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Tag Archives: Mumbai
A new milestone. The Hive asked me to be one of their feature poets at their Open Mic yesterday. I find this immensely gratifying since I only really started thinking about performance poetry/spoken word seriously in January this year.
I knew I would have enough material to cover the 10 minute slot they allocated to me. But I wanted to make sure there was enough variety to keep the listeners entertained and engaged. I’ve been exploring the medium and I’ve tried to not get too repetitive. Also, unlike with writing, I haven’t had or haven’t given myself the luxury of multiple versions of the same trick.
Here are my performances. I started (without preamble, as I’ve been training myself to do) with SUPERWOMAN, which is a ten year work-in-progress, starting with this blogpost.
From there, I moved to a brand new piece that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. Spoken word is a mutable art form and how I feel about this idea has changed considerably in these months. I initially conceptualised it as a tale of regret, of a vital choice which I made every day and the rue I felt over not once trying the other side. Over time, it has moved from being a metaphor of my life to a picture of the city that defines me. I call this one FLAMINGOS.
And finally, I moved to the one classically ‘poetry/literary’ piece I wrote and performed a couple of months ago. Adi says it doesn’t sit as naturally with my style as others. But I wanted to try it anyway to see what I could do with it. I call it LOVE STORY SEASON 2 (or, in the page poetry version ‘Patchwork Relationship’).
The video moves on to my last piece as well. That’s the one I’m coming to think of as my signature piece. It was my first ever performance piece and its philosophy also gave me my newest tattoo. I give you again, PAPER PLANE.
I grew up feeling not very good about where I came from. For one, it was difficult for me to identify exactly where I was from. My ancestors were from Tamil Nadu and accordingly, the family would constantly refer to ‘our people’ and ‘our culture’ and ‘in our land’, meaning all things Tamil. My parents see linguistic identification as a big part of one’s identity. Where does that leave me?
Tamil is my fifth language and I can’t read or write it. I grew up being chided by the larger family for speaking ‘my’ language so badly. Hindi is my third language and I can read, write and speak it. But North Indians have always condescended to my ‘madraasiness’ and would laugh at me if I dared lay claim on it as my language. Marathi is my second language but I haven’t had a chance to read, write or speak it for 20 years now since my Maharashtrian tutor/ friend’s mother/ mother’s friend is no longer next door. English is my first language, the one I can claim to be fluent in, the one I think in and the one I practise my craft of writing in. I can also speak various kinds of English (maka-pav English, Queen’s English, digital native English, American/modern English) that may not be recognized as dialects but to me are as diverse and culturally rich as them. But English is not supposed to be an Indian language, is it? So I’m rudderless in the world of linguistic identity.
At some point, I decided to let my home define me. Mumbai; me Mumbaiker. Every Mumbaiker knows that this city is socioculturally and economically diverse. I was a suburban kid. And I grew up in what at the time was no man’s land. It was in transition from being an industrial belt to a newly residential area. This means connectivity was not great, there weren’t that many people who could band together and say collectively, “I belong here”. We were still growing up, our parents generation defining what the identity of this area was going to be. That place was called Andheri East and I grew up in the remote outer reaches of a Catholic village called Marol. It was far from EVERYWHERE.
By the time I was a teenager, I was restless enough to want to break free of the tiny community/village atmosphere where everybody knew everybody else and everyone was in everyone’s business. All the kids went to the colleges that were deemed fitting for Marol people — Bhavan’s, MVLU, Chinnai and Tolani. I escaped into the big world and lost myself in the masses at Mithibai. Mithibai was in Juhu, considered a ‘posh’ area and known to Marol dwellers as that place where filmstars kids studied and exchanged drugs and cigarettes everyday.
I learnt a lot of things at Mithibai (mostly outside the classroom). One of the biggest things was that where I came from, had no social value at all. Nobody had heard of Marol, no one cared about Andheri East and none of the others had to take the same bus-bus/train-bus route that I had to. I hung around in Lokhandwala, Juhu, Bandra and occasionally town. I’d travel for at least an hour from home, before I could shop or watch a movie or meet a friend, and I’d have to budget for longer in the monsoons.
Shortly after graduating, I moved out of Andheri East. Moving to the West was both literally and symbolically moving to the other (better) side of the tracks. I forgot about Marol and Andheri East. In the past decade, I’ve watched this place grow from a distance. I’ve been part of conversations that talk about it being the hellhole of Mumbai. And some part of me has felt grateful that I don’t live there anymore.
I’ve lived in Irla, Bandra and Mahim. To a lot of others like me, these places symbolise aspirations of the sort that lie deeply entrenched, aspirations that I have achieved. I have friends and acquaintances who live in Andheri East. A vapid way to describe it would be to say that they never made it out of there. Some of them relate to me the way I used to relate to my classmates in Mithibai — with a reluctant sense of awe. Only sometimes do I correct them and remind us all that I was a Marol kid.
