Archive for April, 2005


April 29th, 2005

28 th April 2005


Walking by Marine Drive


This evening, some residents of Marine Drive talk to me and reminisce the space of the promenade the way it looked in the past. “We want to revive the past glory and make the space look much better now,” they said emphatically. One of them took me to an old memorial built in the memory of John F Kennedy. “I am going to write to the heritage committee to make this monument a heritage monument,” he said to me.


After meeting them, I walked along the promenade and began to imagine the design changes that are to take place here. The look is going to be futuristic.


I almost went into this surreal journey of the past and the future – memories and aspirations. What is the relationship between memory and aspiration? Do memories and aspirations clash with the present? Are spaces about memories and aspirations?


Overhead while walking:

·         “I think he was drunk” said a woman walking with some friends on the promenade. She was referring to the rape incident and the fact that the cop may have been drunk to have committed this act. Not necessary, I think.

·         “Why are you staring at her bum?” a school-going boy rebuking his school-going friend who was staring at a young girl dressed in a short tight skirt.


Now, has the rape really changed the publicness of the promenade space? Is there more sexual overtones to the space? Hmmm …




April 28th, 2005

27 th April 2005


Three colours I see frequently in the city these days:


a.        GREY: the colour of the municipal van which travels across the city to keep ‘an eye’ over encroachments over spaces

b.       GREEN: the colour of one ideology

c.        ORANGE : the colour of another ideology


Flags of green and orange are planted across the areas of the city which I travel in regularly. On the one hand we have notions of property which are widely prevalent and on the other hand, I see the orange and green flags which appear to symbolize territories. Is there a difference between property and territory? What kind of relationship is there between territory and property?






April 28th, 2005

27 th April 2005


Today I met Sushanti and Suparna at the railway station as I was heading back home. Both of them were in a good mood. We complained about the heat together. They asked me about my vacation plans. Then, Sushanti looks at me and says, “Today you look so nice.” She touches my clothes. I am dressed in a salwaar kameez unlike my usual casual trousers and sleeveless tops. Perhaps she is making a remark on my ‘civil looks’. The salwaar kameez makes me one among them, not the rough-and-tough westernized workingwoman.

I am still intrigued by the variety of marking practices which exist in the city – marking which has implications of identification, acceptability, admission to certain groups, etc.

Interesting huh!?!?!?





April 24th, 2005

24 th April 2005


The last couple of days of traveling around the city have brought to my attention the problem of constructing road dividers so as to prevent pedestrians from crossing the road in the middle. Pavements have these dividers, metal bar dividers which clearly demarcate the boundary of the footpath and the driveway. “Tyranny of the vehicle”, an acquaintance had once remarked, commenting on this new trend of inserting dividers.


I find that these dividers make the footpath unsafe to walk on at night. If I, as a woman, feel that someone is following me at night, I have no way to get out of the footpath and go some other direction because the footpath has been barricaded by the divider and there is no way to get out in between except going right towards the end. It gives the city a fenced appearance.


My friend tells me that he believes the dividers have been installed following a court order which a high society activist won. Apparently, his relative was killed by a car as he was trying to cross the road in the middle. When my friend narrates this to me, I am even more upset. Isn’t there something like individual responsibility? Why set standards for everyone? Aren’t people capable of taking care of themselves? Do we always need someone to file and win these stupid court orders?


Shit! The road to hell is paved with good intentions!!!!



April 24th, 2005

24 th April 2005


It was a bank holiday. We are to go to our insurance agent’s office to sign some legal papers. We (mom, dad and me) spent the next two hours in his office. I am intrigued by his personality and by his business practices. The objects in his office are interesting as are his thoughts which he articulates from time to time. In this little piece, I present his character and his office space and explore changing business practices in the city.


The Speculator and His World

(Watching the changing practices of dhanda in the city)


He is our insurance agent and we shall call him IA from henceforth. He is not only an insurance agent. He is also a stockbroker and indulges in speculation. He has recently got a new office. It is plush. There are four rooms and each one is equipped with classy furniture, television sets and the latest gadgets. “I got it designed by an architect. I told him I wanted something simple, yet classy,” he tells me as I reflect on the importance of ‘interior decoration and design’ in today’s business practices in the face of global corporatism.


We entered his office. He shakes hands with all of us. He is dressed in smart western apparels. Denim shirt, white denim trousers, whiter sports shoes (perhaps of an expensive brand) and funky silver accessories on his person – he looks like a rockstar rather an insurance agent. As he speaks with my parents, I start to look around his room. He has recently been awarded by a Californian Insurance Group which has partners in India, for being a credible insurance agent. The award is a kitschy little object. It is a map of India and on the western side of the map is the Statue of Liberty – a kind of surreal image. The Statue of Liberty appears like a version of Bharat Mata imposed on the map of India. I immediately take a photograph of the award memorabilia.


“Oh, you also have this dictionary in your office,” my mother exclaims amidst the conversation. She is referring to the Oxford English Dictionary. “Yes,” he responds, bringing it from the side desk to the main desk, “I use it whenever I cannot understand a word or two. Otherwise it stays on the side desk.” He is not highly educated, but is clearly an instance of the man in this city who has made it big with intelligence, the right contacts/connections and hard work. The dictionary, I believe, refers to his regular dhanda practice which now, in the age of globalism and movement of MNCs, requires him to speak the global language of business i.e. English. I wonder what kind of newspapers he reads – New York Times? The International Herald Tribune? I did not ask him.


The conversations continue and my eyes move to the painting which is put up on the wall behind him. It is definitely a Hussain painting. I ask him and he responds, “Yes, it is a Hussain painting. I cannot afford to buy the original. So I bought this duplicate which he makes. It is worth nine thousand rupees.” Global business practices these days appear to use art as a symbol of higher understanding and a sense of refined-ness. Just a few days ago, Bombay Times carried an article about banks purchasing paintings to put up in their offices. “This creates an atmosphere of understanding between our customers and us. The painting helps us connect with them. It creates an atmosphere of warmth,” an executive from a bank had said explaining why his bank had bought so many paintings recently. Sure enough, as I look into our insurance agent’s office and in his mind, it appears to me that “image” is important these days – what image do you as a businessman present to your customer?


