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The other Mumbai wakes up

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Early on a Sunday morning, the Fort area of south Bombay ought to be deserted. No throngs of suits and ties, no briefcases and cellphones, no long and short cars, and traffic jams and honking and cursing, and sweating policemen just barely managing to keep a semblance of sanity in the chaos. None of it.


The other Mumbai wakes up...



The other Mumbai wakes up...


The suits are in pajamas at home sleeping off the week and the traffic policemen are yet to arrive on duty. I expect to find a deserted Fort. It is strikingly different, but as I look around I realise I have unwittingly wandered into the morning rituals of the other Mumbai - those who have no weekends.

For, work must still be done for that wage that will buy today's dinner for the family. That walk to work must still be done. That bus caught. That cycle trip made. Sunday is not a weekend. There are no weekends.


The other Mumbai wakes up...



The other Mumbai wakes up...



The other Mumbai wakes up...



Teeth must be brushed before those gas cylinders are delivered.
Hair must be brushed before the day's business starts.
Last night's laundry must be picked up from the park fence before a bird ruins it. Rubbish must be cleared.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...


I'm clearly the outsider: Who is this woman toting a camera? She isn't supposed to be here so early on a Sunday.

Pictures must be posed for.

"Didi, humaari bhi photo le lo"
(Big Sister, please click a picture of us too)
Lots of posing and giggling ensues.


The other Mumbai wakes up...



"Maddum, hum bhi khinchwale?" she asked shyly.
(Madam, Can I also have one?)
I loved her smile.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



"Arre Maddum, lage haath meri bhi le lo!"
(Oh Madam, while you're at it, please take one of me too!)
Strikes a pose, pretends to talk on the phone. Never mind the trash in the foreground.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



It's always like this on Indian streets. It's more endearing than annoying. I click, while an amused old taxi driver watches. I train my camera on him, but he doesn't flinch.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



Back to morning business - tobacco and choona (lime) must be shared, over routine morning greetings.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...


"Arre Maddumji, ye kaunse aqhbaar mein chhapegi?!"
(Hey, Madam! In what newspaper will this picture get published?)


The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...


I smile and shake my head to indicate a no and walk on. Perhaps I should have explained what a blog is. But the sun was getting higher in the sky and sweat was streaming down my back. It would have taken too long - too long for my comfort.

Meanwhile, the old taxi driver is still watching. He's smiling now. One more picture to let him know that I know he's watching. He could have been a statue.



The other Mumbai wakes up...



Up on the road, business has already begun. The first customer of the day, the first few rupees. That heavy delivery of potatoes that will take hours on a cycle. The posh shop front must be prepared for its posh customers. The underwear drying on the plants must be removed.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



Someone else cycles past me and waves me a loud hello. He's faster than my camera. My car's waiting, the driver slouching in air conditioned comfort, probably wondering what the hell I'm up to, but too polite to ask. I want to stay and watch some more, but I'm drenched in sweat now. I'm not used to this. The rest of Mumbai is still asleep.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...



I glance back before I sit in the car. The taxi driver is still watching me, his smile wider - the kind of indulgent smile that the elderly reserve for what they consider the foolish young. I laugh and take one last picture.



The Other Mumbai Wakes Up...


24 comments so far:

John said...

Shilpa,

Just a nitpick: a Bombaywalla would say "Didi, mera bhi kheecho na?" instead of "kheenchwalo" which should be the correct and grammatical way of saying it.

Nevertheless, excellent pictures.

John

Flaneurbanite said...

Hi John,
Thanks for the comment :)
The lady was very obviously from UP - one of "those" that the MNS is actively preying on. Her accent and dialect (even her way of dressing) was very North Indian rural and hence the proper Hindi. :)
Cheers!

SloganMurugan said...

Nice! I went there on a Sunday morning too and I ended up palying street cricket with a bunch of people. It was only after we finished playing that we realised that none of us knew each other, we were from different parts of the country and not exactly old mumbaikars and it was an impromptu game. It was fun.

Pics from the match here: http://mumbaipaused.blogspot.com/2009/08/flora-fountainhutatma-chowk.html

David Raphael Israel said...

Wonderful! -- the combination of photos and narrative is tremendously engaging.

Ravi Atluri said...

nice captures, but some of the shots have more yellow tint..

was that intentional or is it just my screen?

Erinn said...

Wonderful series. I find it quite striking to note that Mumbai seems to have quite a bit of European-inspired architecture 9at least to my semi-trained eye). What's also striking is how clearly there are two Indias. On the one hand, there's the middle class, proud India that boldly seeks an emobldened presence on the world stage, yet one that is clearly not enjoying the benefits of this new India. Then again, if they were to share, who would do the cheap labour, clean the houses and do the dirt work that makes those in the new India so comfortable?

Sishir said...

Personnaly i liked the father-daughter, woman combing her hair and those three girls.......great shots.

