Tag Archives: kids

Merry Christmas from Bombay


the neighbourhood cafe

In a Starbucks on Cambie, a moms meeting is happening. The moms, weary and disheveled, work on knitting projects or breastfeed their infants and talk about neighbourhood issues. One has something deeper on her mind, her husband recently started taking longer hours at the office. She’s anxious. He is not so demonstrative as he’s always been, a little tighter-lipped. She is sure that she used to know him but is not so sure now, what to do.

Their kids, equally disheveled but more energetic, wear brighter clothes and rubber boots. They shout and romp around the indoor playground of the cafe. One boy has an older brother who is at home less and less. The little boy feels something from this, but doesn’t know how to consider where his feelings are from. As he grows older, he will come to know that the world is both more beautiful and more ugly than he thought before.This is a sad thing, and a happy thing, depending on your opinion.

One of the more assertive young people working behind the counter requests that the kids don’t climb on the furniture. Wiping a counter with a grey cloth, she thinks about what she’ll do after this job: go back to school or get another? The rent she pays is too high to quit before finding another job, so she is a little bit stuck.

It’s raining outside and everyone leaves their umbrellas at the door and drapes their wet coats over the backs of chairs.

Students come in the morning to settle in for the day, in skirts, tights, big sweaters. Hair wrapped in messy buns with strays falling out. They occupy space, spreading textbooks and notes and ipods and blackberries over multiple table surfaces. They allow themselves to be interrupted by constant text messages. One girl flirts with a stranger on her facebook page, enjoying the distraction from her term paper but unsure about the guy. She likes him liking her, his attention for her, but why? Does he even really like her?

Some corporate people are also meeting here, arriving within a few minutes of one another and joking about office politics. One man is distracted today, had a hard time dragging himself from his bed to this meeting even though he doesn’t live far. It’s been a few months since he moved to take this job, and he worries about being away from his young family.

They all drink different drinks: some ladies have re-committed themselves to their diets and are having skinny lattes, while others have re-committed to pleasure in life and are having whole milk mochas. One of them recently read an article in a free magazine from a health food store that said what you THINK about the food you eat is more important than the food you eat. So she thinks, life is short, and anyways real women enjoy their food. So she slurps her mocha. Mmm.

Others are people who would like to be as alone as I am, and so are sitting at tables with their computers or listening to music,everything except for being involved with what else is going on in the cafe. I am only apparently uninvolved, but only actually half involved. Only observing and thinking about my neighbour as opposed to interacting with him or her.

The odd Philipino nanny with infinite patience comes in with the double stroller ferrying caucasian kids. She hushes the little ones in her care and picks up a kilo of ground coffee for the household she works for. Older couples clad in gore-tex come in to pick up lattes and continue on their walk under a wide umbrella.

A couple of young men sit at the window, watching girls that walk by. A couple of girls walk by and look into the window, to see if there’s anyone of interest. Both young women and men (who may be just coming into the cafe to see who might be inside) come inside. Their eyes fall on each person at each table, and sometimes linger if there’s a response. The people attached to the eyes that met will then follow one anothers’ actions and exchange a couple more glances while one waits around for the coffee. Once your coffee is ready though, if you aren’t going to sit down, then what other business do you have in a coffee shop? So they will exchange a last glance before the one who came in helplessly walks out. Maybe he or she will go home and post a missed connection in the local online personals, in hopes of connecting there instead of in person.

One man with a broad back sits looking out the window and aching with all of himself, missing someone that he hasn’t met yet.

An elderly woman fills in her daily crossword puzzle and only looks up and through the window occasionally. As though just to check if everything in her world is the same as she left it when she looked down to focus on the words.

One of the kid clan that is there with their moms, a little girl, presses her wet nose against the same window further down. Just to watch the rain outside.

How so

A club, a lounge, a bar is such an alien place when there is no-one there. Stillness before the excitement comes, with a wave of wealthy party people and socialites. There are Indian girls in Bombay who have never worn a salwar kameez, and there are their moms who have never worn anything else. How is that.

