It’s 11 am. The met department says its 33 degrees Celsius outside. Feels like twice the reading inside the doorway of a crowded ladies compartment. We’re holding on to our bags, purses, plastic containers, sticky fish baskets, and use the other hand to clutch on to the handlebars for balance as if it were life support.
Amid this daily slice of life of the Mumbai commuter, insights tend to surface as well. “Ash (short for Asavari), your daughter couldn’t get through, no?” asks Prajakta Tipnis, a woman in her early 40s, looking at her friend who’s roughly the same age. Despite the heat, she looks unaffected in her crisp Calcutta sari. The friend, in a trendy kurti and streaked highlights, was crestfallen with the reminder. “Pra, I tried so hard. I wanted Mitrali to learn ballet. But the instructor was biased, I feel... because we were from Bhandup.” Letting out a gasp, ‘Pra’ replied, “No way! That’s so unfair. Our kids can be as good as those Peddar Road Parsi kids.” Prajakta had no answer. Like the other women who were listening in. The train had moved out of Vidyavihar station. Nobody disembarked, a few entered, and announced, “Zara sarak, na”, in their quest for foot space.
“Why didn’t you try elsewhere Colaba or Altamount Road? Malabar Hill too had classes that my office friend had mentioned. At least, mala sangaycha, na…?” asked ‘Pra’. By now Ash wasn’t keen on going down that road. The hunt was over. May was over.
Pra continued in her probe, “So, what did Mitrali do this summer?” Ash replied, “She had to make do with tennis, and masterchef classes — you know, the teacher said she can make it to Junior Masterchef TV show if she carries on like this and she did art appreciation sessions on weekends.”
“Wow! That’s a lot that that you packed in. I managed roller skating and robotics for Sagar, while Anusha was showing interest in belly dancing and zumba, so we found a place that taught both, daily. I’m very happy. She is a natural,” Pra revealed, proudly. Ash chipped in, “Keep an eye on those TV talent shows.”
By now, it was impossible to breathe. The phrase, ‘Make heads turn’ assumed new meaning. For all the wrong reasons. Body odour, halitosis, flatulence and its ilk had slowly but surely cast its evil eye in that 2ftx2ft space. Thankfully, for me, it was time to alight. And bid goodbye to Ash and Pra’s summer vacation plans for their kids, possibly for the following year.
One couldn’t help but be stuck with the thought of the extent to which the summer vacation had changed. Whatever happened to ‘house-house’ and ‘teacher-teacher’ games; strolling to the neighbourhood library for Archie comics, or skidding to the ground during a game of kho-kho? Who can forget badminton sessions where tattered nets would create some semblance of competition? The concern is that many of today’s parents, in their tryst to be ‘cool’ and keep up with the Joneses, shouldn’t rob their children of the thrills of growing up, getting their hands dirty and most importantly, be kids.
Reason why most can afford to look back fondly at the ‘Wonder Years’.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day