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10-May-2005

8 th May 2005

 

Joggers’ Park

 

He wears white – white T-Shirt and white shorts. He walks very fast. Curt says he is funny. I think he is straightforward and also suspecting.

 

I: “I am doing this research on Marine Drive and I want to interview you. I am from Sarai …”

He: “Hey, hey! I don’t understand English. You take down my phone number and call me. My name is Thakkar.”

 

Over the phone,

I: “Hello. I had met you at the promenade and I …”

Thakkar: “Hey, hey. I had already said to you. I am illiterate, I don’t understand English and if you cannot understand/speak Hindi, then we have a communication problem.”

I: “Sorry, sorry,” apologizing for my automatic English brain and thought processes.

 

This was about three weeks ago. Mr. Thakkar and me kept bumping into each other every time at the promenade. “So, what are you? Khoja or Bohra?” he had asked me, inquiring into my ‘caste’. There are times when I have felt the tension between him and me in terms of our religious affiliations and identities. Yet, I like him and I guess he likes me too. “There are very few true people on this earth. In today’s times, it is difficult to find true friends,” he tells me. “90% people are out to befriend you for your money. Only about 10% are true,” he tells me.

 

Mr. Thakkar has been jogging at the Marine Drive promenade since fifteen years now, everyday, from Monday to Saturday. And he has a schedule – by 8 PM, he ‘backs’ and is most likely to meet at Oberoi Hotel (which is now Hilton Towers). I am trying to understand what the promenade means to him and how he sees it in the scheme of his everyday life. Maybe it don’t matter to him at all and I am trying to read more than what is obvious. When I ask him this question, he says, “It is part of my everyday life. The other day, I was in the taxi and we were passing by the promenade. I was telling the taxi driver, ‘Isn’t this a lovely place?’ and the taxi driver said to me, ‘this is the best place in Mumbai’.” And as Mr. Thakkar utters the word ‘best’, I sense the pride and ownership he says towards this place. Yes, perhaps the promenade is a ‘place’ for him, a kind of home, but I am still to investigate into this.

 

This evening, we meet each other at the promenade. It is Sunday and he does not jog on Sundays. “Oh, very crowded today. Where do we sit? Haan, come, here. ‘Your’ people are vacating place for us,” he laughs and says. By “your’ people, he is pointing out to a large family of Bohra Muslims who are clearing out of the promenade. I think it is really tough to break beyond prejudice and interact as individuals in relationships. Each moment, in a relationship, there is either a power relation, or an interaction through images – at least initially and also at various points in time as the relationship grows.

 

“How come you decided to jog here instead of going to the Oval Maidan which is also close by?” I asked him. He points out to the lines on his forehead and says, “Destiny. It is all about destiny. Destiny brings you to the place where you are supposed to be. Don’t you agree?” I nod. He continues, “Besides, there is the sea here. Sea is nature. It is purity. You feel peace in your heart when you are here – shaanti hoti hai ,” he says, pointing out to the several people who are sitting here today, facing the sea. “People are not just looking out towards the horizon. They are connecting with themselves deep inside,” Mr. Thakkar tells me.

 

A look at him and you may assume that he is a resident of Marine Drive area. I ask him why he thinks that people assume him to be a resident of this place. “I don’t know. Maybe they see me here everyday that is why they imagine that I live here. Everybody says ‘hello’ and ‘hi’ to me initially but when I tell them that I live at Kalbadevi, they stop talking with me,” he says laughing aloud. “I live in a little jhopada in Kalbadevi. I walk from there everyday and come here. I don’t even have a cycle,” he says me. And with these words, I know this is coming from an astute Gujarati businessman who attempts to give you the impression of a life of simplicity and scarcity behind the garb of his hard earned wealth over the years. Perhaps then, some behaviours and attitudes are predictable about some communities …

 

“How does the process of interaction with fellow joggers evolve?” I ask him “By and by. You see each other everyday and you smile. After the initial smiling phase, I do salaam to some people. I don’t discriminate between people. Each one is a human being. No one is high or low. To tell you one incident, there was a very rich man who used to come and jog here. I used to smile at him and do salaam to him everyday. But he would not respond. After some days, I stopped. Then he started feeling bad. And after a while, he of his own started to raise his hand a little as a greeting to me. I have been coming here since fifteen years. You know, the great J.R.D. Tata. His car used to halt by the Air India building everyday. He was a mota manas (big man). That is why, he used to travel in his Mercedes and at the signal, his car would always halt by the left. And he used to do salaam to me. Even the biggest and the smallest man here says hello me. Because I am that kind of person.” Perhaps he is. He has his own networks of influence and I wonder whether some of these have emerged from his interactions and networks with fellow joggers at Marine Drive.

 

I asked him, “Did you used to come to the promenade before you began jogging?” “Yes, of course. In those days, I used to come here, where Cuffe Parade is now. I used to come here to hide and smoke cigarettes. You must be aware that in those days, to smoke was a big thing. Family should not know. So, I used to come here and smoke, hidingly.” “And did you see the reclamation come up before your eyes?” I asked him. “What is reclamation?” he asks me. “Oh, I mean these buildings which came up here?” “Yes, yes. Of course! I saw all these buildings come up here. Before the buildings came up, this place was an open-air theater. Everyday there used to be film shows here. In those days, there was no TV. So we used to come here and watch the films. It was nice then.”

 

“You know, Gandhiji also has come here to the promenade. That is why this place is pure and blessed. Such a big man had come here,” Thakkar tells me when I ask him what the space means to him. “But why are you talking with me and doing this re-cher-ch? How many people have you re-cher-ched? Are you from the government? Are you from some secret agency? You know sometimes these agencies send women to do interviews. Please explain to me what you are doing.” I explain what I am doing and I promise to give him a Sarai Broadsheet since his daughter will be able to read it and understand. “I have always felt that you are from the government. How many government agencies are there? There is CBI, there is CID and one more … which one? … … Haan, RAW? What is RAW?” I am smiling in my own mind, trying to understand his suspicions and fears.

 

We start walking back. “You know, many people on this planet are not happy. We must live for others. One evening, I was waiting for some of my friends to join me at the promenade. I sat down on the wall, right opposite NCPA apartments. Now, I thought, let me just sleep here for a while. If I sleep opposite this building, I will feel that it is equivalent to sleeping inside the building. There was an ex-military officer sitting with his wife on the promenade. This man is in charge of the security of the building. We started chatting with each other. He told me, ‘You know, half the people living inside this building are not happy!’ You tell me, how much is each flat in the building worth?” I think hard and say, “One crore?” “Hutt,” he chides me. “Each flat in this building is between three to four thousand square feet. One square foot costs twenty five thousand rupees. Now calculate.” My mouth opens wide as I am trying to put all the zeroes together. “Seven to ten crores for each house!” “Hmmm,” he says smilingly.

 

We walk together for a while. I am not sure whether his suspicions about me are cleared. And his prejudices … how much should they affect me? We talk about religion, life in Bombay and he promises me that he will take me to one of the best places in Bombay where ice-creams are served. “That’s a promise. I am very happy to meet with you,” he says. I join my hands in respect for him. “No, no! just shake hands.” Now, haven’t I heard that before … from Arjun bhai??? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahhahahha!!!!!

xanga

  1. May 12th, 2005 at 22:04 | #1

    Not sure if you have see these posts. Dateline Bombay and Rashmi discuss what is the meaning of Buzz when it comes to a public space.