Last week, I was drafting an essay for work, about Mumbai neighbourhoods. ‘Andheri East’ didn’t even stand out specifically to me. But it was on top of the alphabetically arranged list. So I began writing about it. And here is what I came up with, which was a revelation:
“Andheri East is one of the fastest growing suburban locations in Mumbai. It is one half of Mumbai’s biggest suburb. It is home to Mumbai’s international airport and many five star hotels in the vicinity. It also boasts several office complexes and residential areas.
Andheri East’s big advantage is its connectivity. Mumbai airport’s international terminal is situated in Sahar, at the heart of the area. The domestic terminal is along the highway, not too far away. The Mumbai metro line runs right through Andheri East, connecting it to Ghatkopar in the Central suburbs and Versova on the other side. Andheri railway station is a major suburban station. It is also the station that connects the Western and Harbour lines. And finally, there is an intricate BEST bus network with multiple bus depots in Andheri East.
Andheri East can be divided into clusters like Mahakali Caves, Chakala, JB Nagar, Marol and Saki Naka. Each of these clusters has its own shopping blocks, markets, restaurants and cafes. Industrial/corporate complexes rub shoulders with residential colonies and commercial blocks.
Residential complexes in Andheri East range from lost-cost housing (chawls) to mid-range flats to row houses and high rises. Working professionals find Andheri East a convenient choice for residence because of its connectedness and affordability vis-a-vis Andheri West. There are a lot of families in the area, given the proximity to schools, colleges and other residential amenities. Andheri East has at least two major hospitals (Holy Spirit, Seven Hills), three big colleges (MVLU, Chinnai, Tolani) and many good schools (Holy Family Boys School, Divine Child Girls School, Indian Education Society, Canossa Convent, St.John the Evangelist High School, St.Lawrence, Hasnat, Lady Vissanji Girls Academy, Our Lady of Health High School etc.).
A Saturday fish market is part of the local colour. There are two popular multiplexes and several single outlet and chain restaurants, close to Andheri-Kurla road. But it stops short of being a culture hub. You won’t find a lot of bookshops, theatres, museums or cultural events here. Andheri East doesn’t have many gardens and parks but it does abut Aarey Milk Colony which is one of the city’s biggest green belts.
Andheri East’s dense population makes it one of the most feared areas in the city, to get stuck in traffic. If you are looking for a quiet place to retire to or a serene getaway within the city, steer clear of Andheri East. Given its predominantly middle-class family demographic, it is also not the best place to look for popular nightclubs or pubs (unless you visit the ones in the five star hotels near the airport). Andheri East citizens tend to go out of the area for these.
Andheri East is self-contained township that is well connected to every other part of the city. It’s a great place to begin a real urban life in Mumbai.”
That last is just what my parents did. Andheri East is where a small child, a sheltered housewife from Delhi and an ambitious professional from a small town, found home. It gave us access to everything we needed to build a better life — just what newcomers to Mumbai come seeking. What more could one ask for? I grew up in most bustling part of the busiest city in this country. That is who I am — a urban citizen, an Andheri girl.
And just like that, I found pride in where I come from.
I saw a glowing account of the Mumbai metro and felt the need to say something. I take the metro everyday and it has made my journey easier. But this is because I have no other options (broken roads, arterial junctions that are choked one-ways, badly timed signal systems). This does not mean that the Mumbai metro offers a great experience. Here are some things I’ve noticed that are alarming and really should be their responsibility:
- Signage is terrible. Not a single station I’ve been to, makes it clear which stairway leads down to where.
- Platform safety: When the metro was launched, there would be ONE staff member for the entire platform, ordering people to stand away from the track. This stopped after a month. Commuters are still new to metro travel. Daily, I see people fumble with elevators, card systems and finding spots to stand on the platform. Track crossing is STILL a danger. Of note, I took the Delhi metro a couple of years ago and there was a staff member manning every entrance into the coach, even though this was years after that station was opened.
- Security: The bag check machine was out of order for days. The security check people still don’t know how to use the metal detector machines they wield. Every day I subject myself to a boob-pat or a butt-grab that somehow passes for security. When I tweeted about it, the Mumbai metro handle said it was their security policy and asked me to cooperate.
- ‘Ladies compartment’: I’ve seen multiple instances of men getting into the ladies side — the commuters made them get down, not the staff. I’ve seen a boy who looks old enough to travel on his own, accompanying his mother on the ladies side. What age does the metro define a boy as not being allowed into the ladies? Given that the metro just has a detachable plastic strip dividing the sections, not a separate compartment, should a boy of any age be allowed into the ladies side of the line? If the boy is too small (baby), should the mother not travel on the general side? The metro’s ladies section is limited to putting one thin strip in a corner and two pink stickers on the platform. (Here are my thoughts on why they totally missed the point.)
