Archive for June, 2006

The othe night it rained …

June 22nd, 2006

I have let my fingers loose.

This evening, I am a conduit for the words
that come through me.


The other night it rained.

4th T Block.


I walk past the lane,


4th T Block.

By the corner is a house,



Beyond the planner’s discipline,

Beyond the architect’s plans and

Built of desires,

Built of prosperity,

4th T Block.


She sits outside the house,

Lights the wooden sticks,

4th T Block.

She keeps the stomachs churning,

4th T Block.

Her grey (ugly) house by the corner of the

She stokes the fires,

As those wooden sticks burn,

4th T Block.


The other night it rained,

4th T Block.

The wind blew and blew,

And it poured torrentially,

4th T Block.

I began my ascend on the staircase,

4th T Block.

As I climbed the first few,

I saw some of her wooden sticks that the
wind had brought into my (rented) abode.

Those wooden sticks, that fire stoked, the
food cooked,

Some pieces of her wooden sticks,

4th T Block.


Strangers in a by-lane,

Strangers in a city,

Will the wind make our acquaintance?

Will the wind cultivate our relationship?

4th T Block.

Will I ever know her?

4th T Block.

Will she be a stranger forever?

4th T Block.

My stomach is churning …

She stokes the fires,

4th T Block.


I wonder how strangers meet in a city. What
spaces does the city afford for interactions between strangers? Public
transport is one such space, but this space also gets encroached by images and
prejudices, often circulated by popular media.


The other night I was at Nariman Point. The
space seemed totally different or should I say indifferent. Somehow, its
character appears to me as if it has changed. Maybe I am trying to read too
much …


Are spaces for interactions between
strangers shrinking in our cities???


Of identities and cities

June 20th, 2006



One day …

 It’s amazing how many Muslim women I notice
in Bangalore,
clad in the black veil called the burkha.
I notice them frequently, walking on the roads and in the BMTC buses.

 I wonder what it feels to be Muslim in Bangalore …

 The other day in the BMTC bus …

It was bus number 27. I sat on a seat meant
for two persons. At some point, a lady who I assume was Tamilian came over and sat
next to me. She appeared pleasant and social. She was praying the rosary. I
deducted she was Christian

(overt symbols, semiotic markings, making
sense of masses in the urban)

and most likely not Brahmin.

 At the fourth block bus station, the bus
started to get crowded. A tall, well-built woman came and stood by our seat. I
assumed that she was Tamilian because she was wearing the white ash spread over
three lines on her forehead. She was Hindu (perhaps Brahmin) and had a staunch
and stern look on her face. The Tamilian Christian woman started to say
something in Tamil. She then gestured to the well-built Tamilian Hindu lady to
sit next to her. She began to squeeze in a bit, moved, solpa, solpa, and
eventually, we were three women sitting on a seat meant for two. Our Tamilian
Christian lady, the one who made space, was evidently the most uncomfortable,
but she was happy that she had made space for the other lady to sit. She began
to chat with me in Tamil.

I don’t comprehend Tamil, but I do
comprehend emotions and gestures and hence, was making some sense of what she
was saying to me. She spoke to me of the Church, the priest in the church and
maybe the importance of completing the rosary daily. After a while, she asked
me where I was headed for. Shivajinagar, I said. Immediately she asked,
‘Muslim?’ I was a trifle shocked that she had ‘caught’ me as a Muslim. I shook
my head, saying no.

That evening, I wondered whether my looks
were a give-away or just stating that I was headed for Shivajinagar was the
give-away. I assume the latter to be true. Shivajinagar is a large market area,
filled with meat shops and wood furniture trade. It is a Muslim area. I find
that most of the women on bus numbers 27 and 27E who are headed for
Shivajinagar are Muslim women. But an equal number are not Muslim and are still
headed for Shivajinagar. Then what makes me marked as Muslim? What is it to be Muslim?


Then the other day …

It was raining heavily. The door downstairs
was locked. I had no way to reach to the house. I stood downstairs, looking
like a cat drenched in the rains. The shopkeeper on the other side gestured to
me to get inside the store room to protect myself. Then he gestured to switch
on the lights. I could not find the exact switch. One of the boys came in and
tried to find the switch. On discovering that there was no light in there after
all, he went away and joined the bunch of boys. In a few minutes, some of the boys
in the bunch asked me to get inside the opposite door neighbour’s house. I ran
across the street.

