Archive for January, 2006


January 29th, 2006

29 th January


Have been reading Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyyer and Sauvik Chakraverti. Sauvik speaks of property rights and how blogs are private property. I have just one question which I have been thinking of since quite sometime: does the condition of over-population produce stronger defenses of territory? Is the ‘practice’ of territory a result of over population / out-of-scale growth?



January 29th, 2006

29 th January


The home guards had invited me to their haldi kumkum ceremony. Sushanti, Suparna, Eliza, Hema and all of them were present. They were delighted to see me participate in their ceremony.


According to one of the guards who spoke at the function, haldi kumkum is celebrated in the winters. Women who are generally not allowed outside the confines of their homes are always allowed to participate in haldi kumkum ceremony.


While at the ceremony, I was watching the women home guards and their interactions. I realized that the local train network gives women freedom of movement, physical movement, but that does not necessarily mean true independence. The local train network is seen as a contributing factor to the cosmopolitan character of this city. However, this cosmopolitan factor is very superficial and ‘everyday’ (everyday meaning assumed for granted, part of the regularity framework). It does not go beyond where people have the opportunity to step inside each other’s minds and re-examine their prejudices and animosities.


For the home guard women, the railway station is a space outside home, but that space is not much different from home. The women still have their prejudices, their conventions and customs, their ways of marking, their notions of ‘the ideal woman’, etc. What does happen however is that apart from Maharahstrian women who form the bulk of the home guard force, there are some South Indians, UPites, MPwallis, etc. There is some amount of intermingling of people of different ‘cultures’ and maybe this influences the majority to think differently, to be open and receptive. Yet however, when one South Indian woman home guard was asked to speak, her colleagues teased her and asked her to speak in Marathi. She spoke of how she likes the haldi kumkum tradition and towards the end, she spoke a bit in Marathi.


I am still questioning the space of the railway station and what a railway station is in a city? Is it at all a meeting space?






January 29th, 2006

28 th January, 2006


Staying away from the ‘field’ of my research or ‘sites’ of my research has made it difficult for me to go back now, persistently. I feel lost with respect to the questions I want to ask. I feel lost with respect to the conversations I want to have. I just try to make an attempt to listen and make sense. I feel I am floating, no sense of purpose!


Life is full of contradictions. These days, I have been reading Masanobu Fukoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ where he talks about discriminating knowledge and non-discriminating knowledge. He says that when we start to see the world through our mind rather than through experiences, when we start to organize knowledge in analysis, compartments, frameworks, etc. and that knowledge is limiting. I think about what Fukouka is saying and I question my own work which I believe now needs to take on a more serious turn. Am I analyzing for the sake of analyzing? Is there purpose?


I must admit I am lost … And there are feelings of depression, somewhat like the depression a mother faces after she has given birth to her child. Feelings of depression which kind of gnaw at me, but I can’t label them as destructive. I felt today that it might be instructive to write. Perhaps when one is full of oneself, it makes sense to get out and check out the world.


My world is the railway station these days. I stand by his candy stall and listen to Mishraji, the candy-man at Byculla railway station. Yesterday, I reconnected with my women home guard group. Among Sushanti, Suparna and all of them, I like Eliza the most. There is something about her. At CST Railway Station, the group told me that Eliza will be found at Byculla station. I traveled bravely and boldly, without a ticket, on chance and luck, to Byculla railway station.


Eliza was sitting in the chowkie, a shaky little structure with a yellow coloured concrete bench inside. The yellow coloured concrete bench is shielded with a shaky rectangular kind of structure with two large square windows on the front and back and open ended on the left and right. This structure is ‘markedly’ different from others at the station and it is a clear indication that this is a ‘place’ where you can get ‘assistance’. I found that the maximum assistance which Eliza could give to the commuters was to help them determine whether the arriving or passing train will take them to their destination. And once in a while, amidst our conversation, Eliza would turn around to ‘watch’, as if out of anxiety and a sense of duty and responsibility.


I guess Eliza is about thirty years old. She might be my age or perhaps a bit older than me. Eliza is plump, dark, wears glasses and looks like Queen Latifah, the Afro-American actress. I have a strange liking for Eliza, for reasons entirely unknown to me. My attractions and affinities for people work on first vibes that I get from them. And sometimes, I make conscious efforts to approach people I dislike, questioning whether my first impressions are wrong and whether I am shutting myself from people just because of some ‘assumptions’.


Where were you all these days?

I lied that I was in Bangalore , refusing to acknowledge that I was keeping away from my field and feeling miserable. Also, the last time I had spoken to Eliza on the phone was when I was in Bangalore when she had accidentally called me.

