MUMBAI


Have been busy at work since a few days. So, I was mostly absent from blog-planet (except for reading a couple of posts that fellow blog-mates had put out)

MumbaiWallah (MW) had put out a post, asking for information on public libraries in India. I could not think of any such libraries in India.

Later, MW wrote a nice & informative post about “Public Libraries in India“. That was when I thought – of course, the British Council Library in Mumbai – how did I forget !!

Some time back, when I was in school and still trying to get my multiplication tables correct, one of my cousins lived with us for some time. Dave ( name changed here 🙂 ) had just moved to Mumbai, in search of a better job & a better life. Even though Dave was my cousin, he was much older than me. He lived with us until he had adjusted to the city and was able to move into an accomodation on his own.

One of the first things that he did after he got a job at an office near V.T was to become a member of the British Council Library. And then he used to bring home these wonderful books. I found them wonderful because they were neat, clean and hard-bound. They would have this tracking page stuck on the inner cover, with blue rubber-stamped dates indicating when the book was due to be returned. And, I was still very young to actually understand what was in the books, or who the authors were.
Since Dave had to travel in the local train every day to & from work, he would finish reading the books quickly. Within two or three days, he would come home with a different coloured book 🙂
I would only notice the colour change in the book’s cover, whereas he actually would have returned a book and brought a different one home that evening.

Those were my memories of a library, until a few years later, I got my own library membership. The library that I joined was a simple circulating library, opened in a small unused shop, near where I lived. It was started from the charity of a big lot of second-hand books.

And the library mainly worked during the Summer and Diwali vacations, when hordes of school & college students would drop in for quenching their thirst for Enid Blyton, Ian Fleming, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Mills & Boon and even comics like Asterix, Tintin, Superman, Batman, Archies. Those vacations were days of fun – read a book within a day or two, and rush back to the ‘library’ to get started on the next one. Nothing else to worry about, nothing else to do !

Now on to something else that MW had said in the post requesting library information …
“I remember a library (or so it seemed) at the back of a municipal school near the big fish market in Chembur, Mumbai. The state of the building and the location in general did not encourage visitors”

I know exactly what she meant when she said about the location being not so encouraging to visitors 🙂     …     I don’t know if there is (was) a library behind the municipal school. But the big fish market is still there.

I had to walk past this particular ‘location’ whenever I needed to go to the Chembur Railway station. Partly due to my good luck and partly due to my love for travelling in the B.E.S.T buses, I have avoided going to Chembur station to a large extent. But when I did have to go that way, it was always an eye-opening experience.

Ok, before I proceed, would like to say this here. I am a vegetarian by preference. I do like eating my chicken and my sea-food, but I am not a connoisseur of any type of cuisine. I don’t know too much about food – I just eat whatever I get.

My only principle in eating is – I will eat whatever is readily & easily available, as long as it tastes “ok” and as long as its still not moving when brought to my table.

So, if any of you feel that in what I am writing next, I have offended your beliefs or your culture or your food – please understand that it is not so. I am just trying to explain the ‘fun’ of walking on a road where all your human senses are put to a test.

Now coming back to the Chembur Fish Market. On one side is the roadside fish market. A dozen or more vendors displaying and selling all types of fish, to people on their way home from work. Across the road – a poultry shop selling eggs & chicken. And all these people conveniently dump all their waste right there on the side – a rotting, stinking heap. If anyone with a blocked & stuffy nose was to walk that way, he would have his sense of smell back to normal even before you could say the words “Vicks Vaporub” !! 

Further up this road, there would be other not-so-pleasant sights & smells (especially in the mornings !) which I will talk about some other day.

That is enough said about stinking garbage near fish markets. Let me clean up this mess.

Talking about libraries & fish – the next book I take from the library will be “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. I still remember a story from that book, which I studied in school, in my English class. It was a hilarious account of a trout on display at an Inn and how everyone there was bragging about how they were the ones who had caught it.

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That particular afternoon, I was busy trying to understand the classification of animals – their Class, their Phylum etc. I just needed to hang on to this information for another 20 hours. The next day at the same time, I would have finished the last exam of my H.S.C Examinations (also called Pre-Degree or Plus-2 in Kerala, and probably many other names across India). After that, it would be pure, unadulterated freedom. All this only till the exam results come out, following which hell was sure to break lose at home.

I sat at my table, attempting to digest the differences between animals of Phylum Annelida & Phylum Arthropoda, when the ringing of the phone woke me from my crustacean dreams. It was Bhanu uncle, who worked with a company in Andheri. He asked me whether I had heard of it already.

