Friday, December 12, 2008

Mumbai: a people with a sense of purpose

During the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, people were hurt as they watched their beloved Mumbai being violated. Smriti Mudgal is one of them and here describes her love affair with Mumbai.

*****

By Smriti Mudgal

During 2000, I was working with a small company, which sold classified ad space for India Today. Every year they held a national sales conference in a city, where salesmen from all the offices would come and interact. This particular year, the venue was Le Meridien, Pune.

Our team started from Delhi and we went to Pune via Mumbai by train. When the train stopped at Mumbai, we got off at some station. I suppose it was Bandra. It was early morning, maybe 5 am, but the city was wide awake. I saw people rushing from one corner to the other, in a stupendous hurry.

“What was this sense of purpose, I never saw in Delhi?” I wondered.

It was a brief one-hour halt, after which we proceeded to Pune. During this one hour I had made up my mind, “I am going to come back to this city.”

On our way back from Pune, we again stopped at Bandra. This time, the train to Delhi was bound from Mumbai Central, so we set off in taxis for the station. I saw tall buildings, mostly painted in yellow distemper.

At the several traffic signals, I would look up and try to make out what kind of people were staying in those tiny houses. Sometimes, I would catch a glimpse of a string of clothes hanging in the rooms. At other times, I would see men and women peeping from the grilled windows.

Again, this urge of the middle class, trying to break into the melee on the streets, captured my mind.

I imagined that in a year or two, when I’d be earning 10,000 rupees, I would rent a one bedroom, hall, kitchen flat with a balcony in Mumbai. My one-BHK home would be on the fourth or fifth floor. When I looked down from my balcony, I would see lots of children playing down below. And they would call out to me.

*****

Four years it took, for me to realize my dream. After my stint at India Today, I enrolled for a mass communication course at Symbiosis in Pune. After I passed out in 2003, I joined CNBC-TV18 in Delhi as an assistant producer.

Year 2004, and CNBC-TV18 was shifting its headquarters to Mumbai. They asked me if I would like to move out with them. Without thinking twice about my family in Delhi, I agreed on the condition they would take a re-look at my salary.

So, on September 18, 2004, I boarded a Jet Airways flight to Mumbai. I was doubly excited, because I had never before travelled by air. However, the flight was boring after the 10 minutes of take-off. At the first line of clouds, I was tempted to jump out. But sanity prevailed and I only smiled at my co-passenger who by then had understood that it was the first time I had ever sat in an aeroplane.

We landed at Santa Cruz airport in the afternoon and were taken to a hotel in Bandra. The hotel was supposedly a 3-star; but the tiny rooms, smelling of dampness, made me wonder if our company was indeed as big as it claimed to be. On second thoughts, I realized maybe I was still not senior enough to be put up in a good hotel.

Seven in the evening, and it was drizzling. I’m not superstitious, but I do feel welcome if it rains in a city on my day of arrival. A Parsi family was celebrating someone’s wedding in the courtyard. I felt alone; I would be living in this city alone, on a salary of 12,000 rupees.

Suddenly, I was in a hurry, to find that one-BHK flat, I had dreamed of earlier.

*****

Living in Mumbai for almost five years, I now find my expectations were grand. I was aghast at the kind of accommodation available in 2004 for a rent of 5,000 rupees per month. A corner of a room, with one small iron cot and one small almirah was one of the best options shown to me. Till one Gujarati family friend came to my rescue.

This family friend had a relative who stayed with his son at Worli in a one-BHK flat. His neighbour wanted a girl who could stay in their flat and take care of it since they had shifted to Pune. So, I had my dream house, sprawled over a slum, overlooking Worli sea-face, for only 5,000 rupees. Yes, there were children too in the building, who quickly made friends with me.

I was in Mumbai now, living in Mehta Manor on the 4th floor, in a fully-furnished flat, overlooking the sea, with children in the courtyard, calling out my name every time they saw me looking out of the window. Sometimes, I went and played with the kids.

At the other times I would just stand at my window, stare out at the sea and, in the background, Abida Parveen would croon – Ishq mein tere, khoye hum. Sar pe liya, jo ho, so ho. (I took the step of falling in love with you, now, come what may.)