 (The house opposite is interesting. It has
been designed and created by its inhabitants. It consists of a row of one room
tenements on one side and some store space on the other side and perhaps a
toilet too. In between is a passageway which runs across the tenements. All of
this is covered by a tin roof which is partitioned such that it covers the
tenements’ portion on one side, is open in between through the passageway, and
then covers the other side. The rain keeps pouring in the house through the
open section of the roof.)

 I knocked on the door. The neighbour’s
daughter opened the door. The boys shouted out to her saying that they must let
me in till the rain stops or someone comes and opens the door downstairs,
whichever is first. The daughter let me in. She can converse in English, unlike
her mother who largely speaks Tamil and some amount of broken Hindi.

I call the mother Amma and the daughter

Sunee asked me where I am from. We chatted
a bit about my background. I asked her about some of hers. Eventually Sunee
asked me, which god do you pray to? I smiled. Muslim, I said. Oh, Sunee replied
back, if you stay here, you will be able to manage because there are lots of
Muslims here. I smiled again. Sunee communicated to Amma that I was Muslim.
Amma smiled and spoke rapidly. Sunee then translated back, Amma thought you
were Christian. I smiled. Sunee mentioned that her family is Christian. I told
her that I’d like to come to the church some day with them.

 Amma thought you were Christian.

if you stay here, you will be able to
manage because there are lots of Muslims here.

 Sunee’s words appeared schizophrenic to me
because I live in a schizophrenia of identity and to some extent, a paranoia
too. Sunee says I will be able to manage because there are lots of Muslims in
this neighbourhood. Then Sunee says that Amma thought I was Christian. And here
is precisely where my schizophrenia strikes. I dress differently as against
conventional Muslims. I barely behave like a Muslim. Among Muslims, I am an

 An outsider!



 I stand on borders I don’t know of.

 Precarity, on the edge.

 Identity, affiliation.

 Outsider I feel and perhaps remain. It
reminds me of my times when I walk through the lanes of Imambada where I see
myself clearly as an outsider, by custom, manners, demeanor. And maybe others
see me as an outsider too.


Tilaknagar is in Bangalore. Imambada and Dongri in Mumbai.
Both places are different. Being Muslim in Mumbai is a tactile experience,
perhaps emerging magnifies owing to the density and crowdedness in this city.
But as I walk through the now familiar lanes of Tilaknagar, I also conclude
that the experience of being Muslim in Dongri and Imambada and the texture and
tactility which comes along with it is embedded in memory. For me, these are
vivid memories of the 1992-1993 communal riots in (the then) Bombay. While I was not living in those areas
at the time of the riots, my childhood affiliation with the place and the
marked identity of being Muslim add to the sense of tactility and that texture
(which I guess is lined with inherent paranoia) which I experience as I
navigate through Dongri and Imambada.

 I don’t know Tilaknagar yet. But I do know
that it has a history and like Dongri and Imambada, it continues to be a marked
space – space for rumour, riot and mischief, linked with everyday life,
practices, the print media and people’s memory/ies.

 I don’t know what it is to be Muslim in Bangalore.



Moving to Bangalore

June 19th, 2006

I am moving to Bangalore by the 20th July to pursue my Ph.D. at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society! Be sure that my blog posts will continue. I will also create a mirrored blog on Live Journal and you shall all read stories and of the everyday life of Bangalore. Those of you who visit Bangalore, be sure to look me up and feel free to camp at my house which is in an exciting neighbourhood in Bangalore!In the meanwhile, hoping to write my last farewell stories of Bombay and all the lovely people I have known and written about here!With love,Citybytes!P.S. Will sure miss Bombay!


Conflict Versus Violence

June 18th, 2006

Sometimes just a scene gets you to write.

I write …

This evening I was walking past the bus stop to get to home. On the outsides of Byculla market is a garbage dump. About four to five cows are always hovering around the dump, getting some grub (just as much as some urchins hover around the dump for their daily bread and possibly a bit of butter).

It was about 9 PM. I saw one of the cows upturned. She was on her back, her four feet crouched onto her stomach. I could not understand what was happening to her. I wondered whether she was suffering from a terrible stomachache. She rolled to the sides, then attempted to get up. As she got up, she tottered on her feet, clamoured, tottered, and then fell sideways. Another cow, brown in colour, standing by her started to move into the space left open by the small crowd, looking at the bystanders (many of who had collected by then out of curiosity and some waiting for their bus to arrive). The brown cow stared into the crowd, as if asking for help. A man on a cycle shouted out, ‘pour some water onto her. She is giddy’. He went on to say how the cows are not fed and made to do a lot of work which is why this one had gotten giddy. Meanwhile, the cow continued to get up, totter, and fall. The condition of this cow was pathetic. I am almost feeling helpless as I write because these futile words are just unable describe the visual I have witnessed.

