Archive for February, 2006


February 18th, 2006

18th February 2006

His name is Mustafa, the local hero.
Khushaali is the chai shop, Mustafa’s citadel.

This evening, one of the cuustommers in Khushaali began to inquire about Mustafa. Where is Mustafa? Please take me to his home. I want to see him.
I realize that the addiction that his cuustommers have is not just to his tea, but they are addicted to him – dastaan-e deedaar-e Mustafa.
Muzaffar asks Salim to take the cuustommer to Mustafa’s house – show him the house from the outside, don’t let him inside Mustafa’s house. Make sure you are around.
The cuustommer was obviously slightly deranged and therefore Muzaffar was maintaining caution.

I entered the shop this evening. I sat amidst the men. Muzaffar, as the other day, asked me to come over to the corner and sit there. I realize that Muzaffar has created a ‘place’ for me in the space of Khushaali. And I am still curious as to why Muzaffar has fixed that place for me. From that place, I am clearly an observer, an outsider, removed from the regular cuustommers. Muzaffar, knowingly or unknowingly, has put me in a place from where I can watch the proceedings of the shop, almost like a journalist/hawk who keeps an eye, watches …

Muzaffar makes some inquiries. He asks me about A – where is the bhai who came with you the other day?
He is busy. Has some work.
Bhai was fascinated by the radio you had.
Muzaffar blushes.

Muzaffar has a 10 AM to 10 PM job. I ask him if he shuts the shop in the afternoon for lunch. No, I don’t. The boy (Salim) is there. He looks after the shop in my absence.
But when Mustafa was around, he would shut the shop in the afternoons for lunch, I inquired curiously.
Mustafa is a private man, Muzaffar says and laughs. I assume that by ‘private man’, Muzaffar means that Mustafa being the owner of the shop can do as he pleases.

(I am intrigued by the usage of the terms public and private in everyday parlance. In each space, in each location in the city, the terms public and private take on different meanings, different connotations.)

Muzaffar has been in Bombay for two months. He lives in Nakhuda mohalla with his gaonwalas (co-villagers). I ask him if he has others from his home with him. He says no. I ask him then whether he feels alone. He has a wry smile. He does not respond.

This evening, I am simply sitting in Khushaali, with no agenda. Here and there, cuustommers come and go. Mustafa’s fan (who wanted to visit his house) is lounging around. There is no one to throw him away. He speaks with others and states that Mustafa has rented out the backyard, beyond the kitchen, to Ramzaan bhai for his travel agency. I wondered why Ramzaan bhai would want to set up a travel agency inside a chai shop and it occurred to me that perhaps, the advantage in this case, is the steady flow of cuustommers and also the organization of community in this neighbourhood – factors of word-of-mouth, goodwill, operation of the eye, information circulation.
Ramzaan bhai’s travel agency represents the modern aspect of Khushaali. Clearly, the space is different. A kind of ‘modern’ interior arrangement has been built inside the stone wall and wooden environment of Khushaali. And a wooden door separates the travel agency – it acts as a door, a curtain, a source of closure for dealings which need not be ‘public’ to the public which visits Khushaali.
(I am certainly fascinated with the way in which the notion of the ‘public’ operates everyday, in the city …)

Muzaffar and I make light conversation. I don’t have questions for him. He has a few for me, mundane.
Where do you live?
Are you Shia?
Hum to Sunni hai bhai (I am a Sunni), he says with a tone that clearly indicates his position – Muzaffar clearly sees himself as an outsider in this largely Shia neighbourhood. From where I hail, Bareichi (in Uttar Pradesh), there are Shias living on the outskirts of our village. Otherwise the population is largely Sunni.
Yeah, I guess Bombay is one city where the concentration of Shias is a lot, I said casually.

I ponder over Muzaffar’s statement hum to Sunni hai bhai. It is a pertinent remark. It indicates how Muzaffar has defined himself as an outsider. This evening, as I was walking around Imambada, I had also defined myself as an outsider – a girl who comes to the neighbourhood wearing trousers and body hugging T-Shirts, clearly distinct from the rest of the crowd, clearly marked, clearly an outsider. And then the question arises in my mind about notions of community – Muslims are definitely not a homogenous community in the Imambada neighbourhood. There are clear demarcations, clear distinctions, clear boundaries, clear markings. And then we talk of communities in the city? Wow!

