Tag Archives: mothers

a clown in a rickshaw ocean

A new rickshaw wala abandons his rickshaw in the standstill traffic to go and get a paan.

He stands and listens to the cross-legged paanwala complain about his wife while he sucks and chews and masticates the betel nut and sweet coconut in his mouth.

Then, with a red mouth like a clown and dusty feet in chappals, he heads back to the sea of rickshaws. In that ocean, he cannot find his own.

He curses. His home place of Jamshedpur is nothing like this goddamned crazy city full of traffic.Traffic starts to inch forward maybe a hundred meters ahead. His passenger starts to worry, where is he, she is already late.

He swims through the ocean to reach her and swings himself into the rickshaw like an orangutan, swiftly starting the rattling engine. They lurch ahead just in time.

He feels relieved and a little bit heroic, and smiles a paan-stained clown smile at whoever will look. The children in the next rickshaw on their soft mothers’ laps laugh and point at him.


A house doesn’t make a home


Over 100 migrants squeeze into already-crowded Mumbai on a daily basis. Those counted are those with papers, so the real number is probably around 500. Many, many of these migrants become pavement dwellers.

It’s impossible to move around the city without seeing whole families spread out anywhere there is space for them. Watching these families day in and out, I can only marvel at the capacity of the human race.

Mothers of many tie their dupattas at their waists and meet at any source of water available. This is a gathering place for all women, who scrub dishes with ash and talk together.

Nearby, Hindu and muslim kids play cricket or badminton with whatever equipment they can find or create. I never had to make a roadside into a park, I wonder. But these children have done that. They laugh even more loudly than the traffic that surrounds them.

In the evening, Dad comes home and the family gathers to eat together. They squat instead of sitting, and eat simple dal and rice with their fingers. How rich am I, I wonder, to be able to worry about the nutritional value of the food I put in my own mouth. The migrant family’s needs are much more immediate and relevant to the moment they are living in.

Come evening time, the whole family spreads out to sleep, evenly spaced on a tarp in that covers the ground that they call their own. Over time, they toss and turn and their limbs fall over one anothers’. Husbands and wives that have never known privacy sleep side by side on the ground, under bright lights. I from the west, with the blessing and the disease of too much privacy, watch and wonder. What a sad thing, to have to sleep like this.

Back in my own comfortable, furnished room, I lie underneath the fan. Hours later, I wake up sweating from a nightmare, and there is no-one there. I’m a million miles away from my own family. For a moment, I wish that I wasn’t richer in everything else, but richer in community.

to sleep by the sea

What an assumption to make: that a person could be more than a dream made to fit the requirement of someone else.

All of the housemaids retuck their sarees, dhoti-style, and slip on plastic chappals. They tear open tobacco packets viciously and complain about work as they walk on the side of the sea back home. One carries a stainless steel spoon, from the house she works in. It’s the fourth utensil she’s taken, along with a sense of relief. It’s only a small piece of justice, but you have to take what you can get.

What an assumption to make: that whatever would happen between people during the day would influence whatever might happen at night. And vice versa.

When evening comes during Ganpati, crowds sleep by the same sea. Every merchant that has come to address the crowds of Ganesh-toting, shopping Hindus has also brought his wife and kids. Moms of many diligently spread out tarps while their little ones caper around wearing only tshirts and black threads tied over their popping stomachs. These women are Raanis in their own right, claiming monopoly over colours and qualities like determination.

What an assumption to make: that people beg because they are poor, rather than being poor because they beg.

The whole family spreads out to sleep, evenly spaced over the space that they are calling their own for that evening. Over time, they toss and turn and their limbs fall over each others. Husbands and wives that have never known privacy sleep side by side on the ground, under bright lights. I from the west, with the blessing and the disease of too much privacy, watch and wonder what this would be like.

What an assumption to make: to believe that what someone would demand from a relationship depends on how much or how little they are otherwise fulfilled, by their other relationships; the rest of their lives.

Baarish mein

Even before it rains, water hangs in the air. The wind starts to blow, warm and pursuasive. Palms are flattered: they dip and lower their heads. Long grass blushes and looks the other way.

Women scramble to manage their fluttering dupattas. As the sky darkens and the air thickens, they tuck their mobiles into their purses and slip their purses into plastic bags.  Micro-managing moms pull raincoats over their school-going kids at the first drop. Water bottles held by straps bump against kids’ chests. White socks slide down their little ankles as they slog onwards, humpbacked because of their backpacks under their coats.

Rickshaw walas know that they are everyone’s last hope, and become pompous and full of attitude.

“They won’t take you anywhere!” fumes an Aunty, who has been waiting outside the general store with three grocery bags for half an hour. Her plastic bagged purse is wet. Her groceries are wet. She is wet, and the fight is over. What to do? The river of rain rushes down from a higher road and creates a creek in which she stands, waiting.

Outside the train stations, traffic slows to a stop and people weave between parked cars, holding newspapers and shawls uselessly over their heads. People and animals and vehicles fill every inch of available space. Truck drivers turn off their engines and put their feet up, examining the bunions on the sides. Taxi walas spit paan spit out the window into the water that spills over the ground. A drop of red into a brown river.

Thin and wiry men surrender almost completely to the weather, except for the inverted plastic bags on their heads like chef caps. They walk unhurriedly, letting warm rain soak their faded clothes. Begging kids have no qualms about getting wet, as no-one expects any professionalism or maintenance of appearance from them. They point their faces up while everyone else points their faces down. They choose to dance, pumping skinny arms into the water and air.