Tottered, stood, wavered, tottered, fell.
Tottered, stood, wavered, tottered, clamoured, fell.
Tottered, stood, wavered, tottered, clamoured, stood, fell.

The man on the cycle continued, ‘everyone is standing, staring at her. No one is coming to her rescue. She may just go mad and hit out at the crowd.’ All the bystanders were feeling something – some felt pity, some expressed sympathy, but no one came forward. I got frightened. The word VIOLENCE rang into my head as I witnessed this all. I wondered when the cow would go mad and lash out at the crowd. Meanwhile, I almost felt as if the brown cow was advancing towards me. I quickly decided to move away and head back home.


I feel indifferent these days. I walk around the city as if I were numb. There are times when I get aggressive. I wonder whether I will also feel giddy, totter, waver, stand and then fall …


The autorickshaw was standing at the signal of Forum Mall at Koramangala. A dark girl was selling cotton ear buds. I looked at her as she moved around. She was as beautiful as a doll. I felt a strong sense of affection towards her. I decided that if she were to come by me, I will buy the cotton buds. And she came by me.
Ten rupees, she said.
I brought out the coins from my purse and gave it to her.
Ten rupees, she said.
Ten rupees, I said, counting out the coins to her.
Ten rupees, she said again.
Ten rupees, what the hell, I said to myself, until I quickly realized that for her, ten rupees meant a ten rupee note. She could not count. She could not decipher. I fished for a ten rupee note and gave it to her. She smiled and handed out a packet of ear buds to me.
I went back home that evening and narrated the story to Nick. He looked at the cotton buds and said to me,
Careful, these are risky. The cotton can just come off and the plastic can hit your ear drum and cause damage.
As I lay in the bed that night, I wondered how it would feel for the plastic to hit my ear drum and I go deaf. DEAF! How I wish I were deaf! Life would perhaps be easier then. I would not be able to listen.
I would not be able to listen to the screams of apathy.
I would not be able to listen to the screeching silences.
I would not be able to listen to things not spoken, but definite.
DEAF, I wish I were.



Where else do you get the flavour of the city but for its public transport! I started to do a jaunt on the Bangalore buses. The lines of gender division are clear in here. The front portion of the bus is for the women, the rear for the men. On my first trip on the BMTC bus, I happened to get pushed to the rear side when a man, himself squashed, said to me in Kannada to move ahead because that’s the place for women.

The ladies section was crowded to the core. ‘Solpa solpa,’ ‘little, little’, they kept saying. Little to me implied space, just a little space, push a bit, shove a bit, twitch a bit, solpa, solpa, little, little.

I now equate solpa, solpa to mean space, a little space. And I think that’s where my city and Bangalore city are positioned today, positioned at solpa, solpa, a little space – inch, centimeter, millimeter, solpa, solpa. The city has been a space of conflict, everyone fighting for territory, space and economic holding. There will definitely be no situation where there is no conflict. I notice conflict in Bombay’s local trains and there will always be. Women fight for water at the standposts and there is conflict but violence happens when access is denied, when the space, solpa, solpa, becomes difficult to reach to. There is no question for adjust maadi then. And I guess this is what is happening in our cities today. The conflict seems to have escalated and is assuming proportions of violence. The space for ‘adjust maadi’ is getting scarce as we stand on the edges, the brinks of precarity where violence is absolutely imminent. A little spark and the next thing I know will be
Tottering, standing, wavering, tottering, falling.

As I write the above words, the transition that I see from conflict to violence, it will seem like I am talking of a prophetic doom, as if violence were imminent and the futures of our cities have been already written. But I must reassert that our futures are not written so completely. Today I feel angry, apathetic, dejected, pessimistic, but at every moment, some spaces get carved out, some stories get enacted on the stage of the urban and the script just gets altered. The drama is upturned, four feet crouched on the stomach.


Claimer: I hereby take responsibility for the above words which may appear patronizing, emerging out of a sense of guilt, disregarding anthropological positions of subject, object, practice, induction, etc. Rubbishing every theory, I call this state of mind, state of being!