Sunday, September 6, 2009

Machher Jhol

One of the reasons for taking a flat this far out in the suburbs - causing a daily 30-40 minute one-way commute to office, which everyone, including myself, keeps reminding me is very sane by Mumbai standards - was to be able to live away from the crazy congregation of humanity that is Mumbai. And it's been a good decision. My flat's balconies don't even open towards the road, but towards the greener, and calmer, backside of the society. Watching Mumbai's famous rains, with the balcony doors wide open, cool breeze blowing in, and reading a nice book, with music playing on my (new) speakers, is as close to heavenly as I have come since I started working.

Of course, one can't spend the entire weekend cooped up like this. One of my weekly engagements is a trip to Hypercity in Malad (W) to do my grocery shopping. It's about 15-20 away from my flat on a straight road, which normally has much less traffic than usual at the time I choose to go there (Sunday lunchtime). On my way back, feeling content with the world after having gotten through another week of boring vegetable-buying, I like to take a look around at the slums lining both sides of the road.

A good amount of space right next to the footpath is taken by these small shops, barely enough to fit two persons, selling all sorts of things from clothes and food items to phones and hardware. I rarely see any customer there. They are almost always occupied by some old man wearing a skull cap and kurta-pajama, very often staring at the road blankly. I always wonder how the shop-owners make a living. Who are the patrons? What are the footfalls like?

Today it reminded me of a similar shop I knew almost a decade back. Before deciding to go to Kota for my coaching, I had spent about 2-3 very painful weeks in Kolkata. I was staying on the 2nd floor of a guest-house, and one of the windows in my room opened on to a section of a road that had a small bakery/confectionery/something like that on the other side.

The person who ran the shop used to pull up the shutters sometime around 11 am, and by the time I got back to my room at 4:30 or so, they would be down. Of course, these were the days when he would decide to open shop at all, because very often the shop would be closed even on a weekday. I wasn't around long enough to figure out a pattern - maybe he took a leave only on prime numbered dates - but it didn't keep me from marveling what a leisurely lifestyle he had. As I got to know later, Kolkata abounds in such life-stories.

And even though I have often made fun about the lack of enterprise among a good number of people in Kolkata, I find myself wondering equally often these days if that is not the better life. Machher jhol and beer, and they don't cost much, should be enough for a good life.

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