On a street corner in Mumbai's Fort City
Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.
Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post.
I come from a city of 17 million people with hundreds of cafes and very few public parks. The public parks aren’t worth visiting as they have all kinds of injunctions: ” Do not litter. Do not spit. Do not sit on grass. Do not eat. Do not fly kites. Do not commit nuisance. ” With so many restrictions, I wonder why they have public parks at all! There are more cafes than there are parks but those aren’t really conducive for children and since I am a full time grandmother, I couldn’t manage to squeeze some time in a cafe to follow today’s prompt of going to a local cafe or public park. However , while baby was napping, I did manage to make a dash to the centre of the city known as Fort, which was home to the original fortified city of colonial times and here I am now in the middle of the street waiting for the car to arrive.
I have just come down from the tiny room of a third floor office from where a textile designer retails her saris – the traditional Silk with gold woven borders and motifs that she gets woven in the Paithani style – a craft that she has kept alive with her innovative and exclusive styling.
It is a quarter past three in the afternoon and as usual the roads are throbbing with activity. With the High Court and Stock Exchange nearby, most of the people on the road are the black and white clothed lawyers or tradesmen at the stock exchange scurrying back to their offices after a quick lunch break in one of the many little eateries that abound in the area.
On one corner of the street a vendor of cigarettes, perched on a stool in front of a makeshift stall sits amid garlands of gaudy coloured single serving packages of a nasty tobacco mix known as ‘gutka’. There is a smouldering string dangling from the wall near his stall, and one customer picks it up and puts it to his cigarette, pulling in the air that will set it alight. He drops it once the cigarette is lit and exhales a smoke ring, his face relaxing in satisfaction. At another stall further down the road, I can see a crowd of people gathered round the betel nut seller whose mixes wrapped in betel leaf are responsible for the ugly red stains of spit that decorate my city’s walls.
It’s not yet summer, but the weather is hot, with the sun beating down: perfect for the fruit seller who has a line of people waiting for his fresh fruit salad. Within minutes he makes up a pretty plate with a wedge of bright red watermelon balanced with slices of pineapple and papaya. Sometimes he sprinkles a bit of rock salt to enhance the taste of the fruit. It’s strange how popular these street food stalls
The Bombay Sandwich sold on the street is unlike any sandwich in the world. Piles of bread slathered with butter wait their turn to be filled with sliced beetroot, cucumber, potato and tomato to make a sumptuous meal. Those whose tastes are more regional go for the ‘idlis and dosas’ or ‘wadas and paos’ Indian fast food that is well loved by all. Despite the restaurants nearby, serving cuisine as varied as Kerala curry to Italian pasta (and even a Starbucks that opened last year) and at price points that match every wallet, many people prefer eating on the streets – taking a break from their seats at work and enjoying a bit of fresh air.
At the far end of the street, I can see a bit of green, fighting hard to be seen amid the cars parked two abreast . It is the hint of a garden that belongs to St. Thomas’ Cathedral , the first Anglican Church built in Mumbai. The church is empty now and silent – an oasis of calm and peace in the hustle bustle of the city.
An old man brusquely asks me to move, making way for him to walk and I almost trip on a hand cart that is carting boxes of stationery that teeter, threatening to fall as I brush past it. The man scowls and mutters to himself as I apologise.
I take out the phone and wonder whether or not to call for the driver when I see him flash the lights of the car, announcing his arrival. I slip into the car before the other drivers honk their annoyance and irritation, happy to be in the cool comfort of the car.