Cheeky, cheeky!

Mumbai is a city with attitude, and I am talking serious attitude…..right from Bollywood stars to the middle class person to the little street urchins (that add to the beautification of the city – don’t; mind the sarcasm). When I am out and about, I am always expecting some kind of attitude or another from the Mumbaikers, be it rich, middle class, or the poor folk. It’s just a given when you live in a city, such as Mumbai.

On Sunday, I went for a casual walk to Carter Road, a lovely promenade in Bandra West. I saw this sweet little bigger girl peering into a shop window, probably hungry or greedy, trying to earn her wages so that she could exchange it for food when she got home to her parents (who were also beggars). I really felt sorry for the little one and, although my usual tendency is to walk past beggars (because how many beggars can you feed?), I decided to give her a packet of biscuits that I usually carry for the stray dogs. Just so you know, as an animal lover, I am always carrying biscuits for the city’s innumerable dogs. I don’t like giving money to beggars as I believe it just perpetuates this cycle of begging and not being proactive in looking for work. So, I prefer giving them food. I tapped the girl on her shoulder and handed her the biscuit packet. I was very touched when she said “shukriya” (an Urdu word for thank you). I continued walking on and was a little stunned when I saw the little one following me. I figured she probably just wanted some money and was trying her luck with me….little did I know what she really was going to do.

She proceeded to do exactly what I suspected….begged for money, for a rupee, making me feel guilty for not indulging her….this little girl was probably a quarter my size and was so determined to get something out of me. I told her that I had already given her the biscuits and she should now leave me alone. She persisted. I insisted. And finally, the cheeky one mustered up the courage and point-blank told me that she did not want the biscuits. I was shocked and infuriated, and I snatched the packet from her and put it back in my bag. As I continued to speed along, the begging continued, until her older sister stepped in and pulled her away.

I was really amazed by the girl’s audacity to return the food back to me…..but then it struck me….this girl was not begging because she was really hungry, she was but a mere worker, put to work by her parents who probably instructed her that she should not accept anything less than money. She must have been all of 4 or 5 years old, dressed in a long skirt and tattered shirt, her face dotted with a runny nose. She was scuffed up and adorable….but had an attitude that even I couldn’t match up to!

Begging is still a bustling and lucrative profession in Mumbai. With a population of around 23 million people, this may just be a beggar’s paradise….so why accept food, when you can aim for (and get) the big bucks?


Update on the Driving…

… I hate it! I hate it not so much because I have to go from driving an automatic car to a manual one, but because driving in Mumbai is not a pleasure at all. I previously mentioned how different it is driving in Mumbai when compared to San Francisco, because it had more to do with the way people drive and the lack of road discipline and blah, blah, blah. But as I have completed my 4th driving class, I am realizing that my irritation with driving in Mumbai is not so much to do with how things wok on the roads and with the cars, but with how many people and things you have to dodge when driving in this city!

For one, most pedestrians insist on walking on the roads instead of using the foot path or sidewalks. It’s like a disease. Although we do not have the best footpaths in Mumbai, because there are almost always cracks or crap on them, we still have good enough foot paths for people to utilize. Why people insist on walking on the roads is anybody’s guess. Actually, that is not entirely true. I suspect that the denizens of Mumbai walk on the roads, where cars are meant to be (than on the footpath), is because we have the hawkers who have taken over the sidewalks of Mumbai. And I am not kidding when I say that, because in most parts of Mumbai, the hawkers are like little cockroaches that have bred (and continue breeding), so that anywhere you turn or any sidewalk you are on, you will see them there. They could be selling anything from vegetables to flowers to bed sheets and underwear. You name it, they have it! I can’t say that I am innocent in all this, because I am also one of the gazillion people in Mumbai that depend on these hawkers, especially for my weekly veggies. But come on, can there be another, better way to have them carry out their operations? Can there be a more efficient, smarter way for hawkers to sell their stuff without inconveniencing pedestrians? I do not believe I will live to see that day.

In any case, it could be said that because people are used to walking on the roads instead of the sidewalks due to the hawkers, it has become a perpetual habit for them to now walk on the roads, irrespective if the footpaths are empty or not. So can you imagine trying to drive on the roads and in the by-lanes with people all around you? It is incredible how casually they walk on the fringes of the road, and yet they are in your bloody way, their arms flailing about, people on their cellular, as if they were having a stroll in the park. It frightens me every time I drive because I think I am going to knock someone down. Apart from pedestrians on the road, there are cyclists and motor cyclists that zoom in like meteor showers and it’s so hard to anticipate which side they are coming from, especially when you are too busy managing your time changing gears! Gosh, this driving is killing me and will be the number one cause of my death, I promise you!

In addition to this mayhem, there are men with hand carts and bullock carts that also own the streets and you have to compete with them as well, when trying to drive safely. There are also cats that randomly cross the street, and dogs that just park themselves where they shouldn’t and you have to be careful to not run into any of these creatures either.

I think the worst part of it all, is that I am becoming like, or at least it seems, that kind of driver who I never want to be: the one who always honks! Trust me, I have been and still am so critical and irritated by people who honk. But with every day I am in the driver’s seat, I am becoming more aware of the necessity to honk than anything else. People mostly honk to let people know they need to get out of the freakin way!! I have started doing this myself and it actually gives me great joy, because it is more a catharsis, to honk at them in the hopes that it will scare the living day lights out of them. But who am I kidding? They continue to merrily stroll, and if they move, it will be half an inch and you find yourself back where you started – muttering obscenities to yourself because most pedestrians do not have a brain!

Just this afternoon, as I was driving, some of the neighborhood kids took over half a lane to play India’s favorite sport, India’s most treasured past time – cricket. So I honk and the kids stop playing and make way for the car. A pedestrian is standing on the left corner of the street gazing at the kids and probably very involved in the game. I am about to turn left and almost into him, and so I honk. The man does not move, does not bat an eye, and continues to be enthralled in the game. So there I am making adjustments so that I do not knock him down (even though I so wish I could!).

I do not know. I am just going with it and trying to be patient with this whole “driving in Mumbai’ business. The only thing I can say is, “God help me!”

On a more positive note, I am so enjoying the pleasant and cool weather in Mumbai. Granted, it is not cold like how a “winter” should be, but this is enjoyable and loveable weather all the same. I continue to be amazed at how I can be in a room, hours on end, without the fan, let alone the air conditioner. I know these days are numbered and in the next month the heat will be so bad, it would feel like I was being charred with every bleeding moment. But until then, I thank my lucky starts that my first winter in Mumbai is a benevolent one.