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City, Nights and Fear

June 30th, 2009

9 o’clock

10 o’clock

11 o’clock



inside their homes – the peoples

but, this is Mumbai, does not sleep – the city that does not sleep.

Someone asked me the other day – but you said that people do not sleep here in Mumbai. Look around, everyone seems to be asleep – and he smiled. I thought to myself, maybe it is the weekend and so everyone is sitting tight in their homes.

Then, returning back home at 11:15 PM at night, sitting in the cab, I looked around. A sense of fear had also gripped me – how will I return home? When will I return home? When will I snuggle up in my bed and feel safe. How can this happen to me in Mumbai – the city whose prodigy I am. Fear, that feeling of lack of safety, was creeping up my neck.

Sitting in the taxi, I asked the driver – no public on the streets?

He said – Sunday nah? Little public out at night.

But, I prodded further, even the bus services into the city have reduced at night. What is th deal?

The buses kya? They run empty at nights and so, the BEST has decided to reduce them. But yes, the streets are empty at nights these days, after the bamb-kaand.

Bamb-kaand? You mean 26/11?

Yes. After that, people have reduced going out at nights. A sense of fear has gripped people. We taxi drivers, our income was mainly from the fares we got at night. Now, that has reduced drastically. All the shareef, good character people don’t come out at nights. It is only the badmaash, the bad characters, that come out at night. Plus, so much naaka-bandi, police watch. Who will come out? Which shareef person will come out?

Just a while before the driver was drawing a distinction between the shareef and the badmaash, I had watched a bunch of well-dressed prostitutes and one of their clients in the classic white kurta and pyjama, laughing and making jokes around the corner of a hotel at Grant Road. And I had thought about respectability. Now, I think of the shareef, the badmaash, and the night and the city – transformation, perhaps it is happening at these subtle levels.

Then, I watched the city last night as we rode past one end to the other. Are the streets really silent? Is this what the bamb-kaand has done? Penetrated into the fabric of the city and spread fear …

We halted at a signal around the corner of one of the posh Western suburbs. There she was – no fear – just dexteriously weaving the flowers through the thread and making garlands, perhaps readying herself for the clientele in the morning who may want to offer the flowers to their gods and goddesses, allaying a fear of a different kind (that between the devotee and the devout). She weaved away quickly, without care. Is she afraid, I thought to myself?

Then we passed the roads. There they were, those people, those people we call slum dwellers. Three hutments jutting out from the walls, just onto to the streets. They had also called it a night, lying down in their beds, drawing their sheets onto themselves. There they were, stepping into the world of dreams and nightmares and desires and hopes and aspirations – some had their TV sets on, some just oblivious of the roadside traffic and preparing to go off to sleep. Are they afraid?

Then, we went pass the highway, those big roads that have been created to facilitate the movement of cars (and traffic). On the highway, covered under blue plastic sheets, supported by a few poles, they were also going off to sleep. Perhaps they were construction workers who had settled into a little space on the footpath and called it a night. Perhaps they were contract sweepers, spending their last few days in the city before the rain lashes vehemently. They were almost calling it a night, drifting off (or just about to …) … Are they afraid?

And then, just a little ahead, three-four men and women, playing hide-and-seek in the bushes by the side of the highway, perhaps some kind of a foreplay. They seemed happy, playful. Are they afraid?

Fear – what of?

Fear – of what?

Fear … and the city sleeps at night …

Fear … and we sleep to prepare for another day to come …

Fear …

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