I continue to sit. Three more cuustommers come in. They are men. I start to feel uncomfortable. I decide to continue sitting. People passing by the street peer into the shop sometimes, perhaps because they are intrigued by the presence of a ‘modern’ female in a predominantly male setting.
(Maybe I am reading too much …)

Muzaffar and Salim get to task. Unlike Mustafa who does not care much about his cuustommers, Salim and Muzaffar wipe the table, offer a newspaper to one of the cuustommers, serve water to some of them. Muzaffar and Salim clearly operate by practices of a regular hotel. Mustafa on the other hand does not care two hoots – his cuustommers are expected to create their own space in the shop. He simply makes tea and serves it.
(I wonder about Muzaffar’s notions of work … and also regularity …)
Muzaffar tells me later that these days business is down. Yes, there was boom business during Muharram, but these days, there is less public.
(Again I notice his usage of the term ‘public’ …)

Two cuustommers come in. One of them switches off the fan in the shop. Nothing novel because the space of Khushaali is the space of the cuustommers. They start conversing in Marathi and discuss about visas and work permits to some place which I assume is in the Middle East. This neighbourhood thrives on the Middle East – for talk, for politics, for work, for sense of identity, Islam, community and a host of other things.

Finally, I decide I want to make a move. I notice that one of Muazffar’s and Salim’s acquaintances has come into the shop. By my marking, this man is a loiterer, the faltoo. But perhaps in the space of Khushaali, the faltoo is as integral as the regular cuustommers – after all, some cuustommers are sophisticated faltoos
(my notion of faltoo emerges from the context of ‘work’, that is, a faltoo is one who does not work, one how loiters and is a potential miscreant.).



February 18th, 2006

17th February 2006

His name is Mustafa.
Mine Zainab.
(Historically, he is my grandfather of the Islamic legend and I, his granddaughter. In the contemporary moment though, I am his cuustommer and he, the chai maker!)

Mustafa is not there in the chai shop these days. During the month of Muharram, Mustafa takes off for ten days. The management and the running of the shop are handed over to other people. I am still not sure if Mustafa is the owner of the chai shop. I don’t know what his relation/standing with the shop is.
(And I also wonder whether a space is a space because of the presence of a certain person. Is it the people who define the space or is the space an entity by itself?)

The other day, A and I went to Khushaali. Two boys have been running the shop. They inform me that Mustafabhai’s sister has expired and therefore, he has not been coming to the shop. But they also tell me that he is eager to see his photograph which I have framed and brought for him.
(In the month of December, a photographer friend made a black-and-white picture of Mustafa which I have printed and framed for him.)

The boys know me. I am called ‘madam’. And I am treated as one too. For me and my guests, tea is served in tea-cups accompanied by saucers. For the rest of the crowd, tea is served in glasses.
(I don’t know what to make of this discrimination. I have happily accepted it.)

The other day, when A and I went to Khushaali, the shop was rather empty. We ordered tea. Cuustommers started pouring in soon after. The new boy who makes chai asked A and me to shift into the corner space, away from the ‘general public’. I wondered whether he was trying to protect us.
(Mustafa never did this to me!)
The cuustommers who had come in were Irani men, speaking in their language. After a while, they went away.

A was fascinated with Khushaali – the ambience, the décor, the furniture, the crockery. He said artists need to come and see this place. I was afraid if preservationist interventions would start to take place if artists visited this place.
(I have my own fears, assumptions and presumptions (and resistances too!!!)!)

A was awe-struck. He started asking questions. The questions for which I did not have answers, I began to direct to the people in the shop. That day, I discovered the following:

The two new boys are Muzaffar and Salim. Both of them are from Uttar Pradesh. They have come to this city two months ago.
The name of the man who runs the tourist agency at the back of the kitchen is Ramzaan bhai. Ramzaan bhai is from Jaamnagar, a district/township in Gujarat.
Mustafa is from Iran. He was married but a divorce took place. He has a daughter. The wife and the daughter live in Iran.
Muzzafar sleeps in Nakhuda Mohalla by the night and works in Khushaali by the day – 10 AM to 10 PM.