Gundecha Symphony

Gundecha Symphony is a series of partially-completed luxury apartment buildings at the end of Veera Desai road in Andheri west. Bombay’s skyline is interrupted with countless new buildings like these: everyone is building up, to fit more people into the already overcrowded city. Gundecha Symphony’s final buildings are in progress: homes for rich fair people made by poor dark people. The unfurnished, concrete skeleton of the building has become a temporary home for those who are building it.

A construction worker is not a single unit: he also comes with a wife, and kids, all of whom need a place to be. So all of their lives are stored in the unfinished buildings until they’re finished, and then all of their lives are shifted to a new place, again and again.

Women, who since girlhood have been shifting from one construction compound to another, tend to everyone’s needs. Some knead atta for chapatis, some scrub a flat piece of rock before scrubbing clothes on it. Others carry water in clay matkas on their heads, weaving their way gracefully around the different obstacles on the ground. Wind pulls through their synthetic saris. Through the water droplets falling from the building structure, I watch them shining in the sun. Feeling that it is such a sin and such a relief that something as beautiful and good as a woman can be found here, a place which otherwise at times looks so bleak and godforsaken… even despite all of the purposeful activity conducted within its grounds.

Children, who need to be children in whatever unfortunate circumstance life thrusts them into, play cricket amidst rebar and rubble. They laugh and yell and shove each other around, Hindus and Muslims and everyone else together. What can they do about being born into such a place? Make do, by playing, laughing, crying and being. And they do.

Khushi and Hassya

Mumbai Mobile Creches is an NGO that caters to people who, because they are migrant workers, are invisible to both their home goverment and to Mumbai’s. The basic premise of MMC’s work is to provide facilities to the children of those working on construction sites, so that babies don’t languish in the sun and so that kids can attend school.

MMC sets up centres that are baby nurseries, preschools and schools all at once, often all in one room. The type of space varies, because it’s space donated by the builder, whose interests are not completely aligned with those of the workers.

Once crossing over piles of rebar, shredded rock and clay and concrete wet with rain, one can reach the door of the Veera Desai centre, near Jogeshwari station in Andheri. This space for children is an unfinished concrete basement in an unfinished building, the one that the children’s parents are building.

There, kids of different ages and colours and castes and creeds are scattered over a concrete ground, playing with brightly coloured plastic toys. Even a foreigner like myself can tell that these children are not from the same place: some are as dark as night, some pale and brown haired. There is a range of dark to lighter hair, curls and pinstraight strands, different types of earrings and fake jewellery and religious ornaments. It is a meeting of representatives from nearly every state of India: kids who follow the tide with their parents, moving to wherever work can be found.

Because they’re the kids of migrant workers, they come from all over: as far as Assam and Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and as close as other localities in the state of Maharashtra. As a result, some of the kids don’t speak the local languages Marathi or Hindi, but only their regional languages, and begin their learning by learning how to communicate.

In a corner are the babies and small toddlers. Little ones sit on a mat, wearing checkered green and white smocks which are property of MMC. They play slowly with blocks and other toys designed for stimulating young minds, trying to coordinate their unpracticed fingers.

Two infants sleep in slings, a row of them tied between two iron rods. Others crawls off of the mat onto the concrete, and I notice how unfair it is that something as soft and perfect as a baby should ever come in contact with such a substance as concrete, so rough and contrary.

There is virtually nothing for a child to do on a construction site, and many, many things for them not to do. What to do though, if they’re born in these spaces, and only ever live on these sites? These kids, instead of playing with stones and dangerous materials, come to the centre every day, where they learn and play and eat. They’re proud to use the bathroom in their schoolroom with dignity: where they live, on the same compound, there is no latrine at all, just a designated area for human waste.

One of the babies in the slings rouses, little arms stirring the air. She begins to mew, like a kitten. I lift her out, and we sit on the mat together until her mother arrives.

The girl who has arrived to take her daughter is 16 years old, and from Kolkata, West Bengal. She was married in a brief ceremony to a man who was older than her. She conceived a child, and the baby was born nine months later. Because she had given birth to a girl, the husband left his 15 year old bride with her family.

The girl had named her child Khushi, which means happiness. Khushi, despite bringing only shame upon the young girl, now an unmarried teenager with a baby. While I was there, Khushi ate a piece of peanut chikki like the other toddlers, with her 7 month old gums only. The young mom explained to me that Khushi already ate solid food because she couldn’t be breastfed all day.

“I work, outside of the compound. I clean houses for other families. So I can only offer milk to her in the morning and evening, and during the night.” she spoke quietly in Hindi. Not because it was her first language, but because it was the only language we could communicate in. This young girl who was a woman, I guess, covered her chest with a dupatta and looked at the ground as she spoke to me… daring to look up and smile when I smiled at her. She was thin: her body was only keeping what it needed to feed the baby and to wash dishes every day. When she left with the baby, she walked with her shoulders hunched, ignoring the leering eyes of the construction workers that surround the area.

Another tiny kid crawled over me and tried to stand. Hassya is only 6 months old, and the size of a Canadian newborn, except brown. She asserts herself in a way of an older child; smiles and laughs as though she didn’t live in dirt and dust with a family patched together from scraps of humanity, just a group of people who need each other. Hassya means laughter.

Khushi and Hassya: in a place where there should be none, there they are.

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