- Andheri station: I frequent the lesser stations, not the terminuses. But Andheri station that has to be the busiest point, is terribly designed. It handles several times more commuter traffic than other stations. Yet, its platforms are much narrower, increasing chances of someone falling onto the tracks.
- W.E.H. station has an extra floor (which I hear, is because they forgot to account for the flyover on the highway and had to go higher to build over it). For the first month, there was a security guard posted there. Not anymore. It’s a dingy, deserted, open access floor (security is on the floor above) and full of blind corners where anything could happen.
We are lulled into a sense of superior service and safety/security by pretty colours and airconditioned spaces. But a spate of incidents in the last few years should remind us of how illusive these things are. Mumbaikars, keep your wits about you — travelling by the metro is no less difficult or dangerous than any other mode of public transport in this city.
Expressions painted on faces saying,
Welcome to Goa.
A stranger two feet from my elbow, chuckles as he reads from a Paperwhite. I want to say, I know that feeling!
That inside joke that you share with the writer,
and then in your memory with someone else the writer doesn’t know,
a secret from the creator of this word-universe.
And in these secrets that I can’t read
but i know are there (because I have those too),
I’m a little heartened over the company
(chosen by chance)
of those who take this journey with me.
Mumbai is considered India’s safest city for women. All public transport facilities include spaces allocated for women only. Mumbai trains have 2 coaches reserved for women only. Buses have a two-seater bench for women only. And the recent addition to public infrastructure, the Mumbai metro has recently announced a separate coach for women only.
Less than a month since its introduction, the resentful murmuring has already begun. I heard a friend complain about women who were travelling in what he called the ‘men’s coaches’ since there were designated spaces for them, already. This is something every female train traveller hears often.
Today, I took the metro and spotted this message emblazoned across the seperating tape.
“We know you are special, so an exclusive zone for you. Ladies Only.”
I’d like to say thank you to the Mumbai Metro for putting this up. It highlights the problem and makes it easier for me to explain.
The point is not that women are special. We do not believe we are. How can we, when the whole world, starting from family, to classmates, to fellow commuters, to strangers on the road, to colleagues let us know that we are not? Being subjected to 24×7 scrutiny and moral judgement does not make us ‘special’, it makes us prisoners. Ajmal Kasab’s every move was scrutinised and you know who he was.
What is worse is that this differentiated treatment is neither our fault nor under our control. I have refused the ‘ladies’ seat’ on buses several times. I have waived ‘special rights’ offered to women in lines. Only to be told every single time that I am imposing and intruding into men’s territory. Whether it is a physical boundary or a mental one, gender seggregation does not come from women. It is a restriction imposed on us, under threat of moral censure and physical danger, if violated.
The common myth is that trains are divided into ‘ladies compartments’ and ‘gents compartments’. No, they are not. Mumbai trains have a ladies compartment among several other ‘general compartments’. Buses have ‘ladies seats’ among general seating.
To come back to the accusations of life being easier for women because of these gender-seggregated spaces, and that hated label of ‘special for women’ — why should I feel bad about an inelegant solution offered by society to my sex because of the crimes of your sex?
I would also like to point out that the city is not really safer because of these gender seggregated spaces. Women have been attacked and pushed off these very trains. Every single woman who travels by buses has a story of being rubbed up against and even groped by bus conductors and fellow passangers. Anyone who has travelled regularly by the ladies compartment in trains will know not to stand next to the separating grill, since intrusive hands and fingers come groping through them. Last year’s gangrape at Raghuvanshi Mills and the almost daily reportage of horrific rapes, acid attacks and crimes against women in this city should dispel any notions of how ‘safe’ Mumbai is for women.
Gender-seggregated spaces do not exist because women are special or consider ourselves so. They exist because certain MALE miscreants consider themselves special and deny us access to a safe, respectful space. Can we please stop acting as if it is a privilege extended to women and see it for what it is — a consolation prize for the actual human right to safety?
I am a people-watcher, only not on weekends. Starting Friday evening, people aren’t people. They’re hungry animals fighting for the last movie ticket, restaurant seat, parking spot and minute on anyone else’s schedule. Tantrums, me-firsts, ‘jaanta nahin main kaun hoon‘ and law-breaking are pretty predictable. Nothing to watch.
I am finding that my sanest, most refreshed weeks are the ones right after weekends where I’ve stayed home or done very little that gets listed in ‘things to do’ lists. Our relaxation times have been hijacked by consumerism. I fear the Tyler Durden in me will come loose, if I don’t protect my world from the reasons that he appears.