Mom goes off to do some legal work. Dad inquires about the two thefts which have taken place in his residential colony. “Oh yeah! This is the case of penny wise pound foolish. Our colony refuses to improve the lighting system and hire security guards. What to do?” Somehow, the discussion steers towards the topic of real estate which is a favourite for dad. They talk of the developments in Bangalore city. “Oh yeah,” IA exclaims, “check out the apartments and the residential colonies there. It feels like you are living in America. Truly! It’s amazing. They have up-to-date security and all facilities within the colony itself.” IA then speaks of how he is planning to shift apartments. “Yeah, I want to move, but not in that locality. It is dominated by one caste of people and despite the fact that we are all the same religious affiliation, I cannot get along with people of that caste. Not my type,” he adds. He speaks of religious service which is strongly involved with. And I start to wonder that despite global corporatism, the underlying identities of religion and caste are still there, deep within and perhaps stronger now than before. The boundaries are established and clear!


The conversation moves towards understanding his business practices. “Centralized control,” he states as summary. He works with small offices in different cities and exerts control from Bombay. “If anyone acts smart in any office, you press the remote control from here.”


Thinking dhanda practices in the city – I walk out of IA’s office and am mulling over business practices in this city. The hawker on the roadside has his connections with the street dada , the local cops and perhaps even the local corporator. A real estate agent I once met on the railway station spoke to me of his political connections and how, despite fears, he handles the bhailog viz., the underworld. A local businessman talks to me of his apnawala corporator connections and if I have any problems, he could simply introduce me to the corporator and my problems will be solved.


Mumbai City – In the midst of all of this messiness, small fries and big sharks, the city has survived. Dhanda practices are messy with intricate and complex connections. And at various levels, people have “influence” which is what works at the end of the day. As I think about IA and his business practices, I wonder how global corporatism is defining a new culture of dhanda , of business. The messiness needs to be eradicated and centralization brought in. Loose spaces cannot exist. Then, is this new business culture re-defining the city anew? Is it reducing spaces of freedom, of the capacity to dream?






April 23rd, 2005

22 nd April 2005


Today I have an interview with Manoj Kumar, a hawker at Marine Drive / Nariman Point. We have fixed the time for 7 PM . It is still broad daylight. I start to feel uncertain about being noticeable with a hawker in broad daylight amidst the large holiday crowds. My own hypocrisies start to surface. I am sitting right before Hilton Hotel and facing me is one of the groups of elderly people which regularly gathers at the promenade. There is an old Parsi woman, her husband and another woman. The old Parsi woman is discussing the rape at Marine Drive . She is shocked and upset about this and is constantly saying. “How can this happen?” There is constant analysis and reproduction of the rape incident.


Sitting on my left is a couple. Yet, once again, this is a couple where the girl has fought and the guy is trying to make amends. “Don’t touch me I said! Don’t touch me!” she says to the guy who is trying hard to win over his gal. Suddenly a family of four comes and sits next to me. There is papa, mummy, elder sister and younger brother. The little girl stands on top of the promenade wall and says, “I feel so scared here. Papa, do you know that this whole Marine Drive is called the Queen’s Necklace?” Her little brother jumps up on the wall and exclaims loudly, “Whoa!!!!!!!! But, who is the queen?”


While all of this is happening, I see Manoj Kumar walking a bit desperately and as he comes closer towards me, he suddenly turns back and I wonder whether he has read the shame in my mind. And he turns back, not to return for the rest of the evening. And I am relieved!


In the meanwhile, the elderly persons’ group has grown large enough as one of the members comes in his car and the driver bring out about six easy chairs from the boot. Members are pouring in – exactly eleven in number today. And apparently, there is going to be a party today as two members have brought food packets with them which they are distributing to the rest of the group. The group occupies a certain amount of space on the promenade and is an in-group in itself. Their fanfare does not appear to arouse any kind of feelings of exclusion among the walkers. Neither are the walkers concerned with the group dynamics. To each, his/her own. I watch the group with some amount of envy, as if wanting to be included among them. Then, as I go back to VT Station later in the night, I find that there is a certain amount of group dynamics that operates among the home guards as well and there will be exclusivity for me, as an outsider because you cannot be completely included in every group (yet, what is complete inclusion???).


Sudeep: Since many days now, I see a young man who jogs regularly on the promenade. Both of us know that we have been in college together; it is simply a matter of making the first approach. This evening, as I wait in despair (after the first few moments of relief) after forty-five minutes for Manoj Kumar, I notice that Sudeep slows down to relax and tie his shoe laces and I approach him to talk to him. We recognize each other; the only confusion is about who was senior to the other in college. I ask Sudeep to take some time out to talk to me on a day about his conception and imagination of the promenade and the space of Marine Drive / Nariman Point. We start to walk slowly with each other, remembering old times of college, activities, professors, etc. “What kind of questions will you ask me? I want to know so that I can be prepared,” Sudeep says to me. I respond by saying that these will be general questions about his memory of the promenade space, the transformations he has seen around the promenade, when he suddenly starts to say, “There are no more pretty girls here on the promenade. That’s because the roads are spoilt. And when the roads are made up, the pretty girls will be gone forever.” I am amused but Sudeep appears serious about this. He adds, “Also, lots of UP walas (migrants from Uttar Pradesh) are at the promenade.” Then, he slowly articulates, “This place has become boring now.” I pick on the word boring, and for a moment I start to mull over it myself – what makes a space ‘boring’ after a point? How do I understand boredom in the context of the city where ‘new’ is the mantra for the economy and subsequently, for people?

Sudeep and I talk for a while and then we depart on the promise of meeting soon.


I start to search for Manoj Kumar, at least to inform him that I am here and that we should meet up some other day. Perhaps some other day, I will be able to confront myself and go beyond the shame that I experienced today – transcending feelings! As I walk up and down, some people greet me and I know that now I am a regular face in this public space and I will invariably be noticed. Would this noticing then bring in pretension? Does anonymity enable me to be myself?


