Thursday, January 31, 2008


Have Indians got fewer bones than we have in the West, or are we just not trying? They’re so flexible, it’s awesome – by which, I mean supple of gristle and thew, not broad of mind (though that too, probably). A man squats, knees by his ears, hands free to mend engine parts, weigh beans, fold cardboard, whatever. Or just to sit by the kerb, if he prefers, waiting for a piece of day to go by. Where I come from, only toddlers and athletes telescope in on themselves so neatly. Do you think we lost the skill, with the advent of the chair? I see an old man offered a chair in the sun, and he sits on it, cross-legged.
For the first time since our arrival, we notice a woman driver. The tuk-tuk in front of us has “Empowerment of Women” painted on its ribbed roof, but the driver’s a man, one foot on the pedal and the other tucked under him, as usual. (Banks here offer a personal loan to anyone wanting to buy a rickshaw and set up business, in a bid for independence. This perhaps explains why the tuk-tuks appear to reproduce by budding overnight...) Protection of the fair sex from the rigour of the working world doesn’t extend further than the two-stroke engine, though. At the roadside, small-made, dark-skinned women heft picks, scraping gravel and stones into baskets, bright saris trailing in the dust. They carry the full baskets on their heads, to the wall their menfolk are constructing.
A woman walks by the side of her school-boy son, and unwinds a swathe of sari to drape over him as a parasol. It’s winter here, but the sun’s still hot. In case you’re worried about the cows, earlier clocked grazing on rubble, they go home for dinner, at the end of the working day, like everyone else. The cow’s what Monu calls “a mini-god” in Mumbai. They’re brought in, sometimes with their calves, to sit by the road, and passers-by make a small offering, one or two rupees, out of respect. If you were worried about the cows, you’re probably wondering about the puppies, too, but all’s well. They’re there, chasing their own tails and getting into trouble with grumpy adults, just like puppies everywhere, knocking my conspiracy theory nicely on the head. I feel sorry for the street dogs, though, unpatted and unloved. My heart goes out to them, if not my hand.
January and February are prime time for weddings here, because the temperature’s comparatively mild. You’d steer clear of the high season too, if you had nine yards of sari to wiggle into, in 40 degrees of summer heat. And you wouldn’t want to get married during the monsoon, either, because there’s no “maybe” about the rain then. So, it’s January or February, according to our own personal Fount Of Mumbai Knowledge, and, to prove it, we see six weddings along a piece of sea-front the length of a cricket-pitch. Monu’s own sister is to be married next month, although he hasn’t met his future brother-in-law yet. I’m not sure if his sister has, either.
Despite reaching 26 or 27 degrees, in the day, the heat goes with a click, as soon as the sun sets. Little fires spring up, on the building site, and the workmen squat round them, for a chat and a warm, their faces uplit. It’s been a long day, and it’ll be tomorrow soon enough.