In Bandstand, home to billionaires Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan as well as their Dalit service people, no-one is too rich or poor to be unaffected by the beauty of the ocean.
At the sea’s edge, beggar kids scream and laugh and play out their dramas: more cinematic, epic versions of their real lives. They walk a distance that would tire me out once twenty times in a day, and still find something within themselves to dance at the pumping music from other peoples’ cars.
Those with the luxury of time to spend on their health, like me, do. Pairs of men and women trot up and down, chatting together. Women in Punjabi suits or western sportswear, men in casual shorts and sports socks pulled up to their knees. Both in runners, walking.
Scrap collectors have bodies that are so used that they’re almost used up. They have nowhere really that they’re allowed or supposed to be, or not. Ragpicking men and women have no boss, and so in a way are richer than Shah Rukh Khan, at least making their own schedules and answering to no-one.
With no place though, they gather at the edges of things: streets, dhabas, parks. Like snails, making homes out of anything. Thin bodies sleeping thick sleep, on their stomachs, on cardboard sheets, on the side of the road.
Along the walkway’s railing, every ten feet or so, there is a couple sitting under an umbrella. The men lean in close, whispering this or that sweet thing, wooing girls with their words and adoration. They confidently lace their fingers through the girls’ delicate hands with painted fingernails, trying. The girls blush, but don’t reveal how starry and hopeful they feel in their stomachs. The Indian girl at the flirting age is an unpredictable creature, sometimes smiling, and in the same moment, raising a threatening hand. The guys don’t know what to do, and so continue their Devdas poetry, hoping for the best.
When it starts to rain, those older couples who are too settled and tired to bother with romance, leave. So do the young couples who aren’t as sure about one another yet. What they have is not yet worth getting wet for, and risking fever. Only those convinced they are for each other stay, heros and heroines in their own Hindi movies in their minds.
Dogs sleep on the sides of the boardwalk, dreaming unknown dreams and rolling back and forth in the dust, sometimes settling on their backs. Like beetles, dead, stunned in the sun. Chaiwalas walk up and down swinging their teapots. They call out the words ‘chai, coffee’ in voices that sound as though they’ve been run over and rubbed with gravel and broken glass. Ragged, but still cheerful.