Satishji: I am unable to find Manoj Kumar and I believe it is the insincerity of my intentions that I am unable to meet with him. I walk back towards Churchgate. Just as I am about to cross at the large crossing, somebody whistles and shouts, “Oh, oh!” This is Satishji, a gram seller i.e. sing-chana wala at the promenade. He is sitting with two other sing-chana walas . I had met Satishji earlier last week when I asked him to give me some chana and he had said to me, “Is today some special day? Upwas ka din hai kya? (Is this a day for observing some religious fast?) Everybody is buying only chana . Nobody is taking peanuts.” Satishji had then gone on to tell me briefly about his history and the present circumstances under which he was operating i.e. the situation of precarity, constantly dodging with the police! Then, on another day, when I was purchasing chana from him, he was upset that day because the police had tried to get hold of him and in the process of escaping, some of his goods had fallen on the road and had gotten mixed up.


Today Satishji asks me, “Should I give you peanuts?” He wonders why I don’t eat peanuts and gun for chana only. “Now it’s dinner time. But okay, give me chana worth two rupees.” I realize I don’t have change money. “No problem, give me the money some other day. I see you here everyday. Do you live here?” I tell him that I don’t live in the area. And I also insist on paying him today. Satishji thinks I am a journalist. “I met one lady today. She jogs here regularly and she gave me her card. Seems like big party (i.e. wealthy). She has offered me a job. Has asked me to come on Monday. You see, I earn about two to three hundred rupees everyday and manage to save about four to five thousand at the end of every month. I am satisfied. There are lots of people from the Tata Building (i.e. the NCPA Apartments) who come on the promenade and offer us jobs as servants in their home or car washing men, etc. But we have always refused. We feel satisfied with our lives this way. We come to the promenade in the evening by four and retire by about twelve. In the daytime we are free.” Satishji removes the card and shows it to me. I start to think about freedom and cultures/lifestyles which exist in the city. Are the residents of the area invariably trying to enslave freedom? And this remark is not to demean the residents; I believe it is a human trend to look at freedom as a lived lifestyle to mean waste of productive time. In our culture, we have come to view freedom typically as financial freedom, freedom in terms of material comforts. And as Theodere Zeldin puts it in his fantastic book, “We human beings always seem to have a problem about what to do with our freedom!?!?!” Wow!

Satishji introduces me to two of his other companions who are sitting with him. “These are my cousins. We are all from Azamgarh in UP. All the hawkers who operate here are from Azamgarh. We work here and sleep behind the Express Towers .” Satishji articulates contentment as he speaks to me about his lifestyle. I ask him when the hawkers in this area came under such severe police scrutiny. “About five to six months ago.” One of his cousins interrupts and says to me, “No, no, it has been twelve to fifteen months now. The story goes like this. A senior police official took up residence in the Tata Building on a temporary basis because his house was being repaired. One evening he came for a walk on the promenade. He wanted to buy a bottle of mineral water. He approached a stall fellow here, on the promenade. Unfortunately that day, this particular water and cold-drinks’ seller had not even made a single sale. When the officer told him that he did not have change and would give him the money some other day, the stall fellow said to him, ‘No saab , today I have not even made boni (the first sale). So you leave the money with me and take the change when you come here next time.’ The officer had not revealed his identity. And that day, he resolved that he is going to move all the hawkers from the promenade and he did this. Subsequently, all the beautification drive which is happening here. Soon, you will see us no more. The footpath ahead has been paved properly a year ago. Now they are putting tetrapods in the sea. All of this is being done to remove us from here.”

His cousin went on to tell me, “People in the Tata building offer us jobs in their house. One of our gaonwalas (fellow villagers) is here. He washes seventy cars in Tata Building and charges three hundred rupees per car. But he is Pandit (Brahmin caste). He has been offering us to assist him. But we have a life of freedom.”


There is silence between us for a while. Then Satishji takes out a handful of chana from his basket and puts it in the paper packet in my hands. “Here, take some more. Eat on your way to the station.” I am touched by his gesture. And I also realize that I have the confidence of his group. Here is when sensitive issues of representation come in, but more on that some other day … For now, I am convinced that I live on the generosity of people who are not materially well off, but who have a heart which is open to giving and loving. Perhaps that is what makes this city special, until now at least – that there are spaces for people to exist the way they want to, though these spaces are also fast shrinking!


I say bye to Satishji and proceed to VT Station to go back home. At the station, I meet the home guards and sit with them as they finish eating dinner. Back on the platforms, Vijaya meets me. I board the train to get back home and she gets in till the train is about to depart. I tell her if she has read about the rape at Marine Drive . “Yes, yes. I read about it. As I was passing by today, I saw there was less crowd at the promenade …” saying she jumps off the train as the train picks speed!



April 21st, 2005

20 th April 2005


I have been thinking about get2v’s comments on the blog. Yes, marking is not a bad thing. It is a matter of a system. All this while, I have been tainting the practice of marking with a negative twinge. And that’s not really called for.

Let me articulate what is going on in my head. All these days of research at the railway station and the seafront have been tremendously interesting. Yet, when I land at the railway station near my house, I am a visible entity. I am visible because I know the shoeshine boys at the station, the khomcha aka stall manager, the TCs there, the home guard and policemen there. They notice me when I am at the station. There are times when I simply want to be invisible and not so noticeable. It gives me jitters to be this noticeable. And that is precisely what has gotten me thinking about get2v’s comments. Living in a city is a gift of anonymity – a gift of freedom. It prevents us from getting deeper into relationships and with other persons. Marking enables us to make sense of peoples and crowds and to maintain our distances on the basis of these stereotypical perceptions. How much deeper can you go given so many people???


Things I saw today:

ü       At Nariman Point, the private security guards started telling a man who was lying down lazily on the wall to get up and sit up straight. The man was a mix of the rural and the urban, more on the edge of the urban lafanga/lukha . Perhaps he was a UPite. Can there be rules and regulations on ways of behaving in public spaces? Would the private security guards have dared to rebuke him and discipline him on his behaviour if he were a South Mumbai looking like dude?


