The Home Stretch
A cockroach scampers up the backrest of the seat of the car as I open the door to put my briefcase and backpack away at the end of the day. Thwack! and it falls to the seat, antenna twitching but on its way to being dead, although you never know with cockroaches.
I drive out of the office compound following the latest exit route of our under-construction Urmi Estate. I reach the gate for the entry onto the main road, the day's biggest traffic challenge. The crowds aren't maddening yet, I'm leaving early, at 6:15 pm. Mothers pulling along children in school uniforms go from left to right, elderly people shopping for the evening's dinner, office workers heading in both directions, the men in simple shirts and trousers, the women in dresses or Maharashtrian saris, everyone wearing rubber shoes and slippers to brave the Mumbai monsoon.
The rows crossing the nose of my car are only two to three people thick, not the four to five thick mass that will be passing here between 7 and 8 pm. As I inch forward bit by bit by bit, trying not to hit a mother pulling along a child in a school uniform or an elderly person shuffling forward to buy vegetables, the crowd keeps moving around the front of my car, swaying out into the street until suddenly, like a school of fish, they start moving across the back of my car as the distance has become shorter.
I've made it, and I didn't even have to yell or slam my steering wheel and shout 'GVD!' in Dutch.
I turn left onto the street, just behind a group of men carrying a body on a stretcher towards a cremation. The body is adult sized, covered in a cloth and flowers and tinsel streamers. The men are young, in their twenties and thirties, and walk ahead and behind the pall bearers. In the middle of the group of twenty or so men there's a lone immediate family member – a tall lanky boy, covered from head to toe in a white sheet with a bit of sheet wrapped round his head so as to cover his face entirely, himself a walking body. One of the other mourners, a youngish boy, has his hand around his shoulder, comforting him.
The traffic policemen in their whites and khakhis let the procession cross under the flyover and continue walking towards Peninsula Business Park and Worli. For a brief moment even Mumbai's traffic slows down and obeys a higher law, letting the men pass.
A second later and all of us – cars, motorcycles, buses and construction trucks – pass them, briefly glancing sideways and then on to where we need to be. Onwards over the monsoon's gift of potholes, left on Annie Besant Road, past Atria Mall, across Worli Sea Face. A white Audi Q7 that moments ago cut me off slows down for the driver to fling 100 rupees at a young man selling pink roses. The seller puts away the money with one hand and takes the next bunch from his helper with the other.
Onwards past Haji Ali, past Mahalaxmi Temple and the Cadbury Corner, onto Peddar Road, look up Mukesh Ambani's house, all lit up in the dark, sharp right onto Babulnath, sharp left onto Marine Drive, past Chowpatty and then onto the home stretch, on to Nariman Point.
Books Nooks & Crooks
The freshly repainted synagogue at Kala Ghorha.
We did that most quintessential of Indian things yesterday morning as a family, we went for coffee to Starbucks at the Taj Hotel in Colaba. Mira had just finished the bulk of her 10th standard papers a day ago, only two economics papers left, and Tarini's are not due to start for another week.
It's hot in Bombay, 36° on average. The wait is on for the monsoons to start, a season Tarini and I at least are enthusiastic about. We look expectantly at the increasing cloud cover over the city. By the 10th of June, or thereabouts, all hell will break lose. City officials are having drains and rivers cleaned out in preparation.
It seems as if there are more people living on the streets. Maharashtra has been going through a severe drought and people have moving to the cities in search of food, if not shelter. Children carry children, women carry babies and sometimes we give them food instead of money. While driving home from work a few days ago I saw two boys, 8 or 9 years old, sitting on the road divider outside CST, roaring with laughter as they told each other a yarn, on a self imposed break from begging.
We went book shopping after lunch today. Kumud calls my buying books the definition of optimism, as I perennially run behind in terms of getting through the family library. Kitab Khana at Flora Fountain is probably our favourite book store. Yesterday's purchases include Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, by Mohammed Hanif, The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides and John Le Carré's latest. Did NOT buy Wendy Doniger's latest On Hinduism. Still struggling with her previous page turner An Alternative History of Hinduism. I saw On Hinduism lying on a pile of books at Kitab Khana, picked it up and showed it to Tarini, who was just walking past, and she rolled her eyes (don't who she gets that from by the way) and said "Dad, don't even start".
Came home and baked a banana bread with Mira. Turning into a very competent but opinionated (don't know who she gets that from by the way) co - cook.
The Mumbai Indians beat the Chennai Super Kings in the 2013 final last night. Photo courtesy of PTI
In India each week's scandal outdoes the previous week's. This week's though is fairly big, even by Indian standards, a whopper. Three players from the Rajasthan Royals were arrested by Delhi Police, in Mumbai, accused of throwing games. The interrogations by Delhi Police, safely back in Delhi, led to the arrest of bookies with links to Bollywood and Dubai based gangsters.
Mumbai Police, feeling emasculated by the arrest of the cricket players on their turf, began their investigation and raised suspicions about the son - in law of the owner of the Chennai Super Kings, who is also the owner of India Cement and, in a slight conflict of interest, the chairman of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), with 'control' being the operative word. The police summoned the son in law to Mumbai for queries and after three hours promptly remanded him in custody for four days. He is now accused of betting on the outcome of games and of passing information about the team to bookies.
The son - in law has been disowned by the father - in law and his name removed overnight from all social networking sites and websites linked to the team.