The neighbour stayed on the 5th floor with his young son. I got introduced to the young son one day; and before I knew it I was in love with this school drop-out who also happened to be four years younger than me.

The father came to know and showed his aversion to our relationship and I walked out of the beautiful flat at Worli to live in a single room at Lower Parel. This little room was a part of a slum rehabilitation building and, to say the most, was just about comfortable enough to house me.

The love affair continued clandestinely. But soon, the job, the meagre salary, started taking its toll of me and I shifted to NDTV-Profit in Delhi. The salary was a lot better. But somewhere, I was extremely unhappy: Mumbai was calling me back.

After eight months of dealing with the harrowing auto-rickshaw-walas of Delhi, and the forever-interfering Punjabi neighbours, I decided to go back to Mumbai and CNBC-Awaaz. My boss was kind enough to take me back and I was in Lower Parel again.

I met my 10th class drop-out boyfriend again; but he seemed to have moved on; I guess, I too had. Soon, I was in a relationship with a colleague and we decided to get married.

*****

In 2006, the 11 July train blasts happened. I was shaken; it took me six months to recover. I couldn’t believe somebody could think of planting bombs in local trains, carrying unsuspecting commuters. Though I had never travelled by local train, I also made sure that I wouldn’t travel long distance by any train any more.

I remember, my fiancĂ© and I had to go to Vadodara by train and I just wouldn’t set foot on the train. I kept crying. After he consoled me, I went to my compartment and asked the passengers where they were going. As they answered, I kept guessing from their looks, if they were telling the truth.

After six months, I was back to normal. But I never recovered completely. Till date, I feel claustrophobic if I have to go to a railway station.

Two years had passed. In between I got married and my job became more secure. I became one of the senior anchors of the channel. Life, with its little twists and turns, was playing out; I was getting complacent.

*****

Then, one night as my husband Deep and I wrapped up our bulletins at half-past-ten, we saw the news channels flashing news of gunfire at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and the Taj hotel. We stopped for a while to check in front of the TV, what it was about. We thought it was not serious. But by the time we reached home, we realized the increasing gravity of the situation.

For three days, our Hindi business news channel turned into a dedicated general news channel. My husband and I are non-market anchors as well. So we were taking turns in reporting the mayhem.

On the day of the final assault, as I was reading out the news of NSG commando Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s cremation, I got a lump in my throat and I just couldn’t continue any longer.

Vivid memories -- of the first time I went to the Taj with my 10th class drop-out boyfriend, when he had earned 7,000 rupees and spent 5,000 to formally propose to me -- the time I went to CafĂ© Leopold with my husband and we whispered to each other how it looked like a shady, hippie joint -- to the time I went to Marine Drive after coming back to Mumbai from Delhi and declared to my parents, “This is it, I have found home.” -- all came flooding back to me.

Today, as I describe my love affair with Mumbai, my dear teacher Joseph Pinto comes to my mind. He called me up after the Mumbai mayhem, because he thought I looked sad as I read the news, and reminded me to smile.

I will smile, Sir, because Mumbai has given me love not once or twice, but very many times –- in great neighbours, in the lovely children of my building, my bosses, the restaurants I frequent.

This sinfully charming city has taught me to love unconditionally. And I shall love it all my life.

*****

Smriti Mudgal, a 2003 alumnus of the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC), Pune, anchors the Hindi channel CNBC-Awaaz from Mumbai. You may get in touch with her at Smriti.Mudgal@network18online.com. After writing this 1,561-word tribute to the Mumbai she loves, Smriti says she feels much better. Other readers of this blog are welcome to describe and post their own affairs with the city they love.

Warm regards,
- Joe.
Pune, Friday, 12 December 2008.

9 comments:

Glassbeads said...

Mumbai has this strange strength of coping with whatever is thrown in the city's face -- blasts, riots, floods.
It reminds me of a toy i played with as a child called 'Hit Me'. Every time I punched the bag it would swing back and forth but never lost its balance and came back to its original position.
Curiosity led me to find out that the toy didn't lose its balance as the base was heavier than the rest of its body.
A strong base. That's what makes Mumbai so unshakable. Mumbai is strong because of people like Smriti who love it despite all things working against the city.
rgds
NM

Joseph M. Pinto said...