Person I met today:

ü       Radhika – she is a very sweet. I met her through interactions on my blog.



April 20th, 2005

13 th April 2005


Walking the Station with One Girl

This evening, I land up early at the railway station. I want to see the ‘rush hours’ as Sushanti and Suparna and their other colleagues had told me. It is about 5:00 PM . I go up to platform number 3, looking for Sushanti and the home guard gang. “Arre, you have come early today?” Sushanti exclaims, adding, “You reached home safely the other day nah? Mummy did not shout at you nah? We were getting worried that your mother would be concerned.” I responded to her saying that everything went alright that night, on Saturday. “I have come to see the rush hour today,” I tell them. “So would you want me to come with you?” Sushanti asks. I tell her that I will manage on my own. “Yeah, that’s better. When you go on your own, you can make your own choice and decide what you want to see,” says she, much relieved at the prospect of not having to take me around. Perhaps, in this situation, she feels pangs of anxiety, wondering whether my research agenda is being fulfilled with her various commentaries. She perhaps wonders whether her responses are appropriate to my research, whether the places she takes me to fall in line with my ‘hypothesis’!?!?!?!


I dash off to platform number 7 – the danger zone that her colleagues and she have been telling me about. The crowds are gradually beginning to increase. Platform number 7 has long distance fast trains. A look at the railway station and you can imagine the work force which comes from distant places, almost outside of the city, to work in the city. Later, when I meet Vijaya, she tells me, “How these women come from places like Karjat and Kasara? I find it difficult to commute from Khar. I don’t think I can ever work like them. Where is then the time for family and all?”

Labour travels long distances in the city and yet, when I classify this as labour, I think the very notion of labour in the city has changed – from the industrial mill workers to the now middle class service sector workers. Then, is the railway station a site for transport of labour? What kind of modernity is this?


I stand at platform number 7, the conventional space where women stand i.e. at the beginning of the EMU halt. As I have mentioned previously, several times, this space has been carved out by women, exclusively for themselves. It protects them from being jostled in the crowd – one of the forms of organization at the station. I am trying hard to look for something, until I meet another Sarai Fellow – Prashant Pandey. Now, I am beginning to realize that mathematically, I end up meeting at least two persons everyday in my escapades around the city – either at the promenade or at the railway station. And when I think of this mathematical calculation, I wonder whether the city is as dense as I imagine or is it that I just about know too many people by now.


Prashant is looking up in the air and walking. I call his attention and we have a brief chat. “You must study Dadar station,” he tells me, “It is way too crowded.” Hmmmm.


After talking with Prashant, I start to stroll around carefully between platforms 6 and 7. The space which is covered by the first three coaches of the train is heavily crowded because people make their entry into the station from South side. The North end has a bridge but is not even a quarter as much crowded as the South end. This is mainly because most of the offices in which the commuters work are located further South and hence, they arrive into the station from the South. I am walking and covering the area of the middle train coaches. The very density of the station begins to decline. And as this density declines, so does the anonymity. I become conspicuous and this conspicuousness increases more and more as I move towards the last few coaches. The space of the fag end of the railway station is absolutely calm, very contrary to the space at the entrance of the station. Here, at the fag end, the station is almost like a halting space. It is largely occupied by the men – the working men folk – middle class and lower middle class. The men lean out towards the track, looking out for the arriving train and then, as the train starts to touch the platform, the men folk jump into the train, pretty much like how the women do. Yet, women seem funnier when they jump inside the moving train. And I wonder whether this mental divide stems from gender conditioning.


As I sit quietly at the fag end of the station, I am amused and smiling in my head – what a railway station! And then, even the railway station cannot be classed as a single entity or a homogenous space. How do spaces derive their character?


After a while, I start to proceed towards the entrance side of the station. It is 5:30 PM and now will be the start of the rush hour. As I reach the beginning of the EMU halt, a smiling face greets me. “Hello!” she says with a glint of happiness and sparkle in her eyes. This is Vijaya, the home guard I had met at the other railway station on Saturday night. I greet her, “How come here?” I ask her. “Duty has shifted. Now, for one week, I am going to be at this station. Would you like to drink something?” she asks me. I refuse and ask her, “You have your duty on platform number 7?” “Yes,” she responds, adding, “I am deemed as one of the most brave lady cops around here. Platform number 7 is a very dangerous area. That is why my seniors have put me here.” “Why is platform number 7 dangerous?” I ask her. “Because of the gardulay (drug addicts). They do lots of salushan (solution) here. Because of the salushan there is so much smell. Commuters complain about these gardulay . So we have to keep a watch on them and make sure that they don’t enter the ladies compartment. The gardulay kids run and enter the ladies compartments and then, they cut their handbags and steal. So we have to keep a watch. Platform number 1 is also a very dangerous area. The harbour line trains depart from there. That area is infested with thieves. Once, my seniors told me that they want to put me permanently on platform number 1 and I should patrol in civil clothes so that I can nab the thieves. But I refused. Lots of robbery goes on over there.” I listen to her carefully. I am trifle bit surprised about platform number 1 being infested with thieves because it is an area of immense activity. But Vijaya points out that due to multiple entrances, the thieves make it in and out easily. “Come here, stand beneath the fan,” she tells me, “ hava aata hai .” I stand with Vijaya. The train is arriving at platform number 7. Women commuters are leaning outwards and readying themselves as if they are about to run a relay. Just as when the train touches the platform, the women jump in. I can almost see the train shaking with the jumping and thuds! Vijaya smiles as she sees me watching all of this. We then stand guard, watching around the platform. Suddenly Vijaya tells me, “Just a moment, I am coming.” She dashes off to a place where two drug addict children are loitering. “Come on, out from here,” she says, beating her danda (stick) to the ground, “Out, out! Out I say! This is not the place for you. There, go there. That place is meant for you.” She shoos them out towards the thin border which separates the local station from the outstation-station. Apparently, the character of this border, with several benches put on it, appears to be one of a public space, almost like the space of the promenade, where anybody can come and sit and do what they like, including lovers talking out their problems and resolving disputes.


