Mumbai has been my Janmabhoomi. My Karmabhoomi. And now my Vanaprasthashrambhoomi. I do not know if the last word exists. But I just coined it.
This is a city, where sitting in a public bus taking my daughter to school, I was hit in the eye, with a liquid-filled plastic pouch, by a random person, situated in the evacuated slums, on the bus route. The pouch hit me and then spilled over across my shoulder on to the knees of the person sitting behind.
But then , this is also a city, where a total stranger found my ID card on the road in a posh locality near where I live in much more ordinary surroundings, called me up, and asked me (or my husband) to come to our colony gate, so he could hand it over to me, as he proceeded to his workplace.
Yes, this is a city, where you may get jostled and purposefully touched in a very bad way in a crowded bus, and this is also a Mumbai, where passersby suddenly mobilize to thrash someone after you shout at someone who has been causing you grief.
The same city where you emerge with heavy bags from a supermarket, step unknowingly into a disguised pothole, and fall straight in front of a three wheeler, only to have the driver brake with jerk, rush out to help you, with his passenger ladies, offering you a drink of water from their bottles.
And sometimes, you lie stunned, experiencing the Bystander Effect, as some Honda guy whizzes past through red lights , in closed tinted glasses, ear to the phone, unaware that a human has been touched and pushed to the ground.
Somewhere in this city, the population has soared ahead of the infrastructure, global brands salivate at a population that seeks them with stars in their sometimes misguided eyes, and magazines which were once avidly read for their thoughtful content now fill ninety percent of their pages with ads, showing facetious expensive stuff that you could possibly buy only in lieu of your next house EMI.
Large clutches of greedy eaters, salivating for the same piece of the pie, whether it is the land pie, or the power pie, or sometimes the consumer pie. In the complex system of claiming your pound of flesh by those who make things available to us, , women have become the worst sufferers. Outlandish prices for homes, the need for both parents to work to pay EMI's, schools that actually follow profit oriented business practices, the weird shape of the city, and the disobedient traffic, that makes commuting a time consuming affair.
Women in Mumbai have always borne the brunt. My generation (I am 63), has been the sandwich generation, that emerged breaking the old shackles , to work, only to find that mindsets take time to change, and we are neither here nor there. Today's young, Mumbai's Generation Next, have rushed headlong into a lifestyle where everything is ready to use and is lapped up thoughtlessly, unaware of the pitfalls to our bodies and our homes.
And so , we have studies being done of incidences of various cancers in Mumbai, the risk factors, the warning signs, the sociological distributions, the lifestyle aspects of it all. Girls are reaching puberty earlier than before, television has eaten into recreation time outside the house, and the latest is that young women show tendencies leading to Poly Cystic Ovarian Disease. The chaos outside their life, in transport, food, work, and education, is, reflected in the hormonal chaos within their bodies.
As if this was not enough, there is an overall behavioural desperation shown sometimes by a certain type of a male Mumbai citizen, whose role model is the Bollywood villain. Rules are to be broken. He troubles women on the road, he threatens folks into joining him in something he thinks is a pastime, but is actually a crime; he forsakes education for acquiring status enhancing things under false pretences.
Unless you are one of those who thinks Mumbai ends at Bandra, or who has always travelled in AC Chauffeur driven cars, or who never knows the current price of a dhaniya bunch, or who thinks smart phones are phones that match smart clothes, this is not a good time to be a Mumbai woman.
And so a bunch of bloggers gathered recently , for an Indiblogger meet , "Mumbai For Women " at the 175 year old TOI offices opposite the Old Lady of Boribundar. The paper folks have been doing a set of articles and write ups regarding aspects of women's lives in Mumbai, based on some surveys that were carried out. It was nice to see that the staff involved appeared to be someone just like us . I mean they worked, and took trains home late at night, and were not the type that worried about what to wear for a soiree that evening at the Taj.
The idea was to see what things were workable for women.
One of them being the pan-railway helpline, valid across all the 3 , Central Railway, Western Railway, and Harbour line branches. A call to this number, 9833331111, elicited action within the hour, lost things were found, troublesome folks evicted from compartments. We heard personal stories about using this. Great news.
The health surveys have highlighted danger signs to look out for for what are today lifestyle diseases, as well as the big C warning signs. There is information about preventive checkups that women may get done with a suggested frequency. There is information about diet and mental health, and the interconnection.
Education surveys have indicated a mismatch in those doing well in college, and then sticking on and doing well at work; mostly due to the aforementioned sandwich generation problems, mindsets, and unhelpful city infrastructure.
Crime against women is very much there; in spades. The trouble is , those that are commissioned to handle that problem, namely our police, do not exist in the required quantities for common folks, appointed as they are to provide special security for politically powerful folks.
Sometimes I wonder if Mumbai women have a "tolerant" gene.
To travel day after day, climbing into trains that allow 15 seconds for 50 women to climb in, and then stand, moulding your body to any available space , standing, getting shoved,poked, and glared at.
To work in places, that think providing decent toilets for women, is of lowest priority, and allocate no money for the maintenance of the toilet, in case it exists.
To climb, on the run, into a lurching bus, and get a foothold on the second last step, and stand in the wind for ten minutes supported by strange hands, else you miss your connecting train.
To be pushed, and overtaken by fellows running to catch trains, up and down ill maintained railway staircases, as you struggle with a small child, or a basket of stuff you bought at the wholesale market.
One of the reasons Mumbai works, is that someone ends up seeing the humor in all this.
I was once travelling Southwards into the city on Western Railway, by the second class ladies compartment, at what might be called, the height of rush hour. Some ladies got in with baskets of fish along with me, and kind of defined a place on the floor for themselves. It was a motley crowd , of students in convenient outfits, working housewife types , in uncrushable practical sarees, small kids in their uniforms going to their schools, and a bunch of girls, who looked alarmingly untouched by all the wind and the chaos. (Our trains have permanently open wide doors) . They stood on pencil heels, dressed like models, with exemplary poses, not a hair out of place, and occasionally pursed their lips as if to adjust their lipstick , in what appeared to be a superior posture. They tried to ignore everyone around them and their mediocrity, and daintily wiped their mascara-ed eyes ensuring that the false eyelashes didn't fall out.
The trouble was they stood right in the middle of the exit-entry passage . Various people squeezed around them and got on and off the train, and at one point the fish ladies got up. They thought the beautiful ones would notice. They didn't.
Then in a ringing voice, that the whole compartment could here, they called out saying ," ओय पद्मिनी , जरा हालचाल कर कि …. माश्याच्या टोपल्या बाहेर जायच्या आहेत , चाल बाजूला हो , नाहीतर सगळा सेंट माश्याचाच होईल हो (~ Oye Padmini, come on, MOVE lady ! Move aside to let the fish baskets go out, else your perfume will be of fish....).
The entire scene of western haughty model types being called Padmini (named after a beautiful queen in our history), the no-nonsense practical ringing tone of the fish ladies, mobilising to disembark in their very practical no nonsense Koli sarees, and the Koli ladies' sneaking suspicion that this Padmini might be in the beauty business , had everyone is splits.
There could have been the usual wordy duel. There wasn't. because folks had a sense of humor.
Even Padmini smiled. ....
Here is a lovely video produced by the Times of india Folks as part of their Mumbai for Women campaign . Enjoy !
Mumbai For Women