Muzaffar does not appear to care much for religion. While the fervour of Muharram is still burning in Imambada
(and nohas and majlis are being played to remind people of the month of mourning),
Muzaffar brings out a mobile phone. A is surprised. He asks me, as if questioning, this man has a cell phone!
So what, I reply back, even the maid in my house has a cell phone!
A calls out to Muzaffar, boss!
When Muzaffar turns around, A discovers that the instrument is not a cell phone, but a radio. Muzaffar is playing music on it. He appears to be the hedonist kind, pleasure seeking – who cares about religion. Let the world cry, I believe in a song for the moment.
Muzaffar tells us that by the corner of the streets in Imambada, the radio is available for sixty five rupees.
A is totally floored. He wants one too.

I am going to stop the description here and move on to raise the questions which have been surfacing in my mind for long now.

I look at the composition of the people in Khushaali – Mustafa from Iran, Muzaffar and Salim of the Uttar Pradesh diaspora in Bombay City, Ramzaan bhai from Jaamnagar
(and added to that the radio set assembled from different parts of the globe, produced in some part of the globe and sold in the streets of Imambada by a hawker)
And here is my set of questions taking from the above:
a). What is local? Is there one kind of local?
b). What is global? Is there one kind of global?
(Is a shopping mall in the city more global than Khushaali?)
c). Are the boundaries between local and global gradually blurring?
d). Is glocal a hybrid idea? Is there anything like the glocal?
e). Why do we end up glorifying the local?
f). What is the local?
g). What is the global?



February 1st, 2006

2 nd February 2006


The gnawing question these days on my mind and skin is relationships with subjects. Is it fair that I term the people I interact with as ‘subjects’?


I’ll tell you why this question is on me. I have known TC, Mishraji, Sushanti, Suparna and all for about a year or more now. These days, when I converse with them, I feel a kind of deadlock in the conversation – I have nothing to say or ask. TC feels that he has nothing to talk to me about except for food (he says we work and earn for only three things in life – food, clothing and travel)! With Mishraji, as I explore his ‘regularity’ at the candy stall at Byculla Station, I find myself quiet most of the times. He is the one who does most of the talking. I wonder whether he will get bored of me.


Maushi, the fruit seller at Lamington Road talks about her daily lunch and she shares it with me. While initially I used to accept food from her openly, these days I start to feel guilty and I also question if she has expectations from me. I don’t know.


I am questioning relationships … seriously!



February 1st, 2006

On Squatting: Got this from as response to a reader’s query on squatting!

Squatting means occupying land without permission. 

The Chien Rouge in Lausanne, a squat held in the old hospital.Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use. Squatters often claim rights over the spaces they have squatted by virtue of occupation, rather than ownership; in this sense, squatting is similar to (and potentially a necessary condition of) adverse possession, by which a possessor of real property without title may eventually gain legal title to the real property.

Squatting has a long history, as old as or older than the idea of property itself. To squat in many countries is in itself a crime; in others it is only seen as a civil conflict between the owner and the occupants. Property law and the state have traditionally favored the property owner. However, in many cases where squatters had de facto ownership, laws have been changed to legitimize their status. It is said that the United States Homestead Act is an example of such legislation. Additionally, US states which have a shortage of housing tend to tolerate squatters in property awaiting redevelopment until the developer is ready to begin work; however, at that point the laws tend to be enforced.

Urban migration has driven global estimates of the number of squatters over one billion people, with 200,000 added every day. In many of the world’s poorer countries there are extensive slums or shanty towns, such as the favelas of Brazil, typically built on the edges of major cities and consisting almost entirely of self-constructed housing built on terrain seized and occupied illegally. Also, common in many of these same countries are rural squatter movements, such as, again taking a Brazilian example, the Landless Workers’ Movement.

Besides being residences, a few squats are hosts to give-away shops, pirate radio stations and even cafés.




February 1st, 2006

What is the difference between work and activity?

Is most work in the city ‘activity’?

What does the term productivity mean?