Posts Tagged ‘vulnerability’

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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Walking in time

May 16th, 2008

Between now and then,

We walk in time.

I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves,

I walked in time.

Sometimes in the Past

I walked.

Sometimes in the Present,


Future tense (haha!).

Future tense,


I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

[I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves …]

Making Pictures of Mother Mary and her son Infant Jesus,

(Wondering how people practice their faith,

What do they put their faith into?)

Where is my faith?

Where is my trust?

I walked in time.

Between time.

Within myself,

Between my-selves.

Wondering what faith was all about …

Wondering what I was all about.

Wondering what I am made of,

Wondering what people are made of.

Back in time,

(Just a little bit)

I danced to California Dreaming

I fought

With myself,

Shedding a few tears,

As I sat with complete strangers who were trying to help me pay my electricity bill (haha!)

And I kept fighting with myself,

They were struggling with their machines,

Trying to help me pay my electricity bill,

While I kept fighting with myself

And dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Until the bill was paid

And I cried

And gave in to myself.

I am vulnerable.


Walking in time,

I am vulnerable,



Walking in time,

I danced,

I Cried,

Paid the electricity bill,

Enlightened myself.

As Garth Brooks says, “The greatest conflicts are not between between two people, but between one person and himself.”

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Of Vulnerabilities (Notes from Rangshankara Cafe and my home …)

February 24th, 2008


How do you kill time?

How do you appear busy?

How do you pretend you know when you do not know?

What are these vulnerabilities?

My current experience of Bangalore oscillates between vulnerability and feeling in control. The perception of immobility makes me feel disempowered, vulnerable.

How does one become mobile in a city? As I ponder over my own experiences in Bangalore, I recognize that mobility is not merely a matter of having a good public transport infrastructure. Surely, having a good public transport system matters. And it matters most when autofares are so exorbitant. But what also matters, as a woman, is whether you feel secure in a city. That sense of security is what enables mobility.

What provides a sense of security? Immediately what comes to my mind is the provision of adequate street lighting. The other night, when I was walking on Hosur Road, the patches where there were street lights seemed a relief to walk on. Where there was no street lighting, I felt a tremendous sense of fear that someone would stick his hand out from the Army Military School compound and grab me. Moreover, the movement of traffic on Hosur Road provided me with a sense of comfort. The fact that there were so many vehicles moving on the road, besides me, was a feeling of reassurance. At the same time, when bicycles and motorcycles moved too close to me, I would have to move away from the edges of the footpath and walk a bit inside. This is because of the fear that some of the riders would want to touch me, grab me.

The lack of vibrancy on the streets is somewhat discomforting and irritating. It feels like this city is absolutely flat. But coming back to the experience of vulnerability, I feel another factor that produces this feeling is the inability to trust people and constantly having to ask auto drivers, vegetable vendors, paanwallahs, etc. to explain how they arrived at the figure that they are quoting. It is this feeling that everybody is out to cheat you and that you have to have your defenses on, all the time. It gives this feeling of tiredness if I have to keep my defenses on me all the time. It is as if I am defending myself, instead of living.

I was writing these words in the cafe of Rangshankara auditorium . I was alone there, waiting for the gong to go so that I would move into the theater. I did not know anyone in the cafe. As I stepped into the cafe, I felt vulnerable.

How am I going to kill time?

What am I going to do that appears as if I am doing something meaningful and not occupying space without eating or drinking anything other than a cup of tea?

At that moment, what struck me was that the city is the experience of encounters, encounters of all kinds. Until now, I encountered the director of a play that was a visceral experience. I encountered a man sitting next to me in the auditorium who had a synopsis of the play which I asked him if I could borrow to see. I encountered another man sitting next to me who was being hit by the severe lighting and was covering himself to prevent the glare. I encountered people in the audiences who I never spoke to, but who spoke to the director, many of them stating that they did not understand the play. I encountered the director saying that his play was open for audiences to interpret. I encountered an auto driver who allowed me to take photos of the advertising on his auto. I encountered a man at the bus stop who I thought was trying to make a pass at me, but who probably was as much waiting for the bus as I was. I encountered the bus, the bus driver, the passengers in the bus, the man and woman sitting behind me who wanted to travel to the next stop without paying the extra fare. I encountered the grocer from who I buy vegetables. I encountered the shop keeper from who I purchase provisions and who was angry with a bunch of North Indian men who seemed like labour class. These men were agitating about the shopkeeper not giving a receipt for the purchases. Another one of them was fighting with the shopkeeper for not giving back the change money and the shopkeeper in turn irritatedly saying he had given the money and now if he does not give then what happens?

I guess it is the search for the extraordinary that prevents me from noticing these absolutely mundane encounters. Perhaps, I have to have an encounter with myself in order to understand myself in this city …

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Structure and Everyday Life

January 28th, 2008

This morning as I rode out towards Domlur, a sudden anxiety and fear gripped me. I do not have a daily routine in terms of “work”. Yes, I do the domestic work in the morning and in the evening. But I do not go to an office. I have to create my own deadlines for work and my own work routine. Since I work on a project basis, the moment one project gets over, I get gripped by a queasy, uncomfortable feeling in the neck – what next? now what do I have to look forward to? And then begins a desperate search for some more work. In the process, I don’t know where I am going. Just scrounging for more work, instead of trying to do what I really enjoy. But then, what do I really enjoy? (I don’t think I am even enjoying the act of writing now!)

So this morning, as I rode out to Domlur, I was gripped by that queasy, uncomfortable feeling of being out of “work”. What then is work, I ask myself? To me, it is what defines a structure. And the comfort is the structure, even when you are not actually doing the work. When that structure collapses, what do you do? It is discomfort. Every day has to be lived on a day to day basis. Now you are a master of your own time. But that mastery is itself unnerving because we are used to being slaves to time.

This morning, as I rode out to Domlur, I was gripped by that queasy, uncomfortable feeling of being out of “work”.  The structure has collapsed. Now will I build another one?

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