I ask Vijaya if we can walk the platform. “Sure!” We start to walk. “Lots of rush in the beginning, but now on, the rush decreases,” she says as we pass by the middle compartment. “That’s it,” she tells me as we approach the last ladies coach, “We are not allowed to go beyond the last ladies’ coach,” she tells me. I then begin to wonder about boundaries about spaces which are created – individually, mentally, by authority (as is the case with Vijaya and the home guards who cannot go beyond the last ladies’ compartment), by convention, culturally, politically, through the media, etc. And I also wonder whether these boundaries enable us to organize the space mentally without really physically examining how true the boundaries are? Is this a character of the city where all spaces cannot be examined personally and we have to rely on boundaries to negotiate and understand them in our own minds? I start to think of practices of marking in a similar vein. It is not about the goodness or badness of marking, but more the system which leads us to mark – the system of density and crowd!?!?!?!?


As we walk back to the entrance of the station, Vijaya suddenly enters the ladies coach. There is a drug addict boy inside and she is diligently getting him out. Just at the beginning of the platform, an old lady, ragged, is lying on the ground. Her only possessions are a plastic water bottle and a steel drinking cup. Vijaya sighs, “Oh no, this maaji (old lady) is here again.” Maaji is lying right in the middle of the crowds. But each passing person is careful not to trample upon her. Vijaya starts yelling,” Maaji , this is not a place for you to lie down. Please move away from here. Come on.” Maaji is too weak to even stand up on her own. Vijaya summons two hamaals (vagrant drug addicts who act as porters for GRP cops and home guards). “ Isko udhar le jao, ” she instructs them. They lift her up and put her on the boundary line which seems to be at the receiving end of everything. After the exercise, Vijaya tells me, “What to do? All of this happens at the station everyday. We have to deal with this. I maintain good relations with the hamaals even though my other colleagues scream and shout at them. They can be very useful people. Now see, in situations such as these. This old woman must have been put in the train by some people and she has arrived here. Now someone else will put her in another train and she will land up at some other station. Like this, daily, up and down and up and down she must be doing with someone or the other putting her on the train. I can’t lift her up and put her at the other side of the station (i.e. the border area). She is dirty. These hamaals can do the job.”


Vijaya now insists that I must have coffee or cold drinks. I tell her that we will both go and have tea. However, she keeps repeating coffee or cold drinks and I can’t seem to understand. Ultimately, she takes me to the coffee stall where the most expensive coffee (seven rupees as against the usual five rupees) is available. She orders for coffee and my mind goes back to Arjun bhai’s practices of ordering coffee for me. It makes me wonder whether coffee is the global middle-class/service sector drink. How does Vijaya perceive me? An upper middle-class English speaking gal who drinks coffee? Commodities and the railways station then have a link, a link perhaps brought in by advertising, images and notions of globalism?!?!?!?!


“Time passes quickly at a big station,” Vijaya tells me as we drink our coffee. “At smaller railway stations, it is boring. I like it when people come to meet me.” After finishing coffee, we go back to platform number 6. “Yes, it is boring everyday to stand like this all the time, watching,” Vijaya tells me when I ask her if she finds her job boring. Suddenly, a man calls out to Vijaya, “Eh, havaldar , come here, come here now.” There are two men and one lady with some suitcases there. Vijaya is dealing with something and after about ten minutes she comes back, saying, “Oh, that man there, is a Ticket Checker (TC). The other man and that woman are husband and wife. The wife has a mail train pass and the man has a harbour line railway pass. The wife entered the harbour line on her mail train pass which is not allowed. Now, when the TC caught them and asked them to pay a fine of Rs. 250, they are refusing saying, ‘but we have a pass – pass to hai nah? ’ The man wants me to explain to the TC this. I told the man that the TC has more powers than I do and my job is just to keep a watch on the station. Beyond that, I have no powers. Now they have gone to the station master to resolve the issue.” After about half an hour, the man and his wife come walking by. They wave out to Vijaya. She asks them, “What happened?” “Oh,” said the man, “we had to pay the fine. But this is unfair. We had the pass no. We were not traveling ticketless. And my wife only came into the harbour line train for about three stations – for a five rupee ticket mistake, we had to pay Rs.250.” The man was evidently irritated. His wife kept telling him to shut up and walk. Vijaya tells me, “What people? They should buy the ticket nah? We home guards are allowed to travel free between our home and the station of duty. But on holidays and personal occasions, we also have to buy tickets. I don’t buy tickets. I dress up half-civil and travel free. But yes, I get my kids to buy tickets.”


Time goes by. I have spent about three hours at the station now. I tell Vijaya that I have to leave now. We walk towards platform number three where I will get a relatively empty train. Sushma is there at the platform. “So, strolled around today as well?” she asks me. She had seen me on Saturday. “Yes,” I reply. “What is your name?” she asks me. Vijaya is also listening carefully because she hasn’t caught on. I give her my name and Sushma’s next question is, “What is your caste?” Vijaya is listening with rapt attention. “Muslim,” I tell her.


I get into the train. Vijaya happily waves out to me! Bye, bye, bye, bye ….



April 13th, 2005

Sandwiched between Lovers – Examining Publicness at Nariman Point / Marine Drive


I proceeded to Churchgate from Grant Road Station. Along the way, news was circulating that India had lost the match to Pakistan and around Grant Road Railway Station, the shopkeepers were analyzing the match. I am beginning to firmly believe that the railway station is a site of circulation of news, stories, rumours and myths across the city. Urban talk is produced, reproduced and transformed around the railway station and it then circulates across the city. I must, at some point, attempt to map flows of information and circulation of trains, through sound and visual means.