Did you learn Kannada language in Bangalore ?


How long were you there?

Two months.

Two months!!! And you did not learn the language? If I were in your place, I would have learnt. I am Kannada actually.

So you teach me the language since you are Kannada.

I don’t know it myself, she said, breaking into a burst of laughter.

What? You don’t know the language?

I know Telugu instead. And I can also speak Marathi, English and Hindi. Tell me, you being local (that is Maharashtrian), can you speak the language here?

Yes, I can!


Eliza is South Indian Christian. In my mind, she is cosmopolitan in the Bombay sense of the term. Most of her friends are Maharashtrian and there is no doubt that she can speak the language very well. She is fluent to the core. Absolutely!


Have you finished your studies? What are you doing now?

I finished studying. Loafed around here and there with jobs, but decided that I want to write a book. I am trying to …

She laughed again. What do you want to write about?

I want to write stories. For example, I want to write about the life of this railway station. I like railway stations. I want to write stories of you people, of the railway station.

She laughed once more. I will suggest one place where you can get lots of stories. Try talking to women who make papads , Lijjat papads . They will tell you stories of their hardships, of their struggles. You will find lots of stories there.

I felt amused. And I also wondered whether I should feel offended by her advice. Actually not!

What stories you will get of our people?


So tell me, is your daily life about patrolling and guarding? What do you feel about it?

Feel? It’s a habit! Every evening we are patrolling.


Eliza and her colleagues patrol from 4 PM to 11 PM daily. They have two holidays in a week – one on a Sunday and the other on a weekday. Eliza is like a leader of the gang which patrols at CST Station – Eliza and Sushanti. I often think about their lives and what their parents think of their jobs. Most of the women home guards I have encountered are lower middle class or middle class Maharashtrian girls, about eighteen years and above. I wonder what kind of marital prospects they will have. What kind of wives they will make? What kind of feminine desires and dreams they have? What feminism means to them, if at all?


Eliza spoke of the fights they have been having with their supervisors about returns at night. She says that when the girls see some of their colleagues returning before 11 PM , they also want to get back, but the supervisors hold them back for various reasons including punishment, harassment, wanting to inculcate discipline and sense of duty. Eliza says that before she came to Byculla and CST Stations, she was patrolling at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations.

Life is tough on those stations. Girls are posted individually at different points’ (a common term used by home guards to suggest locations at the three different ladies’ coaches). Here, at CST and stations till Byculla, the girls are in groups. They have company of each other. They can eat together. But at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations, we have to eat all alone. We have to spread out our tiffins before the public and eat in front of them to demonstrate that we are doing our duty. It feels very embarrassing, awkward. Next time, you must tell our CST girls how lucky they are. Lie to them that you have eaten with the girls at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations so that they know that I am not lying to them when I lecture them about duty and responsibility.


Something suddenly happened. Maybe it was the little girl and her mother sitting in the chowkie who evoked Eliza to speak about herself. Maybe she wanted to present me with a story. She started off:

I fell very sick, just like you did recently, when I was in class 8. Fever and persistent loose motions caught on me. It was difficult to attend school at this rate because class teachers would not give permission to go to toilet frequently and if they did allow, as soon as I would come back to class, I would need to run again. So I would attend school for four days a week and then bunk four days. Consequently, I failed class 8. I did not go to school thereafter. Was sitting at home for the next three years. I would watch parades on television and would often tell my mom that I want to be in the parade some day and even if I cannot be in the parade, at least I want to go close and watch it.

My mother heard about the home guard system where girls are admitted and they must go for parades and duty. She asked me if I was interested. I did not even know then what it meant to be a home guard. I used to be part of the Road Side Patrols (RSP) in school. Hence this suggestion that mom put forward struck me and I decided to join.

I used to wear frocks at that time – frocks and middies and maxis. People who recruited me asked me to wear salwaar kameez . I somehow managed to continue with middies and maxis. I would wear stockings and socks up to thigh length. After six months of training, I persuaded my mother to buy me one salwaar kameez . She agreed and till date, I wear only salwaar kameez . Recently, I bought jeans and trousers.

About four years ago, my wedding was fixed with my maternal uncle. Fourteen days were to go for our wedding. He disappeared. He appeared on the tenth day with another woman he had married. My family gave up hopes of my marriage. I did lau (love) with another guy from my area. Our affair went on for long. But his mother did not like me and accept me. We were in lau (love) with each other. If you are in lau (love) with someone, how can you do lau (love) with someone else then? But he did and then informed at home that he laued (loved) another girl. The other girl was acceptable to his mother. Now, on February 26, they will get married. And look at my nasseb (destiny/fate), that girl lives diagonally opposite to my house. Imagine, what will be my condition on the day of the wedding? I have decided to hold my younger brother’s engagement ceremony and party on 26 th Feb.

