Wednesday 30 January 2013

The name's Kunte, Sitaram Kunte

Ah, Mumbai Mirror, I love you. Every day you bring me joy and laughter as well as sadness and tears. The moment you slip from the virgin folds of the mostly unread (in this house, anyway) Times of India, the roller-coaster begins.

Mr Kunte
One minute I am devastated by the deaths, by intentional poisoning, of 10 pygmy elephants accompanied by a photo of a three-month-old pygmy elephant calf trying to wake its dead mother, the next you tell me that the BMC chief is called Sitaram Kunte. Hahahaha. I still haven’t got over the Chief Minister of Delhi being called Sheila Dikshit. Hahahaha. What’s wrong with me? I am a delinquent 47-year-old mother-of-two with a weakness for toilet humour.

When my son came home from his first day at school here in Mumbai, aged 11, he couldn’t wait to tell me the names of some of his classmates.
“Guess what, mum? There’s a girl called Pooja and another one called Ishita! But best of all… a boy called Aasman. It sounds like ‘arse’ doesn’t it, mummy?”
“Yes son,” I said, “and what if his surname was Pandit, it would be Aasman Pandit like Arse Bandit, wouldn’t it!”
Both of us fell about laughing. Hahahaha. As a mother, I should be discouraging this sort of behaviour, but I can’t help myself. This is not responsible parenting.
When I was a cub reporter at the Kentish Times, I used to cover the inquests at the Coroner’s Court in Dartford and the names of all the officials caused me no end of amusement. The coroner was called Coroner Warrener, his wife, also a coroner, was called Coroner Helena Warrener, the pathologist was Pete Jerreat and the Doctor, and I kid you not, was Doctor Dot. Hahahaha, I thought as I sat looking serious on the press bench. I would listen and take notes on the most gruesome and tragic of deaths, all the while thinking hahahaha every time one of the officials was mentioned by name.
There is absolutely no depth to this post (is there ever?) so please don’t expect any. I am writing it because it is January 30 and my resolution this year was to post entries other than my once a month 'Chalo' column. I cannot break into February not having made the effort. It is also borne out of envy of Bombay Jules, who I just had lunch with, a most prolific blogger who notches up at least ten beautifully crafted and witty entries a month (with photos!)  I am also curious to see what happens to my hit counter which only has four boxes to contain the number of hits which is currently at 9857. What happens when it hits 10,000? Will I have to go back to 0000? These things trouble me because I am a technospaz but I am hoping this too can be improved upon in 2013.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Big Mouth Strikes Again

A  Chalo reader gave me pause for thought today when she suggested this column was anti- Mumbai and seemed out of place among the travelogues and festival articles. Believe it or not, after nearly four years here, I am actually very pro-Mumbai, I just don’t like some of the stuff that goes on. I could write about how colourful all the saris are and how funny it is to see a cow in the traffic but I don’t want to. There is more afoot.

 I love living in Mumbai and the people are wonderful but the facts are:  A) it’s been in decline for years and B) it’s been over-developed to within an inch of its life - all at the same time!  Haphazard planning together with a total lack of civic vision have led to a chaotic city in need of a great deal of TLC.  I know I am a guest here but I can see as well as anyone else that the powers-that-be are corrupt and apathetic and in need of a good shake up. Can I say this as a foreigner without coming across as a closet Imperialist?

I have just read a story buried on page NINE of the Mumbai Mirror about a baby girl who died after having her face ‘nibbled’ by a rat while sleeping between her parents in Borivali. The father says: “Rats are a problem but we have no choice.” Whaaatttt! It’s 2013! (And ‘nibbled’ is such a delicate euphemism – is it an attempt to make it sound less horrific?  How about ‘chewed off?’ ‘cos them’s the facts) The BMC has asked its pesticide officer for a report on the number of rats killed in the area. End of (I suspect).  We are always reading stuff like this in the newspapers. Must I avert my eyes?

