[Reader-list] Shah Rukh

zainab at xtdnet.nl zainab at xtdnet.nl
Sat Dec 25 14:53:37 IST 2004

24th December 2004

Dear Santa Claus and God,
				On this Christmas eve, please put into my Christmas Stocking a return
air ticket to Shanghai and a couple of thousand yens.
That is all for this year.
Yours (trying to be) truly,

I am curious about Shanghai. What is Vilasrao Deshmukh’s obsession to
create Mumbai into a Shanghai? What I understand is that some things
Chinese are already beginning to happen in this city (and even the country
for that matter). This evening, while at Nariman Point, I checked out the
new steel notice board which says ‘CAUTION’ and goes on to state that
photographing the Nariman Point footpath or for that matter any municipal
footpath in ‘A’ Ward is not allowed. If you wish to photograph the
footpaths and pavements in ‘A’ Ward, then you have to obtain permission
from the municipal office of the ward. Otherwise, ‘offenders’ shall be
seriously fined. And below the high steel board is a strong statement
‘hawking is strictly prohibited’. I am coming to conclude that the first
steps towards the creation of Shanghai are a strict government, a punitive
state, curtailing of basic freedoms, curbing any flow of loose
information, controlling the loose spaces, and of course making revenue
out of everything. Then I think about the ‘A’ ward which is the city’s
Garden of Eden. ‘A’ Ward encompasses the prestigious South Mumbai. In the
times of the British, South Mumbai was a walled city with access permitted
to some. It is said history repeats itself. Perhaps history is going to be
recreated if we manage to wall South Mumbai once again. And I think about
terms of entry for people into certain places and spaces; I think about
public domain; I think about walls and histories; I think about conflicts
and wars. I think too much nah?

Today is Christmas Eve. VT Railway Station is buzzing with people trying
to get back home. It appears that Christmas holds more excitement for
people than Diwali.  Perhaps now with the idea and image of the ideal
American family, Christmas fits in more perfectly than Diwali. But how
does it matter even if the BJP was once gunning for Christians? In Mumbai,
faith is a matter of dhanda. If dhanda says Christmas is the in-thing,
then so be it. (In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit –
Dhanda Amen!) Newspapers are buzzing with news about the various parties
taking place in the city. The entire town is red. And as I walk out of VT
Station, I notice the Central Railway Motormen’s wishes of a Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the commuters. A nice holly tree
laced board has been created and put up for all to see. Of all the people
on VT Railway Station, it is the motormen who care most for commuters.
Really! They are some people after all. They ferry the commuters across
the city. They are the whole-and-soul of VT Railway Station and hence a
motormen’s strike can be dangerous as they have the power to put the city
to a halt. The motormen are the daddies of the city, of us everyday

Christmas has caught on in the city. Newspapers are abuzz with the town
painted red all over. Streets are buzzing with activity. Some peoples of
the city are preparing for midnight mass which is no longer midnight – it
happens at 10PM these days. Talk about restrictions. Talk about
maintaining law and order in the city. I wonder if what would happen if we
legalize night life in the city. Will crime vanish? Will people be safe?
Will the legal lose out on its (illegal) income then? Will the legal have
no job to do then?

Law and order is being enforced on city streets these days. As I pass by
in the bus, from VT to Nariman Point, I notice that many institutions in
the city care for us. The WIAA cares for us and hence tells us not to talk
on our cell phones else we will have to talk to doctors instead. The WIAA
also warns that because Ravana had nine heads he could choose not to wear
helmets but that we human beings cannot afford to do the same. The Police
care for us and tell us to use the subway to get to the railway station.
At each point in time, we legal citizens end up trespassing on some
terrain or the other – the hawkers trespassing on the pedestrian paths,
the pedestrians trespassing on the roads meant for cars. And at each point
in time, we need to curb trespassing. And then the question arises about

I am at Nariman Point right now. Winter has set into the city. It is
chilly. There are many couples at the promenade today. Each one is
intimate. Some of the couples are sitting at a little distance away from
each other. It is festival time for the colleges. Groups of collegians,
dressed in traditional dresses are gathered around here today. It seems
like a night of intimacy for the city. I don’t know about love. How can I
speak about love? Sometimes I think love is a matter of time. Just as
people no longer love this city because it is nobody’s child. It is an
unfaithful entity, belonging to none, like the girl in the dance bar who
belongs to none.

Work on the promenade is moving fast. Boards on the promenade state that
this renovation work is half funded by the BMC and half by the MMRDA. The
MMRDA is becoming a powerful authority in the city. I see some Reliance
Banners on the roads across the seafront. At one point in time, Reliance
was very interested in adopting the promenade. Then things fell apart. I
wonder whether Reliance is getting interested again. And I am not sure
about what happens when a public space is ‘adopted’ by a corporate entity?
Why does a public space need adoption? I guess because it is public and
hence belongs to none.

I walk past. People are shooting the sea with their digital cameras and
handycams. Nariman Point is crowded. There is a wedding procession
starting from NCPA Apartments. And the bands are playing the ‘Dhoom’ song
aloud! Dhoom is the song of the year – as everyone goes ‘Dhoom macha le
dhoom macha le dhoom!’ Even cell phone ring tones have been set to the
tune of this song. Life’s a dhoom after all, in this city at least!