Tonight I am in a nice restobar/lounge with low lights and soft music. Dining on expensive lasagna and espresso, knowing I’ll be up for many hours. Romancing myself. Alone.

Tomorrow I will eat food from everyone’s tiffin, a veritable feast of South to North Indian ghar ka khana, served out of stainless steel containers. Offered to me for free. The dining room will be a small schoolroom in Dharavi zhopadpatti, and I’ll be surrounding by laughter bouncing off of corrugated tin walls.

Tonight I am in the company of a beautiful, thin Russian girl. To look at her she is a girl, loose white blonde hair, enormous, perfect green eyes. She is actually a woman though, with a child, without a husband. She makes her living by being a living doll that walks around and smiles. But what can I say about that, these days, so do I. How is that.

Tomorrow I will be in the company of Gujurati toddlers learning in a Hindi and English medium school run by an NGO. Their moms who carry them on their hips to drop them off every day have also requested an English class. They would like to understand more of what their young children are learning at school. A class will be started for them soon.

Some women hitch up their patiala salwars and step through sewage in a slum. Some with expensive jeans and silver earrings sit in cafes where a latte is 150 rupees. Almost inevitably sitting alone. They answer their buzzing phones and don’t smile. Still more┬ásit in tarp-covered chai stalls sipping tea for 3 rupees. Almost inevitably surrounded by people, crowded onto a wooden bench that sits on bricks. How is that.

Some girls dance in heels on the marble floors of a five star hotel. Some sit hunched over and take small naps in places with loud music, exhausted. Still more are able to sit up straight, in silence, well with themselves. With a good feeling coursing through them. A lot of people know the feeling I mean, and a lot of people try to name that feeling. I don’t know what I would call it.

On any day in Bombay, a girl could as easily be wearing a skirt, sequined top and feather headdress as a salwar kameez, dupatta folds thik se across her chest. She could be under bright lights in an AC studio, or seated cross-legged in a room that is almost a convection oven from the whirring overhead fans.

(The only light that comes in is sunlight, in ribbons that cut the room into pieces. Sawdust from a mill outside comes in through open windows, falling into kids’ hair. Black strands that are gold edged in the sun ribbons.)

Some days, I am all of those women, how is that.

Muskan school in Kumbharwada colony, Dharavi

Veera Desai Centre


Torn kites hover against backdrops of blue and cloud. Boys with ragged hair run back and forth on rooftops, arms flailing as they manipulate invisible strings. Crows scream and float around like pieces of black paper above the Ganga Mahal, a crumbling white palace that looks over the Ganges river.

Lower down, some defunct plants have long since strangled some defunct wires, both curling up the painted brick buildings into windows that are just square holes in walls. Pigeons live out their dramas on the palace balcony’s overhanging ledges, rusted metal with edges like lace. Dark cloth chewed through by bugs.

Lower still, at the top of the stairs, bicycles wait for their owners to return. A young cow wears a plastic bag as a muzzle, having forgotten to take it off after eating the scraps inside.
Dried dog shit is spattered on the way down the stairs. Some of it has been there since the last rain, and will wait for the next one to be washed away. One near-black man in near-white clothes weaves his way down the stairs. Each of his hands is filled with one baby goat: whitish yellow goat twins. New and soft goat legs dangle uselessly by the man’s sides. Sweepers sweep the dust to the edges of the stairs, the wind sweeps it back.
At the bottom, girls like wild animals in party dresses chase one another around, candle baskets abandoned. Cross-legged men sit in their stalls, selling things like neem sticks, plastic water containers and candles and coconut for puja. Wasps feast on rotting flowers and fruit.
Water buffalo navigate their way around wooden boats to wade into the river, becoming only black hump shapes in brown water. In May, the water is low and crawls slowly. On the other side of the river, there’s only dust and dried-up plants.

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