There is an unmistakable rumble around the corner. I hear the horn. It is a train snaking its way past over the south central railway tracks. On the other side is the traffic of the outer ring road. A steady stream of vehicles flowing like a golden Mithi river. From my windy perch, high above the ground, overlooking these two lines of transport, I see a bright white moon rising in the west. It is a cold night here on the outskirts of the erstwhile garden/lake city.
The monster of urbanisation is slowly creeping up and making its presence felt. I am bombarded with the same brands in similar malls trying desperately to adopt a new avatar. That of the city which it is not. Amid the high rise steel and glass structures, thrives a populace still rooted in rural traditions. A few years ago they might have even looked at me with curiosity but I am the majority now, too many like me rolling around in our Uber-Ola cabs and company buses.
In the supermarket, yet another gimmick of the urban India, I hear a smattering of Gujarati and Marathi. I instantly eavesdrop on what they are saying. The Gujaratis are missing the vegetables they usually buy while the Manoos is complaining about his boss, but oh look there is an offer on the fridge, let’s get it on EMI he tells his wife. I move on. Everyday is a new day. Suddenly it starts to pour and everything is a mess. Nothing like the Bombay monsoons. There is so much to share, I pick up the phone and dial a number and disconnect immediately. I begin my walk back home.——————
It is early February and a cool wind is blowing as I ride an auto rickshaw filled with 5 others excluding the driver. We are cruising from Kalyan to Bhiwandi. After a while, I find myself sitting in a police station, located deep inside a communally sensitive neighbourhood. Inside a cabin that belongs to an inspector. He looks after Crime in the area. He has many things to tell me, he even shows me his interview clips which were telecast on local TV Channels. I am regaled with the tales of his service. He has many complaints but he also has a lot of juicy stories from the department.
I lap them up as I pepper the conversation with my questions and record his answers. I drink the many cups of chai that keep flowing through the door. It is time for me to end the interview and go home. There is so much to share, I pick up the phone and dial a number. I wait for the voice to answer. And I share everything I have heard. And we laugh. I am thankful for the laughter. All is okay, I jump into a bus headed to Mulund. I am done with the autorickshaws. It is time to go home.——————————
I am at the Prayas office in Mankhurd. A friend sends me a text - did you hear about Himanshu Roy? I immediately google his name only to find out the horrific news. I had heard about the top cop much before he became famous. He used to be DCP of Zone-1, a neighbourhood he grew up in. I knew how his trainer at the gym was a son of a police constable who needed a transfer and Mr. Roy had made it happen. Stories featuring him were quite common. I pick up the phone and stare it for long until my colleagues ask me if everything is fine. It is not but I smile and get back to work.
It is a Sunday morning in February and I am on a 505 Ltd. I am up and about, too early for a Sunday. It is the annual fest weekend but I am headed home. Fresh mutton curry greets me at home. I enjoy the meal and we talk. There is some laughter. I eat to my heart’s content. I lounge back and take photos on my new phone. I smile at life as Tarak Mehta and Jethalal go on yet another adventure.
The afternoon has passed. I head back to college. A DJ is playing songs at the amphitheatre, I shoot the gyrating crowd on my phone. I feel a sharp pain in my shin. It’s a bite, I know it. I feel my hand against my jeans and sure enough I feel something crawling. I clutch it tightly and fold my jeans upto my knees. There is a centipede with its fangs sunk deep into my knee. The pain is pulsating now. I pull it off and throw it away. A friend brings some medicine over, I am grateful to her. I dial the number, I must inform them I think. There is concern in the voice but it doesn’t waver, I reassure that nothing is wrong. Centipedes venom is harmless. I hear another voice, there is sobbing and I assuage all concerns again. I sleep. It has been a good day.——————
A friend is proofreading my thesis. I am nearing the end. The thesis is being printed. I am smiling in a photo. There is some music playing and people are drunk and sad and happy. This is the last time I am seeing all of them in this state. I want to treasure these memories. Most of them have been nice to them, I tell them that. I am sitting in a dark room overlooking the freeway, I talk about the times gone by. I realise it is the 22nd March. I shudder and my eyes well up.———
It is a warm Sunday of February. I am on an NMMT bus heading to Maitri Park from Dadar. I have had a full meal at my grandmom’s in Mahim. I dial the number and share everything about my evening. I joke about the anecdotes my grandma has shared. The sound of laughter crackles through on the other end, the laughter that I have come to treasure. All is okay, I smile at the conductor and watch Matunga merge seamlessly into Sion at Gandhi Market.————
It is the same Sunday night. I have not felt like a teenager in a long time. I am packing my bag for my Ruia friend is getting married in Surat. It is an ungodly hour. It is 0050 am. My phone rings. There is fear in the voice. I sense panic and danger. My heart sinks but I promise to be there in a bit. I bid goodbye to my friend. I am booking a cab. It is an Ola, my driver dozes off at the wheel. I lower the windows, cold February breeze rushes in and wakes him up. I am on the western expressway. The destination needs to be changed. One hospital. No, the other. We continue to navigate on the highway. My phone rings, I promise to be there soon. It is too late I am told, I know I reply. I knew it in my heart when I passed Dharavi. I know the laughter that I heard a few hours ago will not be there anymore. The light has gone out of our lives.
I pay the driver and walk through the gates of the hospital as a giant statue of Jesus, with outstretched arms greets me. I look away and enter the lobby. Muffled sobs greet me. I touch his feet and look at his handsome face. The silver grey hair, naturally parted. My father looks like he is in a deep peaceful slumber. Mother arrives soon enough. I have to break the news to her. I tell her before she enters the gates. Jesus looks down upon us again. We look away. There is more sobbing.
There is a sea of paperwork. There are certificates and tokens. There is a morgue, there is a cold gurney on which they roll him down. There is the darkest hour of the night. Death has gone off to sleep, having completed her quota. There is the procession. There is the hearse. There is the crematorium. There are the tears. There is the trolley that takes him to the incinerator. There are the flames that engulf him and the soles of his feet is all that I see as the machine closes around him. It is all over. There is the deafening silence that follows a din. There will be no nightly calls, no laughter and no warmth but there will be the void.——————
My father Shri Ganesh Prabhakar Kulkarni passed away on the night of 18th February, Sunday at 0050 AM. A massive cardiac arrest or a stroke is what we speculate could have been the cause of death. My cousins performed CPR to no avail and he was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital. It has been three months and a lot has changed. But that’s a post for another time. Right now, I stand on my perch overlooking the outer ring road and I look up at the grey sky and we both weep, silently.
|25th Wedding Anniversary, Diveagar, 2013|
|Retirement Ceremony at Mumbai Police HQ|
|Last Photos - Watching Tarak Mehta|