Hafta


Hafta is  a Hindi term that literally means “a week”. In Hindi slang, hafta also denotes “protection money”, money that is collected by the mafia or corrupt police on a “weekly basis”. Hafta is commonly practiced in India, and Mumbai is no stranger to this malevolent tradition where cops blatantly demand a weekly ransom for illegal stalls to operate on the
bustling and commercial streets of Mumbai.

If you did not know already, the streets of Mumbai are

homes and businesses to many legal and illegal vendors such as the man who sells fresh coconut water, the barber who will give you a clean shaven face for Rs. 25 ($0.50), the person who sells rubber slippers, the book seller, the fast food stalls, the man who will clean the wax out of your ears, the cobbler….you name it! There is always someone setting shop on the busy streets of Mumbai, streets that are frequented by thousands of people a day. I was witness to a case of hafta last week, when I was indulging in my favorite sin, eating road side food. Against all good advice, right from my husband to my grandmother, I indulge in chaat,the Indian version of fast food, from time to time. Give me my favorite chaat dish and you have made my day!
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A few weeks ago, I stopped on the corner side of my building and was waiting for my food. I saw this police officer approach the stall that was next to the chaat wala (person who sells chaat) and demand that he cough up Rs. 50 (about $1). I thought it odd that the officer donned dark shades when the sun was sinking and there was barely any sunlight left. I did not think much of it because, this is Mumbai, a city where anything goes. I had no idea what was going on and just watched the show. It finally dawned on me, when the cop approached the stall that I was at, what he was doing. I froze, not knowing how to react. But it appeared that it did not matter to the cop who was around or who was watching him. He was just doing what’s been done for hundreds of years: prey on the week to get bigger and stronger. Initially, I did not think much of the fact that he was asking the chaat wala to give him some money. The vendor refused and said he had only just started his “dchandar” (business ) and requested that the cop return later in the evening . I am sure the cop realized this was the oldest trick in the book and was hell bent on getting his money. I thought to myself, ‘What is this fool hankering for a measly Rs. 50? Does he not have anything better to do?’ Then it occurred to me that if the corrupt copped collected Rs. 50 from every bloody vendor on just that street, he would probably be a very happy man by the end of his rounds.

The cop refused to leave the stall until the vendor gave into his demands, even it it meant borrowing money from the other stall and paying the cop. I was even more surprised when the vendor whipped out a little notebook and made a note of the date and amount, and the cop was checking the book to ensure that all facts and figures were in order. Clearly, this practice was the norm.

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There is a clear “circle of life” in Mumbai, where the strong dominate the week, ensuring the strong remain stronger, and the weak, weaker. Modern day evidence of this trend can be seen by the hundreds of grossly expensive residential towers that stand tall every year and line the very streets that house the hundreds of hutments that are stacked side by side, overflowing with rickety looking people and malnourished children. This idea of mumbai’s circle of life was driven home to me when i was walking to a cafe last Sunday and chanced upon this magnificent sight:
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A crow claiming it’s find, a brutal symbol of the circle of life…. life is an illusion and we are all prey to the ones who are stronger and bigger than us, in one form or the other.

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Horse Carriages – Mumbai, welcome to the Hall of Shame!


Mumbai belongs to the Hall of Shame, indeed! One day I am getting hopeful about being in Mumbai, reading the email exchanges about Gurupurnima and people’s respect for their gurus. The next day I am awakened to and reminded of the fact that Horse Carriages in Mumbai are still around, though the horses that lug these carriages are far from alive and kicking.

While in principle India has been liberated from the British Raj and has released herself from the colonial clutches, Mumbai is still bound in its backward thinking with the presence of horse carriages that, to date, parade the tourist havens of Mumbai (Colaba, the Gateway of India, Andheri, and so on). The carriages I am referring to, are no doubt, beautiful Victorian carriages that take me back to my history textbooks, where memories of the British empire and their rule in India is still fresh in my mind. When I used to visit Mumbai in my summer holidays from Dubai, I was always in awe of these magnificent carriages, as if they were pulled out directly from the Mahabharta, a Hindu epic in which Lord Krishna rides the chariot and teaches Arjuna several important lessons in being human. But this spiritual image has been radically eradicated in my time in Mumbai, as I am becoming more aware of the cruelty and harshness these beasts of burden are put through, every single day.