Hi NM,

Thanks for the compliment to Mumbai and all Mumbaikars ... and you are so right about "this strange strength of coping": "Mumbai is strong because of people like Smriti who love it, despite all things working against the city."

Sounds hopeful and depressing at the same time.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Kajal Iyer said...

Its a great blog Smriti...poignant...the only thing that came out of this thing was probably a temporary sense of unity...Again I call it temporary because I am not sure all this 'we want action' will last...people love the city but they also have no other option but to love doing their jobs in an unstoppable manner which we in the media have translated into resilience...I just hope that those who are demanding action do actually come out and vote for it rather than greasing the Babu's pocket when they want something done...

Joseph M. Pinto said...

Dear Smriti,

Here’s a contribution I picked up while scanning the blog of Shrinkhla Narula, an SIMC alumni. Her poem gives an insight into how we relate to Mumbai.

*****

To Mumbai, with love

By Shrinkhla Narula

I can see,
The countless lights beaming into the darkness,
I can hear,
The waters lashing on the rocky boundaries,
I can feel the winds blowing past the tresses of the charming dame,
And I observe..

I wonder,
Do the buildings not want to break out of the monotony of standing by the sea side forever?
Does the water not want to break free, when it’s been trapped forever?
Every thing here is so still and similar,
What lends dynamism to the place is the people.
People who visit the end of this city of dreams every day,
Those who sit by the muddy water, yet cherish it all the way,
Their lives are different, each ones its own..
Yet they come together at different times on the same stone.

I see so many introspective faces, gazing into nothingness..
Yet each of them has a different feeling, a loss, love or just fulfilment.
This place has shades, varied in every second of the hour.

I can sit here for a life time,
Just dreaming of life and its hues,
But ironically the city does not allow you..
The time to be the person you love. The person dats you!

*****

The link:
http://flavourzoflife.blogspot.com/2008/05/to-mumbai-with-love.html

Shrinkhla Narula, an alumnus of SIMC, Pune, wrote this poem on 6 May 2008, when she was sitting at Nariman Point, Mumbai. You can contact her on facebook on her blog: http://flavourzoflife.blogspot.com/

And dear Kajal - Thanks for hoping that people will not forget.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Joe Pinto said...

Kajal Iyer, who covered the terror attacks at Nariman House, revisited on 12 December some of the areas which were devastated. She examines her own feelings with hope and also, what I would call, the cynicism of a budding journalist.

*****

A country of fatalists

By Kajal Iyer

On night shifts, it is common for reporters to roam the city, hunting for news. I was supposed to cover a car rally that was starting from the Gateway of India at around 5:30-6am in the morning of 12 December; which meant I left my office somewhere around 4:30am.

It was two weeks since the terror attack, 26-28 November 2008, and this was the first time that I was visiting those spots; in the dead of the night; after the incident.

As I left my office, I felt a chill. I remembered the last time I had been to Gateway, some 4-5 months ago.

Like visitors do, I had walked around the Taj’s outer corridors, trying to get a glimpse of the happy times that were hidden behind those glass windows, wondering about the fun people had in those dim and tastefully-lit restaurants.

But now, I knew those windows had been sealed with wood and cardboard; to hide the devastation, 60 hours of terror had caused. The Taj was covering its scars, so that healing could begin.

*****

These were my thoughts as I drove through the quiet streets of Mumbai. We passed through the CST railway station – the pride of Mumbai. I could feel the enormity of what had happened here just a few nights ago. Bullets had been flying; bullets that two of my colleagues had barely managed to escape from. But many others hadn’t.

In the past 15 days, nothing had happened to reassure me that bullets would not fly here again. “So who would it be next time?” I shuddered to think.

In the quiet of the night we proceeded towards Gateway. When we reached there, we found the area was barricaded. How ironic!

When the whole anti-terror operation was going on, anyone and everyone from the general public could get real close. But now after all was over, the barricades were up, with two policemen on guard.