Heard of what ?”
You haven’t heard of it then ! They say that bombs have gone off at three places in the city, including at the Bombay Stock Exchange
What! Oh

Now, this was a time when the satelite TV boom had just started in India. The boom had begun with CNN & its almost-live coverage of the war then going on in Iraq. So, back then, there weren’t three dozen Indian news channels spurting out the same news every hour in ten different languages. The only places to get live news about anything in India were still Doordarshan & All India Radio.

I turned on the TV. And sure, something was happening in the city. There was news trickling in, of various stories & rumours – about bomb blasts in various parts of Bombay (as it was called then)

I quickly called Brijesh, my class-mate & study-mate. He said he was about to call me. His father had called him with this news. His father worked in a building right next to the Air-India building at Nariman Point. Sitting in his office, Brijesh’s father had ‘felt’ the blast that had happened in the Air-India tower’s basement garage. The glass on their building had vibrated, and some panes had cracked.

By evening it had emerged that around 13 bombs had exploded in the city, all within a span of two hours. Scores of people dead, property worth millions damaged. And the whole city in a state of shock.

All that happened exactly 14 years ago, on this very date – the 12th of March.

Even after 14 years, that ‘Black Friday’ has left its scar on thousands of people. Scars that are not just physical, but a lot many mental scars too. So many sons, daughters, wives, husbands, siblings, parents lost that day. So many dreams blown away in a few seconds, by the dirty deeds of a handful of terrorists.

And, even after all these years, the judicial proceedings against the accused are still going on. Nobody has been punished, while the main perpetrators have evaded the arm of the law & long ago flown off to safety.

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The last post in a trilogy that I put down, inspired by a news-item — about an incident which happened in Mumbai on New Years Eve – December 2006.

Now that you are here, you may also want to read the earlier two posts –
The GOI Incident – I  : Payback“, “The GOI Incident – II : Hunted Down

Notice :  Everything written here is just an output of my imagination. It bears no resemblance to any person living or dead. The names I have used are random names that occured to me.

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— 14th Feb, 2014 – 5:45 PM – A palatial House in Mumbai —

Morpheus thumbed through the secret file of news-printouts and other little notes he had scribbled. Each page had been dated, and was in chronological order. He started with the “Dec, 2006 – Mumbai” page. This page had a news from the “Daily News & Analysis” newspaper.

This was followed by more printouts & notes. He only kept reading the titles on top of the pages –
May,  2011 – Bangalore – Cypher
July, 2012 – Mumbai – Abie
Jan,  2013 – New York – Andes

He paused at the “Jan, 2014 – Toronto – Jonzy” page. There was a printout from a Toronto city website, dated 23rd Jan 2014 —
“An Indian businessman, Mr. Jonzy  fell from the balcony of a rooftop Italian restaurant in Toronto. There were conflicting eye-witness reports about the accident. One lady said she had seen the guy having a few drinks and tottering around. She thought all that alcohol inside him caused him to lose his balance and topple over. But there was a waiter who said he thought he saw a man going too near to Mr. Jonzy and that man may have pushed Mr. Jonzy. The alleged ‘pusher’ made his exit in between all the commotion.
Mr. Jonzy had a few broken bones, but he was reported to be on the way to recovering soon and getting out of hospital in a couple of weeks.”

Morpheus added a new page to his ‘Payback-2006’ file. He was amused by the fact that in this case he did not have to do anything extra. The past incidents had created such an effect ! 

The page added was a news from a U.K newspaper website. It was about an Indian business consultant who had met with a fatal accident last week, on the M4 near Slough. No particular reason was known for the accident except that the driver possibly lost control and crashed to his death.

Morpheus knew what he had done on some occasions in the past was outside legal boundaries. But he did not care. He had immense wealth & power … & contacts all over the world. And he was just using some of that to make some people pay for the harm they had done. It was his own anonymous way of giving back to the society, to his city, to the people who love that city. Trinity was the 4th person he had ‘given back’ something !
He did not want any lives to be lost, but this particular case had gone out of his control.

Morpheus read the last few lines of the news article … Colleagues of Mr. Smyth, at the finance firm he was working for, told this newspaper-reporter that Smyth had started behaving a bit crazy since the last 10 days – it was as if some thing had shocked him out of his senses.  Just minutes before his accident,  Smyth is supposed to have told his friend on the phone  “The past catches up … it always catches up with you. No matter how far you try to run, your sins will come back and get you

Feb, 2014 – London – Smyth‘ – Morpheus wrote on top of the page, closed the file and added it to the others in his personal safe.

