TO most people, Bombay conjures up an image of a crowded skyline, teeming millions, hustle and bustle and stifling pollution. Perhaps they are right.
But there is more to Bombay than just this seamy side. It is a city alive with people, opportunities and happenings. It is a city that moves on oiled wheels, a city that elevates non-entities to celebrities, a city that provides the country’s share of glamour, a city that makes pavement dwelling a way of life…. But, to appreciate all these sterling qualities, one has to live in this beehive of a city. Let me tell you some of the things that make Bombay a Bombayites’ delight….
One of the best things about this place is BEST –its bus service. To get the best of it you must be equipped with certain basic qualifications – like hanging on to your purse and firmly pushing anyone in your way and elbowing your way through a frenzied crowd of commuters and getting into a bus which stops for 4 seconds with 40 people being as hopeful as you. Sounds breathless? That’s how you feel when you finally flop into a seat or onto someone’s lap. When I was a novice, I would wait patiently for my turn to get into a bus. Now, I have mastered the art of jumping the queue without incurring the wrath of the aggrieved. Alas, I look like ‘muscle woman’ in action but that is a small price to pay for a seat.
THERE is something for everyone to do in this city of golden opportunities. If you aren’t qualified to do anything, just buy a weighing machine and sit by the side of a bhel-puri vendor. You’ll be amazed at the number of people wanting to pay for weighing themselves before and after eating.
Eating is big business in Bombay. People seem to be eternally hungry. Must be due to the ozone. In front of offices and colleges, you can sell anything ranging from sandwiches to Chinese chow mein. Even drinking water fetches a price. For budding writers, this is Mecca. All you have to do is equip yourself with the address of the editorial offices and flood the staff with your creative pieces. Out of sheer desperation they are bound to accept a few. There is a morning tabloid… a mid –day paper, an afternoon one, an evening paper and any many magazines.
If you have a good face and trim figure you can hit the high spots as a model. Teaching is your forte? Lot of dumb parents will load you with lure to drum some stuff into their spoilt children’s beads. Bright executive? The sky is the limit for you. But there is one big hitch in the way of grabbing the goodies HOUSING. But Bombayites believe in the adage, “Home is where the heart is” and it is quite often on the pavements. If lucky-in zopadpattis. It is not an usual sight to see a dapper young man carrying a VIP briefcase, set out to work from a dilapidated hut with a TV antenna sticking out from its ramshackle roof.
THE monsoon in Bombay is unique. Roads get flooded and umbrellas fly but everyone goes about his normal activities. The ‘chanawala’ a familiar figure selling roasted peanuts, continues to do roaring business and so do the roadside salesmen hawking all kinds of wares including package deals like ‘pick what you want for a rupee’ bargains.
If there is a shoppers’ paradise on earth, it is Bombay. Things made in USA are made here so that you won’t know the difference. From murky bylanes you can pick up chandeliers, glowing stones, stuffed goats, mirrored blouses, carved sideboards, decorative doors… the variety is purse boggling. ‘Chor bazar’ is the right place to pick up car parts for a song-except that while you are negotiating the deal for buying a retreaded wheel, someone is busy stealing the hub cap on the other side of your car. As for imported things from cheese to colour TV’s electronic toys to Chivas Regal you can take your pick from the pavement shops. You only have yourself to blame if the whisky turns out to be tea water. You must have a ‘nothing-lost-nothing-gained’ philosophy while shopping here.
STRIKES or morchas are a part of the city’s scene. Most of the recalcitrant ones plonk themselves before the statue of Shivaji (which is scattered all over the city) or Ambedkar. If they are not sitting down in protest, they are marching to the council hall and the traffic moves at snail pace. Used to this kind of hold-ups, commuters open their briefcases and bring out the stones. The police whip out their ‘latis’ and everyone has a free-for-all kind of time. An hour later everything settles down and people go home happy to have something to talk about.
This is a mad city, but as the poet put it, there is method in it. Like Dick Whittington, lots of people come here every day to seek their fortune. They may or may not find it but they definitely have a jolly good time trying!