Remember the days when sharing was caring? When we shared secrets with our best friend in the college canteen? When we sullenly shared pristine, new crayons with a snivelling sibling? Sharing was all about virtuous deeds and warm, fuzzy feelings. Till something strange happened. Overnight this word-next-door got itself a makeover—and bossily began shoving out perfectly serviceable fellows like ‘give’ and ‘send’.
Blame it on Facebook. Or blame it on Mumbai’s passion for dubious trends. At any rate, it seems that whenever I answer the phone these days I’m being asked to ‘share’ something. The nasal girl from the courier company wants me to ‘share an invoice number’. A friend wants me to share my plumber’s details. A PRO with a singsong voice wants me to share my e-mail address. And this is putting quite a strain on my generosity.
Regrettably, ‘share’ is not the only mutant that has infiltrated Mumbai’s conversations these days. The city that came up with unrivalled gems like time-pass and half-bum (as in, ‘Do you want to sit half-bum?’) has now adopted bland and the borrowed buzzwords. Nobody calls friends any more—instead they “reach out”. Nobody is preoccupied any more—instead they “just don’t have the bandwidth”. Just as everybody is “on the same page”, wears “bespoke” gowns, shops for “artisan” breads and “curates” their wardrobe.
Writing on the Wall
Mumbai is a predominantly grey city. It has unpainted buildings, splattered cement structures and smoggy skies. Which is why it’s nice to turn a familiar corner and find a hitherto dreary wall suddenly clad in sunny yellows, red smileys and Warli-style paintings.
Many walls in the city are undergoing a cheery transformation. Very often, NGOs or educational institutes organise paintathons—supplying paint, brushes and a theme to volunteers. But perhaps the most unexpected wall in the city acquired its art quite by chance. This wall—that runs along a tiny, leafy bylane connecting Zero and First Pasta Lane in Colaba—caught the imagination of a Danish tourist in 2011. Delighted by the expanse of smooth, grey cement, he whipped out his aerosol cans and launched into an enormous, squiggly graffiti in vivid purples, blues and yellows. Word spread quickly, and the tall ‘firang’ was soon the object of giggles and gawpery. Not to mention a delegation of indignant residents who wanted to know if he had “official permission”. By dusk, however, the local mechanics and bhajiawalas had adopted the spray-happy stranger. They plied him with chai, and rigged up makeshift lights so he could work into the night. By morning the wall was adorned with three enormous pieces of graffiti. Over the next couple of years, other tourists brought their own cans of paint and street-art styles to this corner of Colaba—making the wall quite a local attraction.
Of course, years of rain, sunshine and crowshit have dimmed its brash glory somewhat. But the wall is still a favourite backdrop for photographs and videos. And on days like Id or Easter, it attracts a steady stream of youngsters in fancy togs, who spend hours posing in front of giant blue letters and a painting of a one-eyed ball holding a bat.
Winter in Mumbai is always considered a bit of a joke—especially by visitors from colder climes. Okay, we don’t swaddle ourselves in pashminas and monkey-caps every time we step out, but there’s something special about this busy, silly season. It’s about the thousands of runners along Marine Drive, like silent figments in the pre-dawn murk, training for the marathon. It’s about school sports days and picnics, children’s litfests and the Kala Ghoda extravaganza. And, of course, it is about exotic, brightly plumed visitors who descend on the city: nris with every conceivable accent and enormous shopping lists; shaadi guests who dash from one flower-bedecked venue to another in a blur of sequins; and the quieter migrants that fly in every year, and find themselves a comfortable perch in the city’s leafy corners.
The ample banyan tree outside my window is one such spot—definitely highly rated accommodation on any Tripadvisor for Birds. Every year, different birds arrive around November and settle down to enjoy the urban jungle. There’s a kingfisher that flies from one branch to another in a dramatic flash of royal blue. There’s a white Paradise Flycatcher with its long rope-like tail, which is constantly being tugged by pesky crows. There are tiny sunbirds and ungainly grey speckled birds. And now we’ve started noticing a glorious yellow fellow that may or may not be a Golden Oriole.
My favourite shop sign in Mumbai is ‘Normal Juice Centre’. It raises one of those Hitchhiker’s-Guide-to-the-Galaxy kinda query: what on earth is abnormal juice?
...I tramped around the museum gardens plotting a scavenger hunt for a children’s literature fest. Met plenty of ants, Parsi busts and canons on the way.
Journalist Shabnam Minwalla’s debut novel is The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street, Hatchette; E-mail your diarist: sminwalla AT yahoo.com