Lindsay Pereira: No time for maxims in Maximum City

Forget old, irrelevant proverbs - what we need is a bunch of new ones that will make sense to the people of this city. After all, when in Bombay...

'As you pick your way through life, take time to smell the flowers.' I remember that maxim vividly, because it popped up around me so often when I was a teenager in Bombay. Some of my neighbours would have little wooden plaques engraved with those words, while others even had them embroidered on cushions for reasons I have yet to fathom. Another popular one was this: 'I am the Boss of this house and I have my wife's permission to say so.'

I didn't judge the people who had these plaques and cushions lying around their living rooms, because we didn't have satellite television or social media in those days, giving us no one to benchmark our neighbours against. It was a simpler, less bitchy time. Interestingly, while both those maxims were meant to be amusing, both were untrue.

The people of Bombay don't have time to stop and smell the flowers. For one, stopping is frowned upon, because you force the 450-odd people behind you on any street to slow down, which is not good. File pic
The people of Bombay don't have time to stop and smell the flowers. For one, stopping is frowned upon, because you force the 450-odd people behind you on any street to slow down, which is not good. File pic

The people of Bombay don't have time to stop and smell the flowers. For one, stopping is frowned upon, because you force the 450-odd people behind you on any street to slow down, which is not good. Life in Bombay is about always running, and never stopping, because we invented the Great Indian Rat Race, remember? Secondly, even if you do stop to smell the flowers, chances are you won't find any, unless you are 65 and have mistakenly stumbled into a Nana Nani Park. Even if you do stumble in, you won't find too many flowers to sniff at, because most parks maintained by the BMC don't receive as much water as they would like to. Just like the residents of Bombay.

As for being the Boss of your house with your wife's permission, everyone knows how misogynistic Indian men really are. This column appears before you via a newspaper. Consider this: If gender equality existed, why are 90 per cent of media houses in this country controlled by men? Being a woman in Bombay is hard for all kinds of reasons: No public toilets, few reserved seats, little respect for personal space are some of the things that come to mind almost immediately. So much for the permission of wives.

Axioms or maxims that make sense in most parts of the world fail when they are uttered in Bombay. Take 'God helps them that help themselves,' for instance. We help ourselves constantly, from the moment we wake up and rush to fill our buckets with water (you know who you are), to the late hour at which we trudge home, begging an auto rickshaw to drive us so we won't have to walk.

We stand in lines for hours, at ticket counters and payment booths, waiting and hoping that the government employee momentarily in charge of our lives will relent and let us get on with our lives. I'm pretty sure God would throw his or her hands up if confronted by the apathy we deal with daily. God does not help us. God, in fact, goes out of his or her way to make our lives harder whenever there's a religious festival on. And there's always a religious festival on.

Here's another one: 'Things are not always what they seem.' Turn to anything in our city and imagine what a tourist sees — a bustling city, perhaps, or public transport services that never sleep? How will they know that the bustling city fails to offer residents moments of peace and quiet?

That fireworks are nonchalantly set off at 2 am here, because no one can enforce a law that was passed years ago? How will they know that using public transport is a demeaning experience, compelling millions of people to squeeze together like cattle, exhausting them even before they walk into their offices at the other end of the city every morning?

What about 'early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise?' Try taking a train at 8 am. It will damage your health in all kinds of ways. In fact, a lot of early risers actually lose their lives while trying to get into a train.

What we need to do, for coming generations, is create our own maxims that can eventually be displayed prominently, preferably ones that make sense for the people of Bombay. Here's an example I propose: 'Don't offer 200 when 100 will do.' It's a good piece of advice for anyone trying to bribe someone. Or, 'Want to live? Stay home. Want to die? Go to a hospital.' It's weak, I admit, but this is a work in progress.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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