Victorian Horse Carriage

Victorian Horse Carriage

At Victoria Terminus - Horse competing with traffic

At Victoria Terminus – Horse competing with traffic

Beautiful images, aren’t they? Perhaps beautiful, and very sad indeed. There is a city wide protest and campaign to end these archaic tourist traps. This is mainly because it is becoming more and more apparent that these horses, that work day in and day out and lug a number of tourists, are severely neglected and abused. A litany of their abuses range from poor nutrition, to standing in filth and in their own feces, to being knee deep in rain water for hours, to being “cold shoed”, which means rather than finding a shoe that fits the horse’s foot, owners get the hooves brutally hacked to fit into smaller shoes (this makes the horses unstable on their legs, and their hooves begin to rot). Need I go on? It is also becoming obvious that very little attention is paid to these creatures by their owners, as well as by the animal and husbandry authorities of Mumbai. Horses are loyal creatures and are hard workers. Why are we not showing them some respect when they are helping us earn our bread and butter?

These acts of cruelty are being published a lot more often in the newspapers. I am so tempted to post an image of a severaly injured horse, but will spare my readers of the possible pain and anguish they may experience on seeing the image. Instead, I am including a small write up below, from the Times of India newspaper, on the situation regarding the horse carriages in Mumbai:

While vigil is held for 1 horse, another collapses

, TNN | Jul 4, 2012, 01.55AM IST

MUMBAI: A horse drawing a carriage was critically injured after it collapsed at Gateway of India on Tuesday, the same day members of ‘Mumbai for Horses’ held a silent candlelight vigil outside the BMC headquarters, in memory of another horse, Sultan, which died at the spot on Sunday.

Vicky Khatwani, who was witness to the horse that fell down at Gateway, told TOI, “Around 7pm, I noticed a horse, looking weak and visibly in pain, pulling a carriage with four tourists in it. Suddenly, it yelped and collapsed on the road.” He added that the animal was in no condition to get up and some citizens informed the police of the incident. At 10.30pm, after braving heavy rain and bearing the pain of two fractures on its legs, the horse was finally taken to the Colaba police station.

The animal hospital in Parel has been informed about the horse and the Colaba police are inquiring about the handler. A case is likely to be lodged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Amanat Mehta, a member of Mumbai for Horses, said the animal was in excruciating pain at the police station. “It is evident that the horse was overworked, pulling the heavy load of tourists every day. This cruelty must be stopped by banning carriages in Mumbai.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/While-vigil-is-held-for-1-horse-another-collapses/articleshow/14657365.cms

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Organizations such at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and PAWS (Plants and Animals Welfare Society) are lobbying for the ban of these carriages, bringing to the awareness of Mumbaikers that these are not charming Victorian chariots, but emblems of the British reign and emblems of Mumbai’s ignorance; we are ignorant of the message we are sending to the rest of the world – that we are still holding on to our colonial mentality, at least in this respect. This time, we are the colonizers, the horses the colonized.

Delhi has banned horse carriages a long time ago – what is Mumbai waiting for? If Mumbai is a modern city, flouting its BMWs and Audis and Porsches, what are horse carriages doing in the mix? The Hall of Shame welcomes you, Mumbai. Hope it does not last for too long.

Strange experience in Mumbai……(maybe not so strange to others)


Today is Gurupurnima, a day specially dedicated to the guru or teacher. This could be a spiritual guru, an academic teacher or someone who is considered a mentor. When I was living in the States, I always was aware of Gurupurnima, because as someone who is knowledgeable about and appreciates the principles and practices of Hinduism, I would acknowledge Gurupurnima as the day on which I pay special obeisance to my own spiritual master.

The word Guru literally means master or teacher. The word Purnima, means full moon. In the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August), the full moon day is observed as the auspicious day of Guru Purnima. In the Hindu tradition, this day is sacred and is dedicated to the great Hindu sage Vyasa. It is believed that this ancient saint edited the four Vedas, authored the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata, some of the major scriptures and epics in Hinduism.

In Hinduism, and I would like to say in the Indian culture in general, the guru has a special place in an individual’s life, because he/she is looked upon as the link or cord between god and the student. In fact, among some of the many human relationships that are celebrated in Hinduism, such as that of a brother-sister (raksha bandhan) or husband-wife (karva chauth), the teacher-student relationship (guru-shisya) is one of them. This is a relationship that is not taken lightly, but considered to be one the significant relationships in an individual’s life and spiritual well being.