Now I have given up all hopes of love. I don’t think I am destined to get married. This is my fate. I am not one to be loved.


All through the conversation, Eliza spoke detachedly. Even when she spoke of her pain about her lover, she seemed detached, yet, the pain was inside. And I wonder whether the framework of regularity i.e. her patrolling duty, her set of home guard friends, etc. help her to minimize or repress the pain. And that is my question these days: what is regularity in the city? And does regularity allow us to go about our everyday business without letting conditions surrounding us to affect us? Does regularity insulate us from the world around us? What is this framework of regularity in a city?


Eliza continued to talk a little bit here and there. We have a function tomorrow in Dharavi. My colleague, that girl, has gone to another station to get one of our other colleagues to apply heena on her hands. I told her to escape quietly and in case seniors come, I will give her two missed call rings (on her cell phone) and she should come back. Later at night, I will go to that girl and have heena applied on my hands.


We continued talking for sometime. Then it was time for me to leave. I said goodbye and as I walked home, I remembered glass dreams! I remembered feminine desires, desires which grow in our hearts and somehow, the city plays a part in their fulfillment – everyday desires, little desires, little dreams, hands, palms, heena …



January 16th, 2006

16 th January 2006


Jaunts on Regularity / Regularity Jaunts


Street lights emitting an orange glow are still keeping the city aglow. It’s a bit chilly. The sky is foggy. There is a semblance of winter in this city of dust, grime, heat and dreams.

(Time: 7 AM )


I set out to explore notions of locality and regularity through the local train network this morning (and soon I may become one of the regulars, of the regularity regime which provides a framework for existence in the city).


I walk down the streets. Coming from the front is a short smiling man dressed in black athletic clothes. I realize he is the watch guard of our building, Kadam. Soon he will wear his uniform and settle in his regular regime.

(Uniforms and the city … name tags … regularity …)


I walk past the pavement market of Byculla. I nearly trample over a little flyer on which are pictures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a bearded man, smiling, and advocating inter-faith harmony. I somehow cannot care for inter-faith harmony right now because I am in a rush to board the train


(like some of the millions in the city who are too involved in the everyday business of travel-work-travel-home – cannot miss the train!!!).


As I walk down, I notice that the pavement dwellers are still asleep

(and I wonder about their notions and practices of regularity).


I see a woman who has cuddled up in her own body and has made enough space on the hessian mattress for a roadside dog (who is a regular there).


I now understand what the term squatting means. And I realize that squatting is not something which only pavement dwellers, hawkers and slum dwellers indulge in. Squatting is also a mental phenomenon. ‘Citizens’ and ‘commuters’ squat in the local trains. Mr. Lalchandani and his family squat in their little house in Marine Drive . I squat in my one-bedroom house with my parents. At every moment, we are squatting, negotiating, transforming and producing space, irrespective of whether the space is public, private or personal. Yet, I can’t seem to understand what makes us so harsh towards slum dwellers, pavement dwellers and hawkers? What is it about them or their lifestyle which irks us, bothers us, disgusts us (and produces conflicts over rights and space)?


Design and Space – transforming regularity and negotiations over space

At Byculla railway station, the train arrives. It is the ‘new train’ where seats are meant for two persons and there is ample standing space. The design of the train is somewhat like the modern metro, except that the doors are perpetually open in this case. The women are kind of surprised at this design (and cleanliness of the train). There is a mental readjustment to space. Somehow, I am accustomed to the old design which is dark and mundane. The space in the older design is intimate and the negotiations for space are tough. The older design also provides an added sense of anonymity which the new design does not afford. Too much standing space is not what commuters are used to. The confusion in the mind (and in the biological patterns of regularity) is how to use the extensive passage space, how to organize, how to negotiate (and women just want to sit because they enter the trains tired in the morning after performance of morning chores).


At each station, women who enter the compartment are a bit frazzled and surprised before they settle down (shifts in regularity …). At Dadar Station, vendor women enter the train. An old woman is too surprised at the design of the train. She is amazed, befuddled and in awe.

Gaadi ata peeshal jhaali (Train has become special)

She continued moving about, wondering where to settle down.

Gaadi ata english vatayla lagli (Train appears to have become English), she said loudly.

Ultimately, she settled down in one corner near the door.


The metal handles in the train are bright, sparkling white metal. But they are a bit too high to reach. Amidst the open passage space, I can watch women engaged in their everyday activities.

Students are studying.

Some women are listening to cell phone radio.

Some are just there, watching around here and there, as and when.