I landed at Churchgate Station and made my way towards Marine Drive. These days, I also mark crowdedness. As soon as I landed at Marine Drive, I felt it was too crowded. The time was 6:30 PM. I have become fastidious about space myself. I managed to find a considerable portion of blank space and I sat down. I began watching the couple which was seated at some distance away from me on my left. The man was holding his girl’s hand between both his hands. As time went by, intimacy increased and the girl would touch the man’s face with her hand. But their space was theirs. Unlike me, the researcher, who took keen interest in watching their use of space, everybody else was engrossed in their own activity. As the two lovers talked, on the promenade, I found people meeting and talking. Everyone was talking, yet there was no noise.


Suddenly, a girl, young and evidently very upset, stomped her way to the wall of the promenade and sat close to me. A boy was walking behind her and he came and sat next to her. He started saying something to her and touching her face. She shouted, “Don’t touch me and don’t try to talk to me.” There was a fight which had taken place between them. In the meanwhile, another couple came and sat next to me. They were accompanied by another male who said that he was going off for a stroll while the couple could sit and talk. This couple on my right was looking for some space as they tried to settle down. My own space was now curtailed. This new couple was also here to talk things out. While the former appeared to have just come to the promenade ‘by the way’, the latter had made a concerted decision to come here and talk. The latter couple was discussing family issues. Apparently, the woman was upset with the man’s mother and the man, in his home was sandwiched between the mother and his girl. As both the couples were talking things out, I began to wonder about notion and practice of space in the city. Women talk things out in their groups in the jam-packed ladies compartments of the local trains; and men and women try to talk things out in the openness of the Marine Drive promenade. Then I think about ‘talking things out’ in the private space of house versus ‘talking things out’ in the public space of the promenade. I am curious about this interaction between private and public space.


Within about fifteen minutes, the couple on my left had made amends with each other and were smiling. They mutually walked off after satisfactorily resolving things – for the moment at least. On my right, the woman had talked out her problems, worried and insecurities; “you say whatever is in your heart”, her man had said to her. Sandwiched between the two couples, I was trying to examine my own notions of private-ness and publicness of space. There were times when I felt uncomfortable. At the end of it all, all’s well that ends well. So both couples went off happily.


I got up and began to parade the promenade, a usual exercise. There were numerous peoples and publics. I was marking the public into ‘residents’ and ‘outsiders’. Among the public, I was marking the ‘Sindhis’ and the ‘Parsis’. Across Hilton Hotel, a group of Parsis gather every evening on the promenade and talk. While walking by them, a strong whiff of phoren perfume entered my head. I walked up and down and by the end of the evening, I was feeling dizzy. So many people and I am trying to make sense of the publicness of this space. Am I also not indulging in marking the space and making it simpler for myself? What games the mind plays!!!



April 12th, 2005

Walking the Station with the Girls

(Practices of Marking at a Railway Station)


This evening, I have an appointment with Sushanti and Suparna. They are home guards at a railway station in the city. I have known them for sometime now. Earlier in the week, I had requested them to allow me to walk the railway station with them. “Sure, we can show you around the railway station, but anything outside the railway station, we don’t know much.”


Through some days now, I have been examining practices of marking at railway stations in the city. Marking takes place on the criteria of religious affiliation, economic class, criminality/non-criminality, abnormality/normality, traveling without ticket versus traveling with ticket and profession. Ticket Checkers indulge in marking; they need to determine who is traveling with a ticket and who is traveling ticketless. Home guards need to mark drug addicts and criminals and miscreant men. They also mark women, though that is not part of their job. Why is the railway station a site of marking in a city?


I landed at 8:30 PM at the railway station. Neelam, another home guard, is standing on the entrance of the first ladies compartment of the local train. As usual, I approach her to ask for Sushanti and Suparna. Neelima is married and has children and she tells me that she tries to balance home and work. After walking around the station a bit, we manage to find Sushanti and Suparna. Today is Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year. Suparna excitedly comes and greets me, “Happy New Year.” I wish her the same. Sushanti tells me, “Today is a good day. There is less rush at the station because of festival and plus, today is Saturday. On a regular day, this station is madness personified. Till 8:00 PM, we keep standing. The rush of women drops after 8 PM which is when we take a little rest by sitting on the flooring of the trains that arrive here. Our work timing is from 4:00 PM until 11. By 11, this station is silent. Since all of us girls live in the same area, about ten minutes away from each other, we travel together. My father comes half way through the road to pick me up. We have been here since nine months and have not faced any untoward incident at night.”


Sushanti and Suparna are proud of their job. They feel this is desh seva . “There are so many facilities at the railway station, all for ladies. First, you had the GRP (General Railway Police, a force of the State Police) which used to patrol the station. Then, with the rape case in the train, GRP guards were made to travel in the trains with the ladies. Last year, the Deputy Chief Minister got 500 home guards to stand on the railway station and make sure that women don’t get harassed. All of this for ladies only.”


We start to walk the platform. Sushanti takes me to platform number 7. “This is the most danger area. On weekdays, during the peak hours (i.e. 5-8 PM), ladies are running like mad to get inside the train. All long-distance fast trains halt here. Even before the train has halted, these ladies will jump inside the train to get seats. It is so dangerous. Even the males are wonderstruck when they watch the ladies jumping like this in the trains. We have fun watching the women jump. That’s our only source of entertainment here.” We start to walk towards the end of the platform. “This is also a very danger point. The danger is because the thieves and the drug addicts stand right here and in the crowds, they use their blades to slit the bags and steal. Once, one of our GRP men got hold of two druggies stealing. They had a major fight. The druggies slit the hands of the guard with their blades. You have to be very careful of their blades. You can get AIDS.” Suparna adds, “Poison – the blades are poisonous. You have to be careful.” Sushanti concludes, “So, on a platform, we have the first point, middle point and the last point (corresponding with the first ladies, middle ladies and the last ladies compartments). There is too much stench around platform number 7. Very dirty there! That is the place where the druggies reside.”