It may already be known to some of my readers that I belong to two Clinical Psychologist and Counselors online forum where I can derive support, resources, and other feedback from my peers. I did have a “strange experience” today because, this morning, I woke up to a flurry of emails on both the forums, where people were publicly wishing their gurus (Senior psychologists) for gurupurnima. The emails were expressions of immense gratitude and reverence for their gurus and mentors who helped and guided the “students” along the way. On reading these emails at first, I was pretty amazed, confused, and amused by this public display of sentiment and affection. It gradually dawned on me then, as I kept seeing similar emails during the day, that I no longer live in a culture where there is minimal respect for the teacher (especially in the academic realm); that I now exist in a culture and era where, despite the modernity of India and the ultra westernization of Mumbai, students are still mindful and cognizant of the role their teachers/mentors hold in their life and the respect that is due to them, be it at a kindergarten level or a doctoral level or a spiritual level.

It was a refreshing feeling to note that, to date, there is still a significant amount of value and reverence that gurus are given in their respective fields. I have had many a strange experiences in Mumbai, but this is one strange experience that is a welcome change in my perspective of this city, as well as a soothing reminder that there are still some things that are caring and loving about people of Mumbai.

 

Tennis at MCA


MCA or the Mumbai Cricket Association is a sports/ family club situated in an upcoming commercial area of Mumbai, the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC). In Mumbai, I have noticed that the Mumbaikers love their acronyms, and I don’t mind them too. So MCA and BKC, you will notice a lot of in this posting. BKC boasts an array of 5 star hotels such as the Trident and Sofitel, all of which are amazingly designed and maintained. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but the hotels in India, such as your internationally popular ones like the Intercontinental or the Sheraton or the Marriott, put the very same chains in the USA to shame. I was often disappointed when I went to most of these hotels in any part of the USA because I knew how their counterparts were in Mumbai; how stunning and magnificent these hotels were.

BKC also hosts other commercial and important establishments such as the Diamond Market, the American School of Mumbai, the Dhiurbhai Ambani International School, the American Consulate, as well as Mumbai’s Income Tax Department!!! (that’s a story for another day). The MCA is also in the mix of these establishments and it’s one fine establishment, if I may say so myself.

My husband and I are not members of the club, though we would like to be someday. Our bank had an offer where we could visit the club and also avail of table tennis or the lawn tennis facilities. Since my husband and I are big tennis fans and have been playing for the last 6-7 years, we grabbed the opportunity to play again after a 10 month hiatus. The last time we played tennis was in San Francisco, August 28, 2011. But I have to say, it was just not the same experience in Mumbai (more on that later).

The MCA representative was hospitable and walked us through the club which exudes an air of aristocracy, especially because of the English feel that one can sense from the teak wood furniture, the wooden ceilings and rafters, the grand columns, and the old country style elegance that adorned the place. Here are some images of what I am referring to:

One the restaurants in the vicinity

One the restaurants in the vicinity

Even the bar has a very English and charming feel to it:

The bar faces the cricket grounds

The bar faces the cricket grounds

On inquiring about the membership fee for the club, we were informed that cost for a family of 4 (a couple and 2 children below the age of 21 years) is INR 15 lakhs or 1.5 million rupees or USD 27,000 for a lifetime membership. In addition to this one time payment, there is an annual fee of Rs. 12,000 or USD 215 per year. These payments include the use of the lawn tennis, the gym, the swimming pool and the shower facilities. Access to any other facilities such as squash or billiards or table tennis or any other sports, is an additional fee. You do the math!

In any case, playing tennis for the first time in Mumbai was quite an experience – one that I will never forget. It must have been about 30 degrees Celsius, the humidity sky-rocketing, and I felt like I was going to pass out in the first 20 minutes of playing. I was dripping sweat from every cell in my body; there were points in the match where I felt like someone walked over to me and poured a bucket of slime all over my head. Yes, it was incredibly sweaty and my hair was drenched! I could have been hallucinating, but there was steam coming from my arms, face, and head…that’s how hot I felt! I was unable to concentrate and all I was doing, while trying to hit the ball, was wipe sweat of my face and neck. And this was a game that we started playing at 8 pm! God only knows how people play tennis during the day!! Even scarier, god only knows if I would be alive to write this post!

I was sooooo unprepared for playing tennis in Mumbai weather, that I did not even bring a towel with me. This is something I never had to do when playing in San Francisco, why would I have had to do it now? Of course, I have learned my lesson the hard way and have promised myself to bring 2 towels the next time I play.

Overall, it was fun trying to get in the grove of playing tennis – the operational word being “trying” – as I was struggling on the court for the first 1 hour, making every attempt to ignore the mosquitoes and tiny flies, to not be distracted by the crows that would frequent the court every so often for the dead mosquitoes and flies, to wipe as much sweat off my face as possible, and to try to concentrate on the game. And if you ask me if I would do this all over again, I would answer with a triumphant Yes! – all of this madness for the love of tennis.