One woman in front of me is reading her prayer book. The nail paint on her fingers is scratched out. She is concentrated and focused on her prayers (praying being one of the critical nuances of regularity framework among a segment of women on the trains).

(The one sitting next to her is peering inside her prayer book, perhaps as a confirmation of her faith!)

And then there are some of us who are thinking, indulged in existential angst.

The woman in front of me has a somber and grim look, but it appears that a flurry of thoughts are flowing below the exterior.

I am thinking of the guy in my life presently.

The praying woman who is now finished with prayers has a calm exterior over her.

A thought crosses my mind – does the framework of regularity provide a calm, superficial exterior? What happens when this exterior is disturbed? What happens when violence hits the city? What are the phenomena of violence in the city?

(I am itching for answers …)


Glass Dreams

One hawker enters the compartment. She is selling food stuff. She makes her first sale and brings out her pursue from her blouse. She touches the ten rupee note on her forehead, suggesting the auspiciousness of the first sale of the day. I am watching her. She looks at me and smiles, justifying her action. I smile back, in confirmation.

A bangle seller steps in. Very tempting bangles! I purchase a feminine glass dream of two sky blue bangles and two sea blue bangles – they now adorn my hands! A trend has been set. The woman sitting diagonally opposite me indulges in her feminine glass dream – two red bangles and two black ones. But she has a hundred rupee note and the bangle seller has no change money. I wonder whether the glass dreams will be shattered or will be left incomplete today. The woman holds on to the bangles and requests for change among passengers. The bangle seller is also requesting change among passengers. A passenger offers change to the bangle seller and one offers change to the female. The dream is sustained. She puts the bangles back in her purse, but she takes a last look at them. She is pressing a smile. She is contended. I wonder whether she is thinking of her lover who she will charm with her glass dreams. A little joy in the midst of regularity …

(Glass dreams – happiness – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(This city and its systems are still somehow managing to fulfill our fantasies, dreams and aspirations)

(Glass dreams – desires – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(Glass dreams – for sale – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(Glass dreams – chiming – Price: Rs. 10/-)


Return Journey – Train Groups – Musings on Locality, Regularity and Cosmopolitanism

(Time: 8:10 AM )

I got off at Thane Station. I boarded a train bound for CST junction starting from Thane station. The design of the train is the old one. There is still empty space in the train.

(I wonder whether I will be able catch a train group today.)

The train started moving. I plugged the ear phones in my ears and began listening to GO 92.5 FM. Reports of yesterday’s marathon are still flowing in today.

At Mulund Station, three women enter the train. They quickly begin to ask where each one of us is getting off – making ‘claims’ on seats.

I am caught up with three women who are a ‘group’. Two are definitely Maharashtrian. The third one, I can’t make out.

(Is marking a practice of locality?)

They are talking mundane stuff. I am not interested.

They are settled around fourth seats. They have made claims which will ensure them comforts within a couple of stations’ time.


(I am still thinking of the design of the previous train and now this one. There is a definite intimacy in this design though it causes a lot of jamming as well. However, women can maintain their balance in this old design because the space is intimate and it means that they are literally being ‘held up’ by the seated women and standing fellow passengers. In the new design, this may not be possible.)


A song of freedom rings through the radio station in my ears. I am absolutely enjoying the anonymity of space. What a remarkable sense of freedom to go unnoticed!


They are talking mundane stuff, this train group. And another thought crosses my mind as I listen to them: daily conversation in local trains – train groups – what kind of respite does it offer to these women? How does the train group fit into the framework of regularity for these women? Who are these women? What are their lives?

My mind also goes to back to the Dombivali Ladies’ Special, First Class Train group that I have known for sometime. In there, there are women who are working in global firms like ICICI finance, Tata-MTNL, new finance firms, etc. They hold positions like sales executive, finance assistants, etc. In here, today, are women working perhaps in government firms at positions of clerk, typists, etc. Does working in a global firm make any difference to mindsets and notions of cosmopolitanism? Does working in global firms open up the mind to differences – cultural, religious, interpersonal? – making it more receptive?


We have to become bold. I have become bold, says the woman with frog-like eyes.

The thin, camel-like looking (stooped) woman is listening intently.

And the fat elephant-like woman sitting next to me is engaged in the conversation.

We have to take decisions, frog says.

Elephant nods.

Camel is still listening.

Monopause is like that (frog is talking of menopause). Weight increases. Tension increases. I get palpitations in my heart, in my chest. Monopause is like that (and she smacks her lips, talking as if monopause is one of the ‘regular’ phenomenon in a working Maharashtrian woman’s life).

(I am thinking about the bedroom and sexual lives of these women … ssshhhssshhh)


Soon stations arrive and time to swap seats. Camel is about to switch seats when another woman is about to sit on camel’s claim. Frog intervenes and settles the matter. The other woman settles in camel’s place when the girl sitting in front of camel intervenes and tells the woman that she had already claimed camel’s seat. The woman verifies with camel whether this is true. Camel verifies. The woman gets up. The girl sits down.

(I think of slum lords, claims, space, rights and entitlements and some amount of negotiations at the everyday level).


These women continue chatting – camel, elephant and frog. As they talk, I try to make entries into their notions of cosmopolitanism. Is cosmopolitanism another exterior which people in this city wear? Is cosmopolitanism superficial?


I look around the compartment and wonder how train groups get formed. What are the bases of these transitory localities (if I can call them locality at all!)? How do these groups fit in the frame of regularity which the local train network brings into the lives of the working peoples? What is this regularity? Is it changing now? How?



January 15th, 2006

15 January 2006


The roads were empty and clear this morning. I actually felt like running on the streets because I have never experienced roads the way I did this morning (in Bombay ).


The marathon is on today. I land at Marine Drive and stand at Pizzeria. Immediately I notice ragpickers moving about with their hessian sacks. For a minute I wondered and then pieced the story together – today being the marathon, there will be bulk of plastic and paper thrown around on the roads (despite bins). And for ragpickers, this means an opportunity (just as it means an opportunity for the city’s ecology).


It’s amazing how systems work in this city, without government controls and interventions. There was no   ordinance issued by the government asking the ragpickers to come out on the streets. Similarly, there is no ordinance issued to people to behave and conduct themselves in certain ways in the local trains (vis-à-vis space negotiation).


Daily, I come across people sorting out the trash of the city – paper, cloth, plastic. There are slum communities which specialize in this. For instance, the Nagpada slums which sort cloth strips and the groups of women who sort paper around Churchgate SNDT and income-tax areas. I watch these practices at ground levels and wonder about the working (macro) intelligence of the city which occurs through these practices at various ‘ground’ levels.


I am at this moment working to understand systems and conventions in this city and how crowds/groups of people develop workable systems which sustain the working of this city. Also, how these local relationships are being eroded, changed, transformed in the making of the global city …



January 15th, 2006

12 January 2005


Bus number 69. It is my regular route these days.


Bus number 69. I am sitting in the double decker. I like this bus and the route its takes through Foras Road . I also find little groups which have developed in the bus, similar to the train groups. There is some amount of seat sharing, recognition, conversation and then, each person moves out to their ‘destinations’, to work.

I find this an interesting phenomenon in the city and I am tempted to label this as traveling locality / locality in transit, but I am still discovering and clarifying my own notions of locality.


Bus number 69. A passenger was standing in the gangway. When the conductor saw him, they both greeted each other. I knitted the story in my head, the story of regularity, recognition (the eye) and familiarity. But interestingly, the immediate operation of my eye, in this case, was to mark the passenger as Muslim because he was bearded and he ‘appeared’ to be Muslim I may be totally wrong). And then I wondered about how a Muslim passenger greets a Hindu conductor and what kind of relationship (and cosmopolitanism) is this.


Bus number 69. I guess it’s the practice of marking. And I am not sure of the relationship (if there be any) between locality and marking.


Bus number 69. Today I am also curious about the ways in which information and ‘news’ travels in the city, from and through groups.


Still mulling over locality …. Bus number 69.






January 11th, 2006

10 th January 2006


His name is Mustafa.

The name of the Chai Shop (Tea Café) is Khushali.

Khushali is located in Imambada, an Irani Shia Muslim neighbourhood in the heart of Dongri (the larger Muslim neighbourhood in Mumbai – dreaded, feared, known and unknown).

Dad introduced me to Khushali in October, during Ramzaan.

(Dad and I both retain our connections and memories with Dongri – he and I both grew up here – in two different generations!)

Since then, Khushali has become a regular jaunt, until recently, when I realized that Khushali serves as an interesting case in point of a ‘local public space’. I am examining what is the locality and publicness of this chai shop as against the locality and publicness of Marine Drive / Nariman Point.


His name is Mustafa (another name of the Prophet).


Let me outright announce that Mustafa is a lazy, eccentric, mad Irani (just like all those endearing Iranis of Imambada who I grew up with!)


“People come from all over to drink Mustafa’s chai – Kalyan, Dombivali, Faridabad , Agra , Kalyan, Dombivali,” Mustafa announces to his cuustommers/custombers. But indirectly, Mustafa is announcing his fame to me. Undoubtedly, Mustafa is the chai man of the neighbourhood. The faithful praying at Mughal Masjid in Imambada thrive on Mustafa’s chai – arre, Mustafa aaj nahi aaya . Uski chai ki badi aadat lag gayi hai (Oh no, Mustafa is not here? His tea is an addiction.)


