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.
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.