Friday, April 4, 2008

Bombay snapshot

I sat with my journalist friend Radhika Bordia by a Bombay street, having tea in Worli in the shade of looming trees and gossiping about the world at large.
Two little girls walked nearby, wearing their white and blue school uniforms, giggling, their hair in plaits. They stopped under a tree and looked up.
To our left were buildings with small windows, opening into small dark rooms where clothes were hung and faint shadows moved. They were, Radhika told me, the city’s oldest “chawls” – humble homes of textile mill workers in the sprawling textile district that once buzzed with the clatter of a booming industry.
The schoolgirls stood opposite a house with a two storey-high painting of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar painted on it in black and white, with a huge garland of marigolds pinned to the wall.
The textile mills all shut down over decades and gave way to shopping malls, putting hundreds of thousands out of work.
But the residents did not stop dreaming, and hoping.
The two school girls leaped in the air, together, stretching their little hands as high as they could to reach what they wanted: a bunch of champa flowers hanging from a branch. They jumped several times, failing each time, giggling at their failure.
A passer-by walked past, holding what looked like two large notebooks in his hand. He looked at the girls and stopped, and gave them the notebooks to hold.
Then he reached out and held a large leaf jutting out of the branch – like holding a donkey’s ear and asking it to sit down -- and lowered it towards the girls.
He let them have the flowers, looked at them as they smiled in their simple joy, took back his notebooks, and went his way.

(The picture is representational; I took it in a school in Anjar, Gujarat)

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(All photos by the author, except when credit mentioned otherwise)