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Friday, 15 July 2011

"Aye dil hai mushkil jeena hat ke zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan..."


Much has been said about the dehumanizing quality of this city.

Maybe it’s a way of life here.

Like some kind of a basic survival instinct.

When you know that you can be just 60 seconds away from mortality the moment you step out of the house yet you can’t do anything about it, because that’s the way it is here, you kind of understand why the city demands that you hide your fear and helplessness behind a garb of the now-famous ‘Spirit of Mumbai’.

‘Resilience’ and ‘moving forward’ seem to have become the other names of ‘Denial’ in this city today.
When it rains at 10 in the night and you are stuck in the insane traffic and all you hear around you is panic, chaos, ambulance sirens and screams rending the air and your mind has blanked out and insides have gone numb, your friend turns around, smiles and says ‘Welcome to Mumbai’.

Deal with it. Or bugger off.

Mumbai, 2011.

You are scary, incomprehensible. I may have begun to slowly understand you but I am not sure just how much of that so-called ‘spirit’ of yours I can imbibe.

Mumbai, 2011.

We did not deserve to live like this. We just didn’t. 

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Where I consign Mumbai brokers to the lowest layers of Hell.

Bart, with $10,000, we'd be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things!”

Yes. True story. You can buy all sorts of stuff with that kind of money. Almost everything. Except perhaps getting someone decent (and by decent I mean someone who at least doesn’t look like he/she runs a human trafficking business in the heart of Mumbai) to rent out his/her apartment.

So I arrived in Mumbai on the 30th morning with a splitting headache, a perennially suspicious and paranoid mother whose cinematic imagination, fuelled by too much exposure to Bollywood ‘gangster’ movies, had pictured every cabbie in the city as a gun-totting, coke-snorting, cheap desi whiskey-guzzling gangster and a father whose idea of a great way to start the day is to point out the errors of my ways in the past four years. By the time we had reached the hotel I was pretty much non-functional; the cabbie was having a hard time figuring out my dad’s terribly guttural heavily Bong-accented Hindi and my mother had read somewhere that there was an attempt on Dawood’s little brother’s life and was contemplating taking the next flight home. If I thought that the universe was playing a conspiracy on me I had no frigging idea what lay in store for us.

My (the-then) future roommate Sonya had reached on the 29th only to call me up and whine about lack of cheap and decent places to live in Mumbai. I assured her that I had the contacts of a couple of brokers so we would figure out something in two days, give or take. Who the hell knew that we would be such 'sleazy-broker' magnets? 

To all you Mumbaikers who might be reading this eventually, rookie mistake. It happens. To all non-Mumbai people looking for cheap decent places for accommodations in Mumbai, don’t even bother looking it up in the internet. I bet my monthly allowance, (which isn’t much btw; it’s just a figure of speech) that if you google ‘cheap decent apartment in Mumbai’ you will simply see a page that says Your search - cheap mumbai apartment - did not match any documents.. Don’t believe me? Huh? HUH?! 

(Okay, solid solid amount of pointless exaggeration maybe. but what the heck?! I am in grieving. )

We met Shady Broker #1 who took us to this ‘housing complex’ in Colaba, assuring our paranoid fathers that ‘it is very safe sirjee. Only good good families you will get there. No boys jee just no boys.’

Now of course I appreciate the weak but honest attempt at assuring the fathers that no boy who’s hit puberty (and by this I mean someone who falls in the age bracket of 22-25. A few recent developments have convinced me of the veracity of this fact but more, much much more, on that later. ) with raging male sex hormones in his body will be around to play with their daughters’ modesty (even if the one of the daughters is somewhat your archetypal ‘fallen woman’).

What he forgot to mention is that there will be insanely, tall, brawny, mustachioed men (Okay do not for one instance picture Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach etc etc. Think potbellied, gold chain, bell-bottoms and polka dotted shirt wearing, villains from alpha z-grade Bollywood movies you were *this* close to watching in a shady hall once just for the heck of it. Not proud. So what?) will be around the building inside the “complex” 24x7. Added to an already difficult situation was the fact that the whole apartment was terribly shady and dingy and looked like a front for human trafficking and one of the men’s breath stank of cheap whiskey and he wore a horribly retro shirt in vivid hues that hurt my eyes and bore an uncanny resemblance to a cheap Kollywood villain.
“They are good good people sirjee. For babyjee’s safety”. Poor guy had his heart in the right place but babyjee’s father was slightly apoplectic by then and hence we had to leave.

(Also a flat in a house is NOT the same thing as a housing fucking complex. Why is it that your understanding of a customer’s demands and such other technical nitty gritties fail you whenever convenient?!!)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Next stop: Marine Lines Station. Enter Slimy Broker #2 Mr. Joshi.
PDs(Paranoid Dads): So?
Mr. J: Sir, do not worry. I will give you master bedroomwalla flat. The madams will be very comfortable. (Madams???!!! WTF!)

So we entered nice, respectable looking housing complex (notice absence of quotation marks here) bang opposite Wankhade Stadium thinking ‘okay this place looks nice and safe’ etc etc. 

Mr. J: Aiye aiye (come come)
Pin-drop silence.

PD#1: Where is the flat?

Mr. J: Aiye hum aapko dikhate hain. Andar to aiye. (come come I will show you. Come inside first)
PD#2: Is this the flat?
Mr. J: Haan jee. Badiya flat hain madamlogo ke liye. (yes sir. Good flat for the madams.)

Collective gasp.

It was a store room. With an incredibly low ceiling and a whirring fan that looked all set to behead us when we stand up. It stank of rotten eggs, dead cat's meat, beer puke and every single thing under the sun that can possibly gross you out. The room store room was partitioned horizontally by a wooden board and you have to climb up a rickety old ladder to reach the what-he-referred-to-as-the-‘master bedroom’. It looked exactly like that wooden attic where the corpses of the Williams were discovered in the movie Grudge.

Sonya: He’s kidding right?

Except that he wasn’t. He looked like someone with no measurable sense of humor as he earnestly tried to explain to us why we should take the place.

“You see there sir. There are good family people living over there. Very safe people. Safe area sir. Mumbai mein to aise hi log rehte hain sir”

Except one of the aforementioned ‘good safe family people’ turned out to be a lungi-clad extremely hirsute smelly boy in his early twenties, picking his nose and brushing and ogling at us. (Not surprising. He looked like the type whose mother tells him to not ‘mix with girls beta’. People with two X chromosomes in their system are people from an entirely different universe.)

So, long story short, nixed.

Mumbai, there is a special place in Hell for your brokers. I tell you that breed is just one lab accident away from being a supervillian. 

But Mumbai,
You’re like the feeling inside your mouth when you drink water after pointlessly chewing a juiceless, tasteless piece of gum for hours simply because you were too lazy to spit it out.