Why is it that we always take re-active measures? Haven’t we heard that prevention is better than cure?

At Gateway, I was met by my counterparts from other channels. The first question everyone asked one another was how they had fared after the coverage.

As we stood there, we noticed two youngsters with knapsacks waiting for the morning ferry. Did the terrorists also look as commonplace as these two kids? Was that why no one stopped them when they moved freely around the city, unleashing terror?

Yes, it was irrational to be reminded of Kasav and his cohorts, just because there were two young men in front of us with knapsacks.

But then paranoia is irrational.

This chain of conversation was broken as two morning walkers came along and asked us if we thought it was safe to take a stroll near the Gateway.

Walking at Gateway and Marine Drive is so taken for granted by every Mumbaikar. And yet here they were today wondering if they could walk!

*****

The rally arrived; its members were to go to Delhi to hand over a citizen’s charter to the prime minister.

Suddenly there was some hope in the air. Maybe more of such movements would be launched and people would take them seriously.

But call it a journalist’s cynicism, I wasn’t sure if this fervour would last. But for now, these people really seemed to want to make a difference.

I hope it lasts, but the issue of citizen’s security seems to have taken a backseat as our rulers play at diplomacy and mandate 2009 politics.

The terrorists used the sea this time and targeted hotels. They might use and target something else next time. Are we any better guarded than we were 15 days ago?

More than 600 people have died during the last 3-4 months in this country in terror attacks. But no one seems to have learnt a lesson.

Maybe that is why we will continue to be fatalists. Wondering, when we leave home every morning, if we would be back home safely in the evening, and shrugging it all off, with “Is desh mein kahin bhi kuch bhi ho sakta hai.”

Mumbai, 13 December 2008

*****

This piece is my edited version of Kajal's original on facebook notes. this The link to her notes on facebook is: http://www.facebook.com/inbox/readmessage.php?t=1023998530093#/note.php?note_id=48773071319&id=567317473&ref=share

Kajal Iyer is a 2007 alumnus of the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Coummunication (SIMC), Pune, and currently a correspondent with the Mumbai Bureau of CNN-IBN. You may see her pieces on her blog on IBNlive at: http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/author/1157/kajaliyer.html

Kajal also has a sharp piece called, “A small incident?” on her blog. Here’s a taste of the opening para: “Bade bade shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain,” said Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ and endeared himself to his audiences.

But yesterday, I was reminded of this dialogue when Maharashtra home minister R R Patil shamelessly said, “Mumbai bahut bada shahar hai to aise ekadh hadse to hote hi rahenge. Voh 5000 logon ko maarne aaye the lekin us hisab se kam nuksaan hua hai.”

Really Mr. Patil, I wonder if you would have said so, if our precious Mantralaya had been the site of a hostage crisis.”

Read also the 28 comments Kajal got for that post.

*****

If you have anything you have written that you think ought to be here, please feel free to post the piece here as a comment, or give a link to the piece where-ever it is on the world wide web.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

Radhika Mohta said...

Smriti's date at Taj reminded me of one of my cherished family photograph.
I remember when I first visited Bombay as a kid with my family, all I wanted to have was a photograph that captured me & Hotel Taj in the same frame!
Catching the terror updates on TV left us numb. This was just so uncalled for!
Let there be peace!

Indian Home Maker said...

Santa's left something for you on my blog here.

feddabonn said...

what i say is going to sound mean, cynical, bitter, and possibly petty. i apologise. but i must say this.

i grew up surrounded by terrorists, some in the indian army, some in the rebel forces. i am a coward-i left, and live far from those bloodstained hills. it has been 40 years since the people there first learnt to live with the terror of guns everywhere. they have never been called strong. it has been much more than 40 years since annual floods destroy lives and livelihood. yet they are not called resilient.

i am very very sorry for what mumbai went through/goes through. but i am also jealous-jealous of the heroes you have become. while those further away from the media glare are only victims.

viagra online said...

Greetings Joe Pinto!
I think Mumbai is such a nice place, but there are selfish evil people who just care themselves and won't stop their actions even though if somebody might get hurt. We gotta give the example loving and helping people.