Mumbai Diary: Tuesday Tales

The city — sliced, diced and served with a dash of sauce

Call of the chawl
This is the pristine green countryside near Kopar railway station, rapidly being covered by hastily-constructed chawls which, from all accounts, are neither sanctioned nor authorised.

Chawls are spreading in every direction. Pic/Shrikant Khuperkar
Chawls are spreading in every direction. Pic/Shrikant Khuperkar

Local residents fear that once people begin living in the chawls, the constructions will be regularised and the area will eventually become just a glorified slum, with nothing to hinder its spread. Meanwhile, they helplessly watch the landscape get torn up and replaced by these unsightly asbestos-roofed structures.

Coughing for coffee
Caffeine addicts might well get a mini heart attack with this strange story. A coffee shop one of the outlets of a popular coffee chain gave its customers a not so sugary jolt when the cashier announced that they cannot serve coffee, neither hot nor cold.

The reason? The cafe’s water tank had run dry and they didn’t have a single drop in the tap to pour into the machine. Well, so what if there’s no coffee? The customers decided to enjoy the air-conditioning anyway, while waiting for the water tank to be filled.

Here was a packed coffee shop with customers on each available seat, but not a drop of coffee in sight. And we thought we had seen it all. Now, there are those who would say, so what? Go get a cup of instant coffee all you need is hot water.

Coffee connoisseurs are bound to shudder at this, though. As the old ad for a certain brand of pure coffee said, “Real pleasure does not come in an instant.”

Hawk(er)’s-eye view in the train
Most train commuters turn a benign eye to the ubiquitous hawkers who ply their wares, in the spirit of Mumbai’s live-and-let-live attitude. After all, they too are earning a living and commuters can benefit as well, being able to buy stuff on the run.

When there is a big tub full of goods aiming for one’s head, there is no choice but to move. Pics/Shrikant Khuperkar
When there is a big tub full of goods aiming for one’s head, there is no choice but to move. Pics/Shrikant Khuperkar

But there are times hawkers turn out to be more of a nuisance than anything else, especially when they take up precious commuter space. Take the Diva-Sawantwadi passenger train, which leaves Diva at 6.15am. Commuters who have caught this train have sacrificed precious sleep and just want to catch a few winks.

Unfortunately, the train is also populated by more than a hundred hawkers, who move up and down selling their wares including fresh vegetables. Forget sleep, even standing in a semi-comfortable position is not possible here. As there are no railway police to be seen, passengers say that the hawkers move around with impunity.

Whose train is it anyway?
Whose train is it anyway?

And of course, the passengers who have paid for the journey have to endure it in discomfort. Then, there are the luggage transporters on the Central line, who take up entire sections of the passenger area with huge bags full of wares. The early-morning Ambernath-CST local is an example.

Even reaching the seats is impossible, leave alone being able to sit. Commuters who complain are met with tough-talk arguments. And it being so early in the morning (we caught the train at 4.07 at Dombivili), most people are not in the mood to argue much.

The mobile illness
We were in a taxi the other day, trundling along through the city, when the driver stuck his head out and shouted to a young woman who was crossing perilously in the midst of traffic, “Arre, ilaaj karvaao madam! (Get a check-up, madam.)” We asked him what had happened to her, and he said in genuine exasperation, “See the mobile phone stuck to her ear.

She has got the mobile ki beemaari (illness)!” When we laughed at his wisecrack, he went on: “They don’t seem to care where they are, but they must talk on the phone. What is this madness? Earlier, people used to wait for a letter. Now, the meaning of sending a message has changed completely. No one places any value on a message from home any more. It is all mobile, mobile, mobile!”

And he wasn’t a fuddy-duddy ageing cabbie, but a young man. Obviously, there are some among the younger generation who still cherish traditional values. For how long, we don’t know.

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