I am going to eat dinner with Sushanti and Suparna. I am also embarrassed because I am not carrying tiffin with me. Hence I have nothing to share/contribute in their dinner fiesta. “We will eat dinner late,” Sushanti tells me, adding, “let us take the train and go to some stations. You ask us whatever questions you want. I don’t know what you would be interested in knowing from us.” I nod. We get inside the train. “How do you feel doing this job? Do your parents and family members support you? What about your social life? Do you have a life beyond the railway station?” I ask them as we are riding the trains. Sushanti tells me, “I feel tired at the end of the day. It is not easy to keep standing all the while on the platform. I have backache. But I take care of myself. After 8, I take rest on the station. Parents don’t have much problem with my work. You see, more than family members, it is the neighbours who like to gossip and question ‘where is this girl going? Why does she come home late?’ For us, as long as our parents trust us, it is fine. Our parents are assured that our daughter is not doing anything wrong. Till then, it is fine. As for social life, I don’t know about others, but I personally take out time to be with friends. It is important for me.”


As we are riding the trains, two of their colleagues, male GRP guards, inquire about me. When we get off the station, Sushanti introduces me to them. “You tell them what you are doing.” I try to explain to one of the colleagues. He asks, “Are you Christian?” “No,” I respond, clarifying my religious affiliation. “Okay. I have only started patrolling the stations since a month or so hence I have not much experience to share with you. Yeah, but I remember that some days ago, a woman was walking on the platform when a man from the general compartment, looking at her, said, ‘ kya maal hai? ’(i.e. sexy thing). The lady saw that we GRP guards were sitting there. She took riks (i.e. risk) on our basis and slapped the man. The man started saying that he did not make the remark and that the other fellow had. She retorted angrily. In the meanwhile, a bhaiyya (from Uttar Pradesh) bhel-puri hawker was showing his 32 white teeth and smiling at the woman’s plight. Hamne danda liya aur kaan ke neeche baja diya usko (We took our stick and gave him solid beating). These are two memorable experiences of recent times.” Sushanti added, “That’s true what he said. Because we guards are around, ladies take riks (i.e. risk) and are able to retort to the men. But there are times when ladies will ask us to threaten the men eve-teasing them. When we ask the ladies to come with us to the men, they will want to scamper away. How can we simply go up to a man and threaten him if the woman is not coming forward with us as witness and victim?”


Sushanti then introduces me to the home guard at the station we are on. Her name is Vijaya. “Meet Vijaya,” Sushanti tells me, “She is very fearless. She will stay alone at this station. This station becomes very silent after 9 PM. But she holds guard.” Vijaya excitedly shakes hands with me. “I don’t fear anything except for ghosts and uparwala (i.e. god),” she says. “But where are the ghosts?” I ask her. “Oh,” she says, “the lane where I live becomes very silent at 2:30 in the night. I feel afraid to venture there at that time. That’s when I feel there are ghosts there.” Vijaya is married. Her husband tells her that as long as she can pay equal attention at home, she is permitted to do this job. “I have always loved serving people. Since my youth I have been engaged in this kind of activity. Sometimes I defy my husband and come to perform duty here. I have three children. But I manage to balance home and work. Husband says that I should make sure that I am back home every night by 12:30 AM.”


We decide to take the train back to our original station. Sushanti starts to say, “This is how we perform our duty. It is tough. The harbour line railway stations are most dangerous. There we have only one home guard per point. But they are left early. Some of the harbour line railway stations are very dangerous, like Reay Road and Dockyard station and even Govandi.” “Why do you call them dangerous?” I asked her, presuming that her notion of ‘dangerous’ emerges from the close presence of slums along those two railway stations. She responds, “Oh, Reay Road and Dockyard are Muslim areas and hence the stations are dangerous.” “What about Govandi? Why do you call that dangerous?” I ask her. “I don’t know much about Govandi. I have never been there. But one girl used to work there and she used to say this to us. I don’t know much,” Sushanti says.


We return back to the station. I ask both of them to tell me if they have seen deaths at the station and how it makes them feel. “Yes, we have seen deaths. No deaths take place at junction stations like VT and Churchgate. But on other stations, people recklessly cross the station. The first death I had seen was of a 12-year-old boy. I am not sure how he became a victim, but his body was completely cut apart. I had seen his dead body. I just could not sleep for about two days after that. It was so terrible. Now, we are used to it. There is a fine for people who cross the railway tracks. It is a criminal offense to cross the railway tracks (and a social offense to travel ticketless as indicated by the notice boards on the railway stations) and the police can fine you for this. But people cross. On one occasion, a fat man was trying to cross the tracks. But due to his weight, he could not climb up. He tried and tried, but he could not get himself to lift up and climb back on the tracks. The mail train was fast approaching. I was standing there and watching, but I could not help him. Then, a group of 12 men came and stopped the train and helped the man out. When he got onto the platform, I shouted at him, ‘what mister, hasn’t the government made bridges for you to navigate the station? Why do you have to cross the tracks? What if you had died here today?’ He started saying ‘sorry, sorry’ to me. I told him, ‘you are elder in age to me. And you will say sorry and get off. Don’t say sorry to me. Resolve that you will use the Foot Over Bridge instead of crossing the tracks.’ Now you tell me, you must have been to foreign countries. How is the railway station there? We have seen images of the doors of the train close automatically there. But can you cross tracks there? Is the railway station like this over there too?” I am astonished as to how Sushanti knows that I have been abroad. Did I ever tell her? I tell her that it is a criminal offense there too to cross the tracks. It’s simply not allowed.