One of the umpires, a Mr. Rauf from Pakistan, hastily fled back to Pakistan after he was named as having been involved with the bookies, in return for introductions to Bollywood starlets.
"Save cricket! It is our religion!" shout people with placards in hand. "It is no such thing", retort wise columnists. "It has become an idiot game in a format designed to attract money, bookies and bimbos."
My (third) day in court
The absolute worst thing you can do in Mumbai, worse than spitting on the street, worse than throwing garbage out of your window, much much worse than sleeping and procreating on the street, and even worse than running through red lights is talking on the phone while driving, even if aided by a hands free kit.
I should know because I have now been caught for this cognizable offense four times. Failure to pay the appropriate bribe has led to my third court appearance, due to begin any time soon.
Indians know things and people they needn't know and don't know things they should know, such as directions from point A to B.
I walk into the people's court at 8.20 to find about thirty people already seated on benches, with the court clerk writing in files at a long bench in front of the gathered people. I ask a man whom I had first seen outside the court at 8 am whether I needed to register anywhere. Before he could reply the court clerk looks up and calls out loudly "are you Sanjay Tiwari?" "Yes", I reply while approaching the bench.
"Sit here on the front row", he directs me, pointing at a row of empty seats in front of the people on the benches. "When your name is called out just rise and acknowledge the judge."
The clerk now continues writing. He suddenly looks up and asks, "you had gone outside?" Outside being any place other than Bombay or even India, indicating travel. Outside, बाहर, baahar. This exchange is by way of explaining why I was not able to attend the first scheduled court hearing.
Weather is warming up, Holi is round the corner. Our country's crown prince has announced that even though he has migrated from wearing shorts to trousers, he has no intentions of procreating or becoming the country's Prime Minister. That's cool.
There are now six clerks at the bench, I'm lucky that 'my' clerk was there first and identified me. They talk among themselves and signal towards me.
The magistrate arrives and we all rise. My name is the second to be called. "Jis galti ke liye aap pakre gaye, usse aap ko kabool hai?" Kabool, Urdu word for accept. "What?", I ask. I can't understand the magistrate's muffled voice. Finally, "haan, kabool hai". 1200 rupees later and lighter and I'm free to talk on the phone again. À la prochain.
On the way into the office I stop at Cafe New York for breakfast. There's a couple close to the entrance having the keema pau and a family at the back working their way through a massive breakfast. Their prodigal and corpulent son is downing a coke. Halfway through my breakfast a little girl pops her head round the entrance to the cafe, close to where the couple is sitting. She catches my eye and signals that she wants to eat.
The waiter raises his hands in desperation and asks the girl what he can do. "What does she want?", I ask him. "A masala omelette" he replies. I ask for it to be added to the bill and pay up.
As I drive away a few minutes later the girl is crossing the street, a plastic bag in hand, sizing up the city. By the time I turn on to Hughes Road I see her and two siblings sitting on the pavement, tucking into breakfast. One traffic fine pays for 24 breakfasts.
All in a day in Bombay
The car is at the garage. The eight year old second-hand Toyota that I bought upon arrival in Bombay may not have been the best long term investment. The mechanic said yesterday at 3 p.m. that "it was almost 91% certain that it would be ready by 6 p.m.". What happened eventually is that the other 9% materialized. Believe it or not, but after years of fairly decent cars driven in all corners of the world I had (and have) gone off cars.
Commute to and from work therefore is by cab, much like when we first arrived here. Air conditioned Meru Taxis to go and twenty - year old non - air-conditioned 'this is Mumbai don't let a piece of glass get between it and you so take it all in, all the sights, sounds and smells' black and yellow cabs to return. By the time I have found a taxi outside our still under construction office tower in Lower Parel and the taxi has wound its way past Mahalaxmi, Haji Ali, Pedder Road, Marine Drive and into the relative sanity if not sanctity of Nariman Point, I am a somewhat broken man.
The humble but o so delicious whoopy pie.
I am also an increasingly humbled man. You could do a William Sapphire type essay on the origins, uses and misuses of the word 'humbled'. That essay would focus on the worst, most excessive misuses of the word, namely by the heads of the largest U.S. and British corporations in the late nineties and early 2000s. "I have been humbled by the decision of the Board to award me a salary of $20 million", "I have been humbled by the decision of the employees of this great company to award me a discretionary bonus of a further $10 million", that sort of thing. And the startled employees would look out of their cubicle, glance left and glance right and ask: "did we?" "we did?" "when?"
I think that my use of the word is more accurate and closer to its originally intended meaning. In any case there is no $10 million discretionary bonus to distract me.
I have been at the receiving end of employee (direct reports) feedback, with a listing of what they like and don't like about the company they work for and what they like and don't like about their manager. Apparently enough not to like. Long lists. Major areas of improvement for manager.
Managing across cultures takes a lot of learning as well as "unlearning", a word I learnt yesterday from a senior HR manager. What's called 'helicopter vision' or 'big picture' in one culture is construed and perceived as aloofness or lack of attention to detail in another.
In times of doubt we turn therefore to comfort food, the making of. Few things are more soothing to the pallet and the soul than the humble whoopy pie (please see my earlier ode to this bit of cucina americana).
There's a bat outside my window. In fact, in a couple of trees surrounding our apartment we recently saw a flock of twenty bats, swooping in and out, eating almonds, wrapping themselves in their wings, etc.
All in a day in Bombay...
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.