His name is Mustafa, a man of his own.


I have no timings for lunch – kabhi do, kabhi adhai, kabhi teen, to kabhi sallang chai banata rehta hoon (some times 2 PM, sometimes 2:30, sometimes 3 PM, and sometimes, straight up till the evening, I make tea), he groans, yawns and stretches tiredly.

I have no way to determine Mustafa’s mood for lunch. On some days, the shop is closed just when I thought it would be open.

So here is Mustafa who defines the pace of his chai shop according to his whims and fancies, unlike the coffee shops of the world outside Imambada which set their pace to the ideal of the global city.


His name is Mustafa …


I walked into Imambada this afternoon. It is 1 PM. I am obviously an outsider, a stranger. I am dressed in a black body hugging t-shirt and black trousers. I certainly look like a journalist.

I make my way to Khushali.

Mustafa is getting a man to clean up the shop, readying for the month of Muharram when Mustafa will be serving tea to the faithful – to all of Imambada.


I am dazzled by the glass and chinaware crockery which he has laid out on one of the two wooden benches of his shop. I quickly bring out my camera to shoot the variety of tea glasses and cups. Mustafa smiles and says

Yeh bhangaar ka photo nikaal rahe ho (you are photographing this trash?)

Abhi aap isko bhangaar bol rahe ho, kal ko yehi cheezen antique kehlayengi (today you are labeling this ware as trash; tomorrow this trash will be labeled as antique), I tell Mustafa and think of Jonathan Raban and his Morrocan Birdcage (as outlined in Soft City).

(Strange are the ways of lifestyle, culture and the city … and time … and trends …)


Mustafa is ordering the man in the shop to clean properly. This man is as lazy as Mustafa. Mustafa is but the task master.

This way, place the biscuits this way so that cuustommers can see the labels.

Then he turns towards and me says with a tired, pathological look,

Cuustommers like these biscuits a lot.

(I wonder whether he is complaining about the biscuits taking over the popularity of his handmade cakes and bakery.)

Come on, come on, you lazy fool. Clean it up properly, Mustafa lashes. But the man is least perturbed. He is enjoying Mustafa’s nagging.


Mustafa makes tea for me.

A man on a Kinetic Honda parks the vehicle in front of Khushali. He is gregarious and lively. He greets the neighbouring kite shop owner and calls Mustafa out.

Here, mind my thaila (shopping bag) as I go to the mosque and offer prayers.

(Mustafa is also the watchman of people’s belongings in this neighbourhood.)

Mustafa comes out and takes the green bag inside.

Chai pee le (Have some tea)

No, no, are you mad? I will go and pray first.

What about your court case?

I have to go there in the afternoon.


Then the man notices me and suddenly comes close to me and looks into my face and asks Mustafa,


Who is she – yeh kaun hai?

She is a reporter.


Then he asks me,

What is your name?


Really? Zainab? Zainab!!! Wah . You are Zainab.


I look at the man. I know he is alluding to my religious affiliation as also to the history of my name (Zainab being the granddaughter of the Prophet who fought the battle of justice and Islam after the battle of Kerbala was over). He goes off to pray. Mustafa asks me and tells me,

Are you Mohammedan? I did not know.


The old man sitting at the corner of the other wooden bench (he has been there since I entered the shop) asks Mustafa,

Who is this?

My elder brother. He has a restaurant at Dadar.

How many brothers are you?

Six. One of them is in Iran .

And you don’t have sisters?



I ask Mustafa if he goes to Iran .

Do you go to Iran ?

Yes, once a year. Was there sometime ago.

So when did you come to Bombay ?

I was born here (he says very proudly). I was born in Siddiqui hospital, right here.


I want to probe more about Mustafa’s history. But then, the old man just throws the lit butt of his cigarette and Mustafa shouts,

Arre, what are you doing? You throw that lit butt around there, right in front of the scooter? The scooter will light up – there will be an explosion.

The man is careless. He pays no heed to Mustafa’s words.

Mustafa looks at me, points his index finger to his head and says,

People here have no science in their heads – kuch samajhte nahi hai – they don’t understand anything. The men in Iran are clean and sophisticated. They have etiquette. They don’t throw cigarette butts like this. You will not find cigarette butts like this on the streets there.

I look down and count that there are exactly three cigarette butts thrown outside the shop.


The cleaning of wares is still going on. Mustafa continues talking,

Do you come here in Muharram?

Yes, I do.

