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.
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.