Kanda Bhajiya, Cutting Chai and Mumbai Monsoons

For the past few months the city is under siege. The enemy has taken complete control. The populace is tortured from daybreak to dusk and from dusk to dawn. Adults, women, children, infants, no one was spared. There was nothing one could do.

The foe was keeping a watch on every road, every lane, every rooftop, and every junction. There was no escaping, not anywhere and not anyhow. For over three months now, my fellow citizens and me endured; hoping, waiting and praying for deliverance.

Something changed over the past few days. There were some reconnaissance sentinels from the allied camp, spurring hopes in our hearts. These black behemoths roamed across the city probably trying to evaluate the scale of invasion required. Relief seemed well on the way.

And today, it finally happened! I could see the relief forces amassing on the horizon. The grey legions were everywhere. The oppressors are no match for these mighty hordes. The mood was sombre, the hearts jolly. It is just a matter of time, before these infidels are driven away from precincts of Mumbai, driven away for 8 or 9 months, before they return to amount a fresh assault.

Pavas aala re!

The monsoon is at the gates, just a matter of time before the heavens open up. It is the time that every Mumbaikar looks forward too every year. The past few months have been agonisingly painful. Summer seems different in this city. Like any other coastal place in peninsular India, the humidity kills you if the heat doesn’t. You will be sweating, irritable and hot all over. But it is quite common. Mumbai’s uniqueness lies elsewhere; in it’s darn crowds.

The Arabian Sea is not as much as a problem as the sea of humanity is. The city is bursting with people. Every nook, every corner, every place, there are people and more people rubbing sweaty shoulders and all else. In the trains, in the buses, on the roads, it is a sticky smelly broth of humans. The heat is unbearable and the crowds overbearing. Kolkata comes a close second, fortunately not close enough. There are hundreds, probably thousands, moving, running or staying put.

With the Shanghai-sation under way, there is a spurt in construction all across the city. New towers, new flyovers, new this and new that, everything made of cement and stone. Concrete jungle is no longer a mere euphemism. There is not a speck of green cover left. Every tree had to sacrifice itself for the sake of modernity, and now only some patches remain, in the town side and the national park. You could walk a whole kilometre without spotting a small piece of shade. Cement is as much a part of our atmosphere now, as oxygen is.

Population, pollution, polarisation, politician, nothing seems to be going right for this city. Even the robust electrical supply system has lost its robustness. Frequent power cuts are as common as cutting chai. No wonder the summers are getting harsher and hotter every year. Mumbai was never this hot is a usual catchphrase.

In this gloomy picture, the Westerlies make a grand appearance. They are just waiting to let go. The birds are flying low, the scorching sun has been clouded out, and clouds laden with gallons of water are hovering up above, as if waiting for that precise moment in the horoscope. And then all will be well; there will be showers and mega-showers. There will be potholes on the roads and puddles on the lanes.

The skies will open up when you least expect it and hold on when you do. Roads will be jammed – though not much of a difference, as they always are – sewers will overflow, trains will be slower, trees – the few that are – will be uprooted, knee-deep and waist deep waters. And one fine day, everything will come to a halt. Rains will bring the city to a complete standstill. The day when you will be trapped at home savouring kanda bhajiya and tea, watching the news channel go berserk with their doomsday predictions.

Like catharsis, the rains will clear the streets, the environs, the wearied mind, and the fatigued soul. Everything will begin anew. That is what monsoons are for the city, and am eagerly waiting for them to let it all go.

(This article was posted on the my blog in 2005. At that time in life, I was quite unhappy at the way things were going in my career, was stuck in a job where I could not write long winding copies or features. Kanda Bhajiya was a catharsis, a prayer, or something like that..)

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