Vehicles carrying animal and human lives line up at the junction of two major roads. They are in a staggered row, depending on each driver’s anxiousness or impassiveness to get going as soon as the light changes. The drivers lean back in their seats and spit to the side.
There, each person is doing as he or she chooses, wants, knows, thinks or has done before. They are at an intersection on the road, at an intersection and crossroads in life.
In one rickshaw is farmer and his son and their goat. They live in a dairy colony in Gurgaon but had gone to collect their goat from Bombay central, first arguing with a taxi wala and then rickshaw wala.
“My rickshaw is new,” complained their present driver. He was uneasy to pollute his brand new rickshaw with the smell of a dirty goat, at least not so soon! But was won over by a bribe. He, like those dyeing fabrics in Dharavi or those folding paan leaves in Mahalaxmi, is doing what he has been born into.
A child pushed a miniature merry-go-round made for children between a rickshaw and a cab, leaning with the whole of his weight and all of his skinny self to make it move. The paint was chipping off of the merry go-round: its colours were faded and the whole thing was not as joyful and fun-looking as it was originally intended to be.
The little boy is doing the only thing that he knows how to do, except for also being able to curse back at the rickshaw walas who curse at him for cutting them off. He came voiceless to Mumbai four years ago from a village in another state, but now his Bombaiyya Hindi is perfect.
In one taxi is a gaggle of Bandra babes, girls going out on the town. They laugh and pass around an illicit cigarette. The driver eyes their bare legs from his mirror as the cab jerks to a pause. The girls are too drunk on their beautiful young lives to notice.
They are doing what they want. How delicious.
A Sunni Muslim man sits on a motorcycle next to the cab. Behind him and sideways is his wife, peering at the world through heavily-lidded, kajal lined eyes. She’s hiding every lovely part of herself except for these eyes, and these she shows off.
Her sisters are more like the girls in the taxi, dressing modestly at home but sneaking off to flirt with older boys on the weekends. But for this married woman, honoring the tenements of her faith is more freeing than skirts or blouses could be. She is doing what she chooses to do.
An elderly couple stands at the curb beside the rickshaw with the goat, waiting to cross the street. Sir has placed his cane in front of Mam to prevent her from being too close to the traffic.
Mam’s fingers smell like the cilantro she rubbed between them at the market. She’s carrying a bag of ripe tomatoes and onions, unperturbed by the alarming price increase.
Sir was born in another time and place, slept by the highway and worked in tea stalls before succeeding in his entrepreneurship. No reason to have servants, to do everything differently now that things are different, he reasons. And so still, he walks to and from the market with his wife every evening to select the vegetables that she will cook for dinner. He thanks god that he does not have to worry about onion prices, that actually there is very little he has to worry about anymore. They together are doing as they always have done.
When the light finally changes everyone moves forth: some are faster than others to gun their engines (having had more opportunity or inspiration) and some slower, but each does move ahead.
All except for an orange tabby cat that is rust-coloured with dust. She had been wandering in front of the vehicles until the engines roared to life again. She jumped and hightailed it to a place on the roadside where there was a very pleasant texture of ground: round pebbles in soft dust. Rather than running the race with the others, she’d rather roll over there to scratch her sides.