Tuesday, February 03, 2009

“Zero” Comfort “An Area of Darkness” and “Not an Issue”

I am standing at a 45 degree angle to the horizontal and my hands are holding on to the little hand holds to steady myself. The next moment I am at a 135 degree angle in the opposite direction and the only thing steadying me is the small handle to which there are five other claimants. “Not an issue, not an issue, please adjust.” Through a small opening in the crowd I can see several men with cheap rexine bags who have tried to squeeze in but are now standing with sour expressions on their faces.

A man, a puny-looking man, with a severe pinched sort of expression is trying to do the impossible – he is trying to read a newspaper. My face is slammed against the back of his head, one eye is peeping from beside his neck into the headlines:

“Job cuts, indices down, bankruptcy, scams, bombs, rogues, talibanisation, etc.” they stare at me. Talibanisation, nice word, a nice word with a dangerous intent, or religious bigotry, to be exact. It’s in churches, temples, viharas, masjids and gurdwaras in equal measure.

Nothing makes sense anymore. The compartment is dark, there’s only the sound of the fans, rumbling clatter of rails and whooshing wind, and stray lambent light from outside that creeps in from the windows. One man says, “It’s like a cattle transport, these trains.” The space to move around is rare and “zero” in here, and we all bear it with closed eyes and muttered obscene invectives.

I manage a weak smile and say, “No it’s worse. In a cattle bogie, there’s a rule that not more than x number of cows/sheep should be accommodated. Here, it’s the more the merrier.”

He nods and then his face disappears as the crowd pushes and churns, hands, feet do a dance, several curses follow, fat paunches shift and extricate themselves from secure “dovetailing” they had formed with other similar paunches and then proceed towards the door. What’s the hustle all about?

Kurla. The dirty and littered and grimy station crawls near in from the dense urban undergrowth of wires, railway tracks, stanchions and signals.

Kurla, in my childhood I would pass this station on the way to church, this decrepit station has assumed something of a star status with the coming of Andheri (meaning darkness), Mumbai’s own “area of darkness”. It’s a nightmare of grimy, badly maintained buildings accessed by bad roads, which have uncleared debris, gravel and sand dumped on them everyday. If you walk on one of these roads you would be struck down in seconds if you aren’t watchful and acrobatic enough to jump out of death’s swift progress. These roads aren’t cleaned, litter lies everywhere. Exactly the reason I call this “area of darkness”, because I used to work there. If it’s late in the evening you don’t get transport, it becomes something like an Indian village after 8 p.m., deserted roads, no taxis or rickshaws, and stray big shots in their safely air-conditioned cars.

Exactly why I call this an “area of darkness”. Get it?

It’s hard to imagine this churning flesh going to this “area of darkness” with such devotion, day after day after day. I am not wonderstruck or awed because I was one such person not long ago. But in this “area of darkness” are situated the sweatshops that churn out the developed world’s software systems, their seemingly faultless high-tech genetic research software (I wrote stuff for such a company). They are such bloody good programmers, their code is so systematic and free from bugs and syntactical errors, but when it comes to bring some order into the roads outside their office, they are a pretty big “zero.”

And “zero” is what they care for the roads in Andheri because they will be going and settling in the Yoonited States in a few years from now. So what do they care? They can stand at 45 degree and 135 degree angles for a few months, “not an issue” as they say in Bombay officialese. I won’t vouch for the grammatical correctness of this term which is in the mouth every office drone these days.

En Passant...

While I don’t know who is right or who is wrong in the beating up of women who drank liquor in a Mangalore bar, I know this and am making this request: Please don’t bring this rather tranquil town to disrepute. I like and love Mangalore as I have passed it several times on the way to Kerala and love its soft-spoken people and their sweet nature.

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