Ram Ashraya, Matunga – Udipi Eatery
You suddenly enter from the portentous silence of the city to the chatter of this place. There are utensils clanging, waiters running around and a rich whiff of butter and ghee and coconut oil. You wouldn’t believe it’s early morning if you see how energetically the 12 year old wipes your table clean. You wouldn’t believe those unremarkably white idlis can hold so much butter inside them till u take that first bite and it just melts into nothingness in your mouth. You wouldn’t believe that the simple act of eating can touch you in the soul and make you feel so good about the sun that is about to rise.
There is another thing you wouldn’t believe when the bill comes – how cheap a piece of heaven really is in this hellhole of a city.
Saat rasta, Mumbai Central – Newspaper vendors
You are unlikely to notice them unless the newspapers earn you your bread. I do. All around the massive 7 road junction, they are spread out. Trucks and trucks coming and unloading bundles of printed matter. The mass instruments of rebellion and inspiration being treated like piles of petty rags. You see the TOI vendor sitting in a far flung corner with a massive pile. You see the HT vendor looking over at him with contempt, the Indian Express vendor with fear and the Gujarat Samachar vendor with a smirk. People frantically inserting papers into papers. People loading them on bicycles so young kids could rush to Malabar Hill and Mahalaxmi, so the diamond trader doesn’t get all cranky at the breakfast table. These vendors have no offices. Families and families function on these footpaths earning their daily bread. Last heard, the marathi manoos is being run over by north indians in this business as well.
The price of real estate may vary wildly in Bombay – from Ballard Pier to Borivali. But the footpath is still free – ready to be exploited by the enterprising!
Silver beach, Juhu – Stunt directors
You see Adonisesque bodies. Perfect hairdos and flambuoyant clothes. But it still cant camouflage their failure. They come from all over the country. To be the next Salman and Hrithik. And the best they do is retire as the villain’s sidekick’s right-hand man in a flop film. They have no place to practice their stunts. Rentals are too high their bosses say. So they take comfort in the soft sand of the beach, which saves them from getting hurt when they fall. And fall they do. Because they are never the hero. Just the villain – who has to take the punches but never give any with any degree of success. So they practice taking punches and kicks and pushes and shoves as the sun rises upon another day of their sorry existence.
No wonder they are good at their current job. This city has made them mighty experienced at taking punches and falling down and rising again and again.
Kasara Rly Station - Office peon
You know that technically this is not Bombay. But tell that to this peon! He came back home last night at 11 pm. His son had gone off to sleep and wasn’t awake when he left this morning. Over the years, he would know his son has grown only when the blanket becomes too small for him. His wife served him dinner at 11 last night, cleaned up and slept at 1. She then woke up at 3:30am to cook his lunch tiffin. You will see him chatter away at the railway station holding the tiffin - still hot off the stove - to his chest, smelling the onion bhaji and the fresh rotis inside. You will hear him invoke Vitthal fervently once he boards the train. Right uptil Churchgate, he will keep at his Manjeera. On and on he will go in fervent hope, devotion and despair. He would do the same when he returns home again at night.
He is still waiting for Vitthal to somehow grant him a shanty in Dharavi and change his life for the better.
And you will see many more – the budding cricketer who is too small to carry his kit-bag, the outstation student making his pocket money selling Parle G and coffee outside brothels and overnight libraries, the customs pirate selling Adidas and Nike off his truck on Charni road’s streets.
But it is 5:30am
And you are probably an MBA with a nice salary and a nicer designation.
So you have other problems – like you need new shoes and the evening traffic is killing.
So you will be fast asleep at 5:30 am - tired as you were with all the toil you did the previous day.