaj kal ke bachchon ko dekho, koi sharm haya naam ki cheez hee nahin hai.” (Look at young people today! They are utterly shameless.)
“Kya hua bhaijaan? Bohot gusse mein lag rahe ho.” (What happened, brother? You seem very angry.)
“Yaar, ek ladka aur ek ladki meri taxi mein baithe the, aur chumma-chaati karne lage. Mera dimaag bilkul kharaab ho haya.” (A boy and a girl were sitting in my taxi. They began to make out, and I lost my mind.)
“Kya kiya aapne?” (What did you do?)
“Maine taxi rok di, aur kahaa: Yaheen utar jaao. Oopar se mujh par hansne lage. Kehne lage: Chacha, umr hee aisi hai. Jawaani phir nahin aani.” (I stopped the taxi and said: Get off here. They started laughing at me, and said: Uncle, blame it on our age. These days of youth won’t come back.)
***Children are so unpredictable. It’s not like they are hatching secret plans all the time. It’s just their ability to come up with the absolutely unexpected that amazes me.
I am at a storytelling event in Borivali, one of the noisiest suburbs in Mumbai. But fortunately, this school is located in a quietish neighbourhood. The author who was reading from her book has just concluded, and the floor is open for questions from the students. Here is a sample of what they ask:
“Will this book be kept in the small library or the big library?”
“How much does this book cost?”
“Where can I get 250 rupees from?”
“Can you tell me what happens in the book so that I don’t have to buy it?”
The author is Nandana Sen. I hate to introduce her as Amartya Sen’s daughter. She has her own body of work to feel proud of. You might remember her as Rani Mukerji’s sister from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film ‘Black’. I would have given you a ‘Rang Rasiya’ reference but I am not sure if the film released in Pakistan. Well, those who couldn’t handle Nargis Fakhri’s telephone ad would probably faint if they watched ‘Rang Rasiya’. Not that we have a shortage of prudes in India.
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer. That he shares his last name with a Prime Minister is purely a matter of coincidence. He tweets at @chintan_connect
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