Life under the flyover

The bus stop near my office overlooks a parking lot beneath the Big Bazaar flyover in Lower Parel. Every evening as I wait for my regular bus there, I see atleast 2-3 couples camped there. The parking lot is clear of vehicles by this time and is fairly dark. So these couples stand near the pillars, the guys resting against them and the girls gazing up adoringly at them and sometimes doing more. Reminds me of the movie Piya ka ghar. In a city starved of space and privacy, any and every remotely empty space quickly gets occupied.

But privacy starved couples are not the only ones who prefer the somewhat dark and damp surroundings beneath flyovers. A whole world exists beneath Mumbai’s flyovers. The flyover near the Dadar West station for example. Flower vendors, clothes hawkers, cobblers, vegetable vendors – you name it and you can find them there. That flyover is always bustling with activity. There is even a full fledged, fully operational successful restaurant there. Optimum utilisation of space is something that one should learn from Mumbaikars. Of course, this flyover is also congested and the pungent smell of spices makes it almost difficult to walk past it. But the constant activity and hustle and bustle leave you amazed.

Flyovers also solved one of the biggest problems that south Mumbai faces – decent parking space. Parking slot leases earn the flyover managers a tidy sum every month. As you walk past, you see the weary drivers lounging in the expensive gaadis of their bosses who have gone for a meeting or are busy shopping. One door of the car would be open and the driver’s leg would be jutting out of it and Himesh would be playing loudly from the stereo. Or else you would see them chatting up other drivers and maybe playing cards. There is even a second hand vehicle dealership shop under one of the flyovers in Parel.

Then there are the homeless. Families that beg on the signals also live under these flyovers. Their children can be frequently seen running around naked and playing under the flyovers. Even children from chawls use these spaces for their cricket matches on Sundays. With most of the recreational grounds encroached upon by high end clubs or slums in the city, these spaces beneath the flyovers are also alternate recreation grounds. In some places, even slums have come up underneath the flyovers. There have even been drives to evacuate these encroachers, but more often than not, they return in a few days.

At night you find these spaces taking on a different and somewhat dangerous hue. At night, these are gambling dens. Drug dealers wait about and some of the flyover spaces also serve as pick up points. The weary daily wage labourer who doesn’t have a roof over his head also comes here to rest. The chaiwalas who sell chai and bun on a cycle all night can also be found near some of them. But at the crack of dawn again these spaces are bustling with activity and the cycle starts again.

Then there is also the life along the flyover, which I had mentioned in my first post on this blog. The life in the homes whose windows overlook the flyover. Homes that stand naked in front of the traffic buzzing past, a traffic that hardly cares to look into these open windows, so atleast that way, the privacy of these homes is safe. These spaces again are a distinct feature of Mumbai’s somewhat crazy, somewhat distinct lifestyle. All this can happen only in a city like Mumbai 🙂

The Parting

They were sitting on a bench at the seaface. The twilight silhouetted their bodies and added to the gloom. She looked up suddenly and said, “Maybe it could have worked. Maybe I should have done it differently.”

“No Seema, some things just aren’t meant to be. It was probably just destiny that brought us to this stage. Nothing you could have done could have prevented this.”

“But why did it have to be like this, Jatin? I did try, trust me I did; though it may seem to you that I didn’t, but I did try. I had never believed I would fail like this.”

“I had never believed I could turn out like this too. Things that were so beautiful, so endearing in the beginning, I never really thought we would drift apart. But sometimes we just have to move on in life. I know both of us tried, but it simply didn’t work out for us.”

“Maybe you are right, its just destiny. We should forget all this and move on. We should start afresh. This day is over, but another would dawn soon.”

“Yes, come on, let me drop you home. By the way, what will you tell them about vanishing to the seaface, so soon after your husband’s tragic death?” He laughed bitterly at his own joke.

She smiled, a smug smile. “Its simple, I had to get away from the memories you see. The memories of seeing him come home wearing a different scent day after day. The memories of his ridicule. It was good that you told me about those guys. A builder being shot is not so uncommon. I am rid of him now and yes it feels good.”

“Was the least I could do for you. Your husband, he was just like Sheeba, both of them just trampled all over us. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer the way I had. So when I arranged for the top class socialite Sheeba to be murdered by a so-called stalker, I thought an underworld man could rid you also of your problems.”

“Good riddance then. When is your train?” She asked as she was about to enter her house.

“I am leaving tomorrow. Its goodbye to this town and to that horrid past and yes to you too. Do take care of yourselves and I hope you find someone better.” He smiled and then they went their own ways.

Rasam

She watched as the reddish brown liquid slowly trickled down the drain. Her tomato rasam had gone wrong even this time. It never tasted like she wanted it to be. Never like her mother’s. No matter what she did. She knew she couldn’t ever manage to make it like that, but she had to try, if only to face the failure again and again.

She remembered the countless days, as a child when she rushed back from school because she knew her mother had made rasam. She used to have it with rice and then drink up a bowl full like it was some therapeutic soup. She absolutely loved it. Everyone in her family knew her love for rasam. Aunties and grannies at times tried to entice her with promises of rasam at their homes. But no one made it like her mom and so she never had rasam at their places.

Then she had to leave for higher studies. Every time she returned for holidays, her mom greeted her with rasam. Then she got a job and the prospect of returning to her hometown and to her mom’s rasam dimmed by the day. So she got the recipe from her mom and started making it on her own. Her rasam was a hit among friends. At every house party, she was the official cook and she would call up her mom and thank her for teaching her such a beautiful thing. Her new friends had become her new life. And one day Abhishek walked into this life. Abhishek with his shy demeanour and soothing voice. It started with cute smses. The smses became long phone calls and the phone calls translated to long walks by the beach and soon they were in love. Abhishek told her later that she entered his heart via a bowl of rasam. Nothing could have been more beautiful.

She couldn’t imagine life without him. But her parents wouldn’t hear of it. She tried convincing them. Abhishek tried to pacify them. But they wouldn’t budge. Her mother who had never raised her voice at her, had raised a hand. Still she thought that maybe they would agree after a time. She married Abhishek.

It had been ten years and every week she tried to cook rasam. Abhishek had always liked it, but it never felt right to her. So after a year she had stopped serving it to him. But she still made it, hoping to get it right. If only the masala was right, if only she had waited some more for it to boil, if only the colour was a bit darker, if only the tomatoes were juicer. If only, her mother took her calls. The rasam drained away…