It’s dinner time now. Sushanti and Suparna collect their bags from their little police post on the station and we start to proceed towards the ladies waiting room which is where we will be eating our dinner. Sushanti says to me, “Children escape from homes and come to the station and fall in bad company and start to do drugs. Once, a boy came up to me and said ‘my elder brother is calling you.’ My colleague was also with me. I knew the boy was teasing us. I thrashed him and asked him ‘where is your elder brother? Take us there!’ He ran away. We knew that he was a truant boy. A few days later, we saw the same boy at another station. He was walking with an elderly man. We thought that this is the elder brother he is talking about. We decided to thrash that man. We went up to him and said, ‘are you his elder brother who wanted to meet us?’ The man said, ‘I am this boy’s father. This boy does not sit in school and runs off to the station to do drugs. I don’t know what to do with him.’ From his looks, we had determined that the boy was from a good family. We understand that it is easy to fall into bad habits, but difficult to get out. So we empathized with the father and said to him, ‘Now that we know he is your son, the next time we see him doing drugs on the station, we will beat him up and get him back to you. You don’t worry.’ I don’t like beating the children,” Sushanti says contemplatively and with a sense of sadness, “but this is part of our job. Initially, it was difficult. But you know, we have to be strict otherwise these people will sit on our heads. Even now, I don’t beat up. I just warn them and let them go.” “How do people perceive you?” I ask her, as she is reflecting on her everyday life at the station. “Some people are good to us and respect our duties. But a lot of women don’t see us with respect. If we are sitting for a while, they will say ‘look at them. Government servants and they are bumming around.’ Once, a five plus one, you understand know, that means six (eunuch), had boarded the train. He was old and wasn’t harassing the women. We entered the train. After a while, he quietly walked out. The ladies started saying, ‘look at you, home guards, you don’t do anything when these eunuchs enter the train. What use are you? We have to fend for ourselves.’ I got angry and responded to the woman who made the remark, ‘madam, just because you have money and that eunuch doesn’t, you can say these things. And he wasn’t doing anything to you. And, for your kind information, if I hadn’t entered the train, he wouldn’t have walked out.’ The woman got angry and she started yelling at me. I told her, ‘I am a government servant and not your servant. The government gives me money and not you.’ But she kept on yelling. I felt bad and told my seniors about this. They said to me, ‘you go on doing your duty. It doesn’t matter what the public says.’ That is how the public is here. They will not acknowledge what we are doing. And I am telling you, statistics have revealed that crime rates have come down by 80% ever since we were posted here. Now only 20% has to be tackled with.”


We settled down to eat dinner. Sushanti and Suparna’s colleagues are there. They ask me to take a bite from their tiffin. Sushanti says to me, “Here, take some vegetable and chappatis. Now, I don’t like to tell the other person ‘please, please, eat some’. If you like, take more from my tiffin. That is how I like.” We start to eat and as per her instructions, I dig into her tiffin whenever I need more. She feels happy that I have adjusted to them. “That feels nice. Look Suparna, she eats so well,” she says to Suparna. “So,” I ask her, “this waiting room is everything for you? I mean you change your clothes here and when you get back at night, you change your clothes here?” She replies, “When we come in the evening for duty, we change here. On return, we dress half-civil i.e. we simply change the top garment and retain the trousers. This way, people don’t see us with bad eye. In the beginning, we used to feel afraid returning back home. Once you are in plain clothes, you are just like the average public. The uniform has power. So when we used to go back home in civil clothes, public in the trains and on the station used to think we are dance bar girls returning. Now that we dress half-civil, people know that we are returning from our duty and we are not that type of girls.”


As dinner ends, Sushanti’s colleagues are curious to know more about me. “She is our friend,” Sushanti declares proudly. One of their colleagues, Sunidhi, comes up to me. She sees the Sarai Broadsheets which I am carrying in my hands. “What is this?” she asks. “Can you read English? If you can, take one,” I respond. She starts to open out the Broadsheet. “Oh, this opens out completely huh?” she says. Sushanti tells me, “You know, we can understand English very well. If someone says something to us, we can clearly understand. But it is difficult for us to respond. That is why, we would prefer if you speak with us in English. That way, we can learn something from you.” I hand over a copy of the Broadsheet to Suparna as well. She is having fun with the image in the middle of the inside poster. “I know this, I know this. It is illusion,” she shouts.


Sunidhi starts talking to me. “I want to start my own business. Now I am trying to. But until business starts, I want to continue in this job.” Sushanti once again asks my name. “Accha, so you are Muslim huh? Do you follow the Quran?” I tell her that religion is not a strict imposition in my home and that my parents have allowed me to do what I have wanted to. “Oh, that means there is love in your home,” she concludes happily. “We have made quite a few good friends here, at the station, in all these months of duty. We have met some really nice people. Now you are one of them. Do you do ghar-kaam (i.e. household work as expected of a girl)?” “No,” I tell her. “Yeah, when I saw you, I realized that you must be from a hi-fi family. So you must be having servants at home to do work. But it is nice to know some ghar-kaam . It’s important because even when there are servants around, husband likes it if wife does some of the household work, especially cooking, with her own hands.” I nod.


Something happens and we start to talk about different cities. Delhi becomes a subject of discussion. Sunidhi says, “It’s good in Delhi, I have heard.” I tell Sunidhi that Delhi is an unsafe place for women and there is greater liberty for women in Bombay. “Yeah, I would guess as much,” she starts saying, “Mughals had ruled Delhi and they would keep their wives inside their homes. Hence this culture in Delhi. I have loved Razia Sultan. Sushanti, you know that Razia Sultan was the only Muslim woman who ruled a kingdom. And the Muslim men did not like this and hence they killed her. I truly adore her character.”


We start to wrap up and walk back to the station. Sushanti, Sunidhi and myself are walking back. “Just a minute, we will keep our bags and join you,” Sushanti says. The station is quite empty now. As I stand by a pillar, I realize that I am now a visible entity. In the rush hours of the day and the evening, standing at the pillar on the station is a practice which is not marked because the individual is anonymous and invisible. But at 10:30 at night, this same practice creates visibility and perhaps could result in the ‘public’ marking me. Would I also be seen as a dance bar girl? Sushanti and Sunidhi arrive. I ask Sunidhi where her point is. “There, at platform number 7. It stinks badly all the time. I don’t like it there.” Suddenly, Sushanti sees a burkha clad woman and asks me, “In yours, do you wear burkha ?” “No,” I tell her. “It’s getting late now. You had better go. Your mummy will be worried about you,” she tells me with concern. I board the local train. “We know the time-table by-heart now,” Sushanti informs me while there is some time for the train to depart. “Public asks us about the trains. And some people, inspite of giving them the correct information, they will ask around with others to confirm again and again. I feel irritated that the public does not trust.”


The train starts to move slowly from the platform. We wave out to each other. I return …