Then it will be nice. I will prepare kahwa . Here, this is the packet of coffee kahwa . But there is not much demand for kahwa among the cuustommers. I have to see what the cuustommers want.

He brings out the equipment for preparing kahwa and shows me the pores through which the tea/coffee will be brewed and strained.

See, this is what it is like.


Lot of Shias live here. Only Shias come here, to the chai shop – he has a strange grimace on his face when he says this. I am not sure if he is expressing a prejudice.


The shop will get crowded after namaaz. People will throng in like crazy here, to drink tea, he says.

I notice that some young men are already coming in the shop. I begin to get uncomfortable myself and decide that it is time to move.

I bring out money to pay Mustafa.

Are you leaving already?


I am not sure if he wants to talk more. He shouts for change and the lack of it in the cash counter. I collect the money and wish him Eid Mubarak.

Tomorrow the shop will be closed, he says.

Do you slaughter goats?

No, not me. The hajis (pilgrims returned from Hajj) do it. Lots of them.

Mustafa seems to be referring to the affluence and indulgences of the hajis . I am not sure about Mustafa’s own faith and practices. He seems quite reassured by himself, making tea, making conversation with cuustommers, groaning and whining, nagging and shouting, basking in his fame, wanting some more.


His name is Mustafa.

Khushali is the chai shop.

Mustafa is the chai maker (and also one of the space creators).


I walked out in the street to feel the flavour of festivities.

Kites are being made and put out.

Afternoon activity is slow and lazy.

Burkha clad women are making small fruit purchases. Some stare at me. Most don’t care. Sweets are being packed in pink coloured boxes.

And as I walk, I notice two beat cops on a bike, racing into a gulli . That sight evokes a quick sensation in me – contempt and aggression. I calm down.

Tomorrow this area will be policed heavily – after all, this is now known as a troubled area and will be for the rest of its life!



January 9th, 2006

January 9, 2006


R and I went to Mustafa’s chai shop in Imambada

It was 3:30 PM

The door of the shop was half open

Half shut

(almost like the half-sleep eye).


Mustafa was not around.


I was told – Madam, shop is closed. Will re-open at 4:30 PM .


I am enjoying the experience of Khushaali Tea Café (which is what it is called)

It’s unlike the coffee and tea centers in the city.

Timings are based on Mustafa’s desires; Pace is defined by him and not by the contemporary economy and trends.

I still think this is Mustafa’s chai shop, not Khushaali Tea Café; Mustafa defines elements of its space.

(Think it will be exciting to trace the space of chai shop vis-à-vis the neighbourhood.)

I am excited!!!



January 9th, 2006

January 8, 2006


Thus I felt like a bastard today.


(The dean of SPA is lecturing right now)

(K. T. Ravindran is his name (and fame))

(I am sitting in a college of architecture)

(The theme of the presentation is ‘heritage and micro-urbanism)


What the damn is micro-urbanism???

(R says it is a framework to think through present structure of cities and planning accordingly)


(KT is talking about the communities which produce arts and crafts in the old city of Shahjahanabad , Old Delhi)

(He is talking about preserving the old structures and people’s lifestyles there so that Ritu Kumars and Ritu Beris can continue producing their stuff and these people stay employed)

(He is talking about poor groups as being powerless and helpless)

(And how governments don’t care about them)


Therefore planners and architects become gods!


(And therefore architectural and heritage ‘interventions’ will help to preserve the cultures and lifestyles of these peoples)

(He says he is a humanist)


And I am questioning the very idea of humanity


What about locality and local relationships?


Do we make mush and romance out of the interactions and people at the street level?


I think KT is but a ‘heritage activist’



The sense of frustration that I feel sitting right here, right now is tremendous

I think of the interactions I have with people at the street level

(And I guess I am making myself ‘above everyone’)

I think of architectural interventions

(And interferences)

I think of academia

(And I wonder whether I am part of it)

(Feels like I am! (Oh shit!))

(Feels like I am helpless and powerless in the face of the development taking place around me)

(Feels like … what should I say???)

(Feels like a piece of shit!)



Thus I feel like a bastard today … the illegitimate child of language and theories, of frameworks and words …






January 8th, 2006

January 6, 2006


11 o’clock at night.


I am still at Carter Road . Bus number 1 had just passed by. I imagine there will be another one in 20 minutes to ferry me to Byculla.


11:30 PM. No bus in sight. Mobile phone battery is also dead. (No means of communication. But I am not terribly afraid.)


Bus number 220 – I am moving towards Bandra station, hoping that there will be more choice of buses there and I will still be able to reach Byculla by 12:30 AM .