Another euphemism commonly used is ‘Eve-teasing’ - that’s sexual harassment to you and me.  It’ll be interesting to see if this quaint term gets kicked to the curb now that the eyes of the world are fixed on India, watching to see how the authorities - accused of not taking it seriously enough - deal with the recent gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi. This is a case not just about women’s rights; it’s also deep-rooted in caste so it will be interesting to see how it unfurls.
Yes, India, you are indeed a mystery to the rest of the world and we are intrigued by your contrasts and contradictions. In Mumbai, we watch open-mouthed as billionaires and beggars move around cheek by jowl. Cows are sacred yet we see them eating rubbish piled up on the roadside. Stray dogs roam in packs, all skin-‘n’-bone-‘n’- ripped-off ears, while pet shops/spas on every corner sell all-organic birthday cakes for pet pooches. What gives?  Sometimes it’s really hard for me, as a foreigner, to process the information in front of me. Toddlers run about in the traffic looking for coins while chauffeured Bollywood wannabes in eight inch stilettos “Yaaaa, Nooo” into their Blackberries.   

Where I live there is a swanky jewellers called ‘Daily Diamonds’ right next-door to a grim-looking roach-coach called ‘Fisheteria’ (formerly ‘I Heart Prawns’) I don’t know why but this is too much of juxtaposition for my little brain to cope with.

There seems to be a great pride in the nation - when you go to the cinema everyone stands to sing the national anthem – but where’s the civic pride? Mumbai has few green open spaces, death-trap footpaths, polluted rivers and open sewers. I’m confuuuused!

On the one hand we have booming India striding into the future; its young and dynamic population taking over the world yet on the other, there are enclaves where time seems to stand still.

Most Saturday mornings at 7am I go for a run in Aarey Milk Colony, a dairy farming area in Goregaon with jungle-crested hills and clear(ish)-running rivers. At that time in the morning, a low mist and thick smoke from hundreds of small fires add to the other-worldliness and people and animals go about their business uninterrupted by the modern world. Suddenly I come bursting into this rural idyll with my new Asics trainers, heart-rate monitor and ipod blasting out a bit of Alt-J, I feel incongruous, like a ghost from the future who shouldn’t be there. Last week I ran past a figure standing alone in the mist, thin as a pin and wrapped in a dark wool blanket. I glanced fleetingly at the wrinkled face but couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman. The figure would not have been out of place standing there 500 years ago. I don’t know what was going on in his/her mind but I’m pretty sure he/she wasn’t worrying about getting an organic birthday cake for his/her dog.  

As I run by people are performing their morning ablutions. Men in loin clothes lather-up their sinewy bodies and use water from a broken pipe to rinse. I dare not look left or right into the sparse woods because if I do, I might catch the eye of one of the many squatting figures quietly doing the needful.

 It seems cockamamie to me that there are so many spas for dogs but not nearly enough toilets for humans. Apparently almost half of all the homes in India – the world’s largest democracy- do not have a toilet. Go figure.

When India’s minister for rural development - Jairam Ramesh - recently announced that India was more in need of toilets than temples, an angry mob descended on his home and yet he still went on to say that women should refuse to get married unless they could be guaranteed a toilet in the new home. High-Five Jairam-ji! It’s not what everybody wants to hear so it takes a Big Mouth to say it!


P.S The title Big Mouth Strikes Again – is, of course, an homage to the world’s most eloquent poet, Morrissey who was this week strung up by that most insidious rag - The Daily Mail - for daring to say, amongst other things: “If I kicked a dog I would be fined 200 pounds yet we are asked to accept (David) Cameron shooting down a majestic stag for a hoot.” The DM refers to this perfectly reasonable comment as ‘a rant’. I attempted to add my own online comment in support of the great Mozza but the DM (like Stalin) does not allow any comments which are not wholly favourable to them.  A very sinister publication indeed.