Andrew Gould said...

Hi Shilpa. A delightful series of images linked together with very engaging text. Really fascinating for me as I have not yet been to India, but plan to do so in the future. Looking foward to roaming some of those streets. Very inspiring, then.

Rahul said...

Hello der,

You have got a wonderful blog showcasing excellent pics from day to day life along with text adding to expressions of the images. My work doesnt permit otherwise I would love to do this, there is so much to click n show in streets around us.
Pics from Saatchi gallery are nice as well. My best pic would be the taxi driver one :)

Flaneurbanite said...

SloMo: That's just the way Mumbai is, isn't it? :)

David: Thank you so much! Really glad you liked it.

Flaneurbanite said...

Ravi: Thanks for your comment. I think the yellow tint comes from the early morning sun - when the sun is still relatively low in the sky. If you look in my archives for Chiswick riverside pictures, you'll find that they have a very orange/pink blush - from the setting sun in a cloudy sky over London. Sunrise and sunset are my favourite times of the day for clicking...the light is just lovely! Thanks for dropping by.

Flaneurbanite said...

Erinn: You're right on target in your reading of the "new India", the "India Shining" as they call it. But that's just what it is - an external shiny coat on top of a tattered system that still needs an overhaul. Mumbai itself is in the state of Maharashtra - which has hundreds of poverty-ridden, starving farmers committing suicide every year because they've no other way out of their stricken lives. There's a prospering middle class - the most visible class in India, driven to mad consumerism as a result of a more liberal economy - but very little has trickled down to people in the rural areas. There is hardly any change in overall poverty figures, while the GDP soars and the educated classes rake in more and more money everyday, drive flashier cars, take more foreign holidays. That sad dichotomy is the real India - not the India Shining of the glossies.

Flaneurbanite said...

Sishir: Thank you! I personally found the father-daughter teeth-brushing team incredibly cute :)


Andrew: Thank you so much! Thanks for visiting, and I'm really glad you liked the series. Hope you'll plan that trip to India soon. I'm back in London now and sorely missing India.

Flaneurbanite said...

Rahul: Thank you for your kind, wonderful words! It totally makes my day when someone completely gets what I intend to convey through these pictures and words. I see you took the time to go through the blog - again, thank you. Do visit again, I'll really value your feedback.

Lunatic said...

Hi Shilpa,
Thanks for visiting my blog.
I believe you are bang on when you write about the widening rich-poor gap. The newspapers especially English language ones have created a feel good "India Shining" feel to sell to the educated middle class. But the ground realities havent changed.

Btw
Am planning a similar post on Mumbai...I have a lot of pics of early morning Mumbai..will leave you a link when i do so :-)

jyothy karat said...

Needless to say, LOVE IT! Hope I would be able to indulge in a first hand Mumbai experience soon :)

ezee123 said...

Shilpa, the ebb and flow of the story is poignant and grungy and then oh so lyrical. I guess, it is an epiphany of every mind behind the lens in a street scenario. Reminds me of myself.

Lovely photos of an area I have spent endless time in but not documented on film.

Flaneurbanite said...

Lunatic: Thank you. Would love to see your pics whenever you put them up! Do email me the link, please :)


Jyothy: Thanks! Hope you get the chance to do Mumbai and I'll look forward to the pictures that result from it :)


ezee123: Thanks for your lovely comment. It is what each one of us sees, isn't it? You can't miss it in Mumbai. But then we have also trained ourselves to look the other way. Do drop by again!

SD (Aspherical) said...

I enjoyed the entire series, as well as the narrative. Two photos stand out to me - the lone man above the father/daughter teethbrushing team (F/D-TT)is fantastic - it has a very vintage feel and the detetermined expression on his face is priceless. I also really like the woman in red below the F/D-TT. Her facing away from the camera adds even more mystery to what is (to me anyway) an exotic scene.

WA said...

Loved it, haven't looked at the rest of the series yet, this one is just beautiful

anjalir said...

How did I miss these? They're gorgeous. PLEASE put up on Metrotwin Mumbai (re-post)?!! Love the intimate Mumbaikar stories: 'kis aqhbaar mein chhapegi?' So very Indian, and recognizable!

Flaneurbanite said...

SD: Thank you so much (and apologies for the really late reply!). I personally loved the F/D-TT scene. The little girl noticed me clicking, paused the brushing for a moment and looked up at her dad too see if he was OK with it. He apparently was, so she went back to brushing. I thought it was very cute! :)

WA: Thank you so much and I hope you find the time to look around the other posts as well. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you...reminded me of my schooldays at Don Bosco Matunga...'something in the way she moves...attracts me like no other"...Bombay..Mumbai ....love you forever!!!

shilpa bisht said...

Miss Bhatnagar, it was a delight to come across your blog. I have faint memories of you back in SPA... your posts brought back a nostalgic whiff from writings of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Will come for more :)

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