The crowd at the Saga bus stop is bleak. The regular bunches of burkha clad Muslim are not there (their presence is a form of consolation for me i.e. ‘people ‘like’ me, waiting for a common bus).


A couple is there, standing with a baby each on their shoulders. I look at them and know ‘instinctively’ that this is a Muslim couple, sophisticated and educated.

Which buses are you waiting for? I ask

I and 4 number, the woman replies. (She has a kind of near suspicious look.)

I am also waiting for those buses, I said

1 number bus just passed by, the man said.

Oh shit! I remarked.


I continued waiting for a bus. Buses would come and buses would go, but none for me (and the Muslim couple – reassured I am!).


A fat purdah clad woman came and stood at the bus stop. Her presence was also consolation because I ‘instinctively’ knew that she was also waiting for bus number ¼.


(How I mark Muslims and ‘my people’! I wonder about scale and the city – practices of marking, grouping, locality and community – the operation of the eye in the city!)


12:00 AM . I am still waiting (and so are the ‘Muslim couple’- I still haven’t verified their identity, but I know). The thought of taking a taxi seems unsafe and expensive. I notice that the couple are also looking at their watches and about to make a move to a taxi. Somehow I also know that they may be going my way – perhaps Byculla or nearby. I approach the woman:

Can we share a taxi?

Yeah, I was about to ask you where you are to go?


Which side?

On the bridge.

Okay, then we can drop you and take the taxi ahead.


I am relieved in a way. We board the taxi. I start making conversation:


Your babies have fallen off to sleep.

Yes, the kids get very heavy when they are on your shoulders, the man said.

How old are they?

One is 1.5 and the other is nearly 3.5.

That’s a very precarious age. You must be having to spend a lot of energy on them.

Precarious is a mild word, the wife said.

We are both doctors. I am ______ and this is my wife __________ (they were Muslims). I work as a doctor in _________ and she works as dentist in ________.

Oh great, so you are a dentist! I needed to clean my teeth so I will come to you.


We advise you to think carefully before you get married and before you have kids. Really, it’s a lot of energy and time and commitment.


The discussion on children and raising them went on for sometime.


So how come you are so late? (now the man is making most of the conversation)

Work. (I explain my work on cities to him.)

Oh! So you would know more about cities (now I am marked as an ‘expert).

Not really! I am still trying to understand.

I spent my time in London and Paris during my medical education period.

So, how was London ? I have always wanted to be there.

It’s okay. Nothing great! Brits are snooty and cold. Winter is terrible. They follow a five-day working week. Saturday-Sunday holiday. So if you don’t have friends/company/family around, it can be very depressing. I liked Paris better. I would advise you to go there. It is much, much better. Paris is beautiful.

(I wondered a bit about the riots in Paris – and I wondered whether the riots are part of his imagination of Paris .)


As the taxi passed along, he asked.

What’s your name?


So you must be Dawoodi Bohra?

No. (And I explained by community affiliation to him, which anyway is meaningless because I don’t practice.)

Oh, I am sorry I asked. (It’s natural I guess.)



We saw concretization of roads taking place.


They are always digging roads.


So, what’s this thing about Bombay becoming a world class city? Do you think Bombay will change and be different in the next ten years?

I can’t make any random conclusions for now. I am somehow beginning to believe that eventually, there will be a massive paradigm shift in terms of economy and business and that might create a new turn for Bombay . Presently, I feel concerned about the way Bangalore is going and the pressure on infrastructure. I think we are still better off in Bombay .


But then, the northern suburbs are hugely pressured and collapses might occur there which will be crazy.

Yeah, I guess we are better off in the city region.

Sure enough!

They are talking of clearing slums along P. D’mello Road and Tulsi Pipe Road .

It’s not going to be easy. The communities are very strong there. We can expect rioting if this were to happen. (And my mind went back to rioting in Paris and Danielle’s comments on social housing and how rioting took place in the social housing areas.)

I can imagine. You know things better because you study these! (ah damn!)


Byculla came.

The taxi halted.

I opened my wallet to pay for half the fare.

No, no Zainab, the wife said, we were anyway going to ask you to come along with us. Please don’t pay!


I thanked them profusely. And I wondered about trust, scale of people, the city, relationships and trust, trust, trust! How do strangers meet in this city!?!?!?!!?


Questions for today:

ü              Public transport and the experience/imagination of cosmopolitanism

ü              Public transport and cultural identity and difference

ü              Public transport and practices of marking

ü              Public transport and the division of the city (thereby making it easier to mark in terms of location, neighbourhood and geography)

ü              Imagination of the city (and therefore mind mapping of the city and cognitive maps)

ü              Planning, centralization, authority and subversions – everyday life!