Sitting by Nariman Point, Shah Rukh, the little tea and coffee selling boy
comes over to me. I have been wanting to talk to him for a long time now,
trying to convince him to tell me about himself. He is a clever boy. He
knows that he can sell me tea and coffee and along with it the promise
that some day he will talk. He says, “Today, today we will talk.” He
promises me that after one more round of sale, he will come and talk to
me. I wait, like I always do!
A while later, I notice that Shah Rukh is being dragged by the BMC men.
Two of them are holding him by the collar. One of them has taken control
of his only asset – his thermos and some of the maal inside. He is
pleading them to leave him. They are firm. ‘No doing business here,’ they
tell him. They treat him like a kid. He goes on pleading. I follow the
men. Finally, one of them puts Shah Rukh’s thermos into the grey
surveillance van and locks the door from the outside. Shah Rukh is telling
them to let him go this time. But they are not interested in his pleas.
They tell him, with an attitude of power and authority, “No. Go away. You
should know not to do business here. You are a kid. You have to learn the
rules.” As I am watching this drama from a distance, a man standing by me
is also looking and peering at Shah Rukh. I deduce that he is also a
hawker on the seafront. His name is Manoj Kumar. “Will they let him go?” I
ask Manoj. “No. They will make him pay hundred rupees and then only will
they let him go. He is going to make every effort to release his thermos.
That is because there is other stuff that he has stored away on the back
side. If the thermos is not released today, the other milk and water he
has kept aside, behind, will also get spoilt.” Shah Rukh lives with Manoj.
Manoj is very concerned about the little boy. “I was taking orders from
customers (people sitting on the promenade). He followed me. I told him
that BMC people are lurking around and that he should run away. But he did
not listen. He was insistent, wanting to do business. And now they have
caught him.” Manoj tells me that Shah Rukh has an elder brother. All this
while, Shah Rukh had been fooling me, telling me how his father also does
business around here. “What father?” Manoj asks baffled. “There is no
father. He is such a cute boy. Some people who have a stall behind felt a
lot for Shah Rukh. They were willing to keep him with them and pay him a
salary for working. He was also willing to go. But his elder brother
intervened and asked him not to go. He lives with me, over there,” Manoj
said, pointing out to behind Nariman Point. I assume they live in the
Backbay slums. Shah Rukh is cutest boy around the promenade. Often times I
have found that people buy tea and coffee from him not because they want
tea or coffee, but because they are moved by his innocence and his sweet
face. And he is cheeky enough to fool people with this. “He is a clever
boy,” Manoj continues, “Once, the BMC guys caught hold of him as he was
trying to run. They placed their hands firmly on his left shoulder and he
started screaming loud telling them, ‘I am hurt here. I am hit here. Don’t
touch me here’. I got worried, wondering what’s happening. But he was
fibbing. The BMC guys just left him.”
Manoj tells me that he has been around the seafront since ten years now.
“The NCPA Apartment guys moved us out,” Manoj tells me when I verify with
him about who moved out the hawkers from the seafront. “There are sahibs
who live in this building,” Manoj continues, “government officials. One of
them had clearly told us that till twenty years, we hawkers could do
business here, but after that period we would all be moved out. And
exactly after the completion of twenty years, bang on the day, we were
moved out. You must be aware that the BMC people had actually chained our
bodies with thick steel chains and moved us out from here.” I was aware of
this fact. Santhya had told me about this episode. I could not believe it
then. But coming from Manoj, I could imagine the force and obstinacy from
all the concerned parties. It is a matter of space, of economics, of
dhanda, proprietorship and property. Whose space?
 “Kahan sau rupaiye tab ke aur kahan aaj ke dus,” Manoj tells me in the
usual metaphor of how business then was ten times better than what it is
today. “Now there are problems.” I ask him about the private security
guards along the seafront. “Oh these? These are of appointed by the NCPA
Apartments residents. They are also supposed to not allow us to do
business here. But how dare they stop us? They are afraid of us. I had
once beaten one of these private security guards because he was harrowing
me when I was setting up business. The only people who have punitive
power over us are these BMC guys.” Manoj recounts his days at Nariman
Point. “I have seen this place. I used to earn thousand, two thousand
rupees in a day when film stars would come here and film shootings would
take place. Having earned so much in a day, I would not set up dhanda in
the evenings. Aaram karne ka!”
Manoj asks me why I am waiting, “I am writing a book. I want to talk to
Shah Rukh for that.” “What will he tell you?” Manoj wonders, “You go.
Today he will not talk to you,” Manoj says conclusively. I thank Manoj and
walk ahead. Hmmm, either Shah Rukh is too lucky or I am too unlucky or
whatever. People develop tactics over a period of time. They develop
tactics of how to deal with power and with persons in power. They know how
to make their way around. The key lies in not being fearful of authority.
If you fear, you can be terrorized.

The edge of Nariman Point is lined with a few couples. It is largely
empty. I walk back. I catch a glimpse of Shah Rukh – he still hanging
around, cool and also a bit worried. But he knows that he will manage a
way out. The children of city streets are very clever. Street-Smart!

I am unaware of my own state. I feel like laughing out loud. I don’t want
any government to sit on my head. Two days ago, a bureaucrat said to me,
“Government? It is taking care of the private domain – the ballcocks, the
windows, the taps, the nanaks, the little things because that’s where the
money lies. That is where you have the opportunity to be corrupt.
Government hardly plays a role in the public domain.” And if government
plays no role in the public domain, and the public too don’t seem much
interested, then is the ultimate consequence property?

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