Monday, April 01, 2013

Living in Mumbai....

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.

Yes, Humor.

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


  1. The Indian woman is indeed a strong breed!

    1. We try, we try . But need to be stronger yet .....

    2. loved reading this!

      the tolerant gene is something women of your generation was blessed with. My mom is turning 50 and she still travels nearly 2-3 hrs one way (by bus, scooter & train) to her workplace every day (in Kerala).

      Women always stood up to occasion, adjust and i guess it was partly due to the society's gender biased eyes.

      Girls of my age are quite different though, not just women even us men...its like we have lost happiness on our way here. The God of small things are missing today as you pointed out TV ate into the evening stroll & socializing, etc.

    3. Deejthtraveller, Thank you . My childhood was very different from today's childhoods, w. r. t. what we had, and how we entertained ourselves. We were more people oriented in a naturl way, ad not because it was "institutionalised". And so the evolution was gradual and made us more appreciative and tolerant. But there is much to be said for todays folks too.

  2. Great, Suranga! Every paragraph showed the original side of the city of Mumbai! I always wondered how people went inside and outside the train through the crowd...thanks to TV. It is not yet that bad here in Chennai. I was also going to work by electric train, many years back.

    Poking, nudging is common in every city in India I feel. the schools are after building new constructions to take in more students, but the toilets are always secondary.

    The story about the fisherwomenfolk is very practical and nice!

    Pamini will smile everyday! That is a great gift to our women! Very well written article, Surange.

    1. Sandhya, Thank you. A lot of folks shudder at the thought of Mumbai commuting by crowded trains. One doesnt know until one tries. But one does end up being full of admiration for those who do this day in and day out, and still emerge sane and smiling.

  3. You have a such an engrossing flow in your writing, ma'am! I was smiling throughout..

    1. Deeptiman Chatterjee, Thank you and welcome to the blog...

  4. I found your blog by chance and enjoyed reading your post. Mumbai must be quite a town – we do not see many people here in our suburb of Atlanta, Georgia – nobody walks in our street and there are no sidewalks, so it would be hard to adjust. I always wished to go to India, to Pondichéry to be exact, because while growing up in Paris, France, I had a stamp collection and several stamps from this town, which was then a “comptoir français.” I don’t know if I ever will. I’ll come back to your past posts to read them.

    1. Vagabonde, The last I heard, Atlanta had a lot of my countryfolks... I hope you get to visit my country. I can assure you Pondicherry is much much different from Mumbai, and much more peaceful. ..

  5. what a beautiful twist and a smile at the end... !!! :D :D

    That is yoru style ! :) Super duper post !

    You know I have lived in Mumbai for a while... that is if you call it mumbai (I lived in suburbs) sometimes I and my mom would go by train to school when we would miss the bus... but I have always dreaded of going back to the city.... after having quit the big city... I love to visit it for once a while... for 3-4 days and I love its charm... but wouldn't ever be able to live I gues... may be I lack that humour ! :)

    1. HW, thank you. You need to have an iota of sense of humor and a thick skin at times to live and work in Mumbai, as a part of the middle class. It does get difficult as you age, and you are lucky to be able to live where you do.

  6. Hi,a wonderful post.
    I can relate to each incident you mention.
    I moved to Bombay when I was still a bachelor.
    It's aland of oppurtunities

  7. I love all the efforts being done to ensure a safe, vibrant city! The train humor reminds me a lot of the same in Calcutta! I guess we need humor to cope with the day-to-day toil!

  8. Lovely writeup. Brings back memories of my city, Mumbai and each and every struggle is so real.

  9. What a lovely write up--a sweet and sour ode to Mumbai, the megapolis, the country by itself.

  10. Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad

    to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us

    Play Schools in Mumbai