— 14th Feb, 2014 – 7:15 PM – Apartment in Singapore —

Trinity had joined Neo in Singapore in May. They had now settled down to life in what they had made their new home. They had wanted to leave Mumbai behind forever,  since that ‘black night’.

Through the past few months, they had received a few mails from the same anonymous id “payback2006-at-gwayindia.com”. The last had come 2 days ago, with a U.K news article.
This mail had this line at the end “Alls well that ends well. Signing out for now

Neo & Trinity wanted to leave the whole incident and its memories behind, and carry on with life. On seeing this mail, they thought “Nobody, not even close family & friends, knew about the fact that we both were the victims of that day. And, until now, no one had been able to find the people behind it. But it was nice to know that there is someone out there. Someone who knows … and who had set out to punish the guilty.”

Now putting all that behind them, they were on their way to a nice, romantic dinner at one of the big hotels in Marina Square. After all, this was their first Valentines Day together in Singapore, their new home !

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: You could also read : “The GOI Incident – I : Payback” :

Notice : Everything here is a figment of my imagination and bears no resemblance to any person living or dead. The names I have used are random names that came to my mind.
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— 3rd Jan, 2013 – 7:30 AM – Hospital in New York City —

He kept hearing weird noises. His head hurt like hell. He wanted to open his eyes – he wanted to shout for some water to soothe his parched mouth. But, he could not open his eyes nor was he able to speak. He seemed to be lost in this never-ending nightmare. Once or twice, he could hear people speak … somewhere very near to him.

“Has he shown any signs yet ?”
“No, Doctor. He has been in the same unconscious state since he was brought here 2 days ago. But, since yesterday evening, one keeps seeing a lot of R.E.M – as if he is on a marathon dreaming session”

Andes was struggling to open his eyes, and to tell the people around that he could hear them speak. But, the nerves inside him seemed to have got so jumbled that he could do nothing.

— 31st Dec, 2012 – 6:45 PM – New York City —

This was it … since a long long time, Andes had wanted to celebrate New Years Eve at Times Square. And here he was, just a few minutes from Times Square, sitting and enjoying fine food at a famous Indian restaurant near 5th Avenue. In about an hour or so, his fiancee would join him, and they will together ring in the new year — with millions of other people, in Times Square. And what a way to start 2013 – the year in which he was going to marry his love of 4 years. The year in which he had been promised to be moved up to the next rung in the corporate ladder. He couldn’t wait for it all to be kick-started.

Few minutes later, he had stepped out. He was still wondering what to do for the next hour, when he felt a sharp sting in his leg – almost like a mosquito bite. In less than a minute, the tall buildings started spinning around him. And then the sidewalk came up to kiss him on his left cheek, with a painful thud.

After what seemed to be a long time, he came back into a state of semi-consciousness. Somebody, some masked guy, was asking him about the Gateway of India. Nothing was totally clear, but he could make out a few words — ‘New Year’, ‘Mumbai’, ‘2006’.

And he remembered – that night a few years ago they had all gone from the office straight to the Gateway of India. And how it had finally turned into something which they all wanted to forget. His thoughts were suddenly interuppted by the pain of beating & kicking. ‘The Mask’ had now started beating  & kicking him continuously – and with all his energy. And there seemed to be another guy helping the masked-fella. What a way to ‘kick-start’ everything ! Andes soon lost consciousness again.

— 6th Jan, 2013 – 9:00 PM – Apartment in Bangalore —

As he kept the phone down, Cypher could not still get himself out of the shock of what he had just heard.

In May 2011, Cypher had been the victim of a supposedly freak assault. Coming home after a late night at the office, he had been attacked by 2 masked guys on a bike. They had broken a few of his bones and left him writhing in pain, on the street just outside his apartment-complex. And before riding off into the dark, they had mentioned something about being at the Gateway of India in 2006.

Since the whole ‘black’ incident of the Gateway of India was not known to people other than close family & friends, Cypher had always stuck to his statement that the attack on him was most likely a case of mistaken identity by some gangsters.
Cypher was bed-ridden with a few plasters for a month. But, after that, he was back at his desk, fighting tight project deadlines and tighter budgets.

Then, one night in July last year, Abie had been gruesomely attacked outside a multiplex in Andheri, Mumbai. The doctors could not save Abie’s right arm from the elbow, they had to put a steel-rod in his left leg and he had to be under bed-rest for 4 months. The ‘attacker’ had again mentioned the Gateway of India to Abie, which Abie had revealed only to Cypher.

At that time, Cypher & Abie had become certain of one thing … someone out there was watching them & their friends. But they could not go out and tell the police about this. Because it would mean spilling the beans about what happened at the ‘Gateway’ in the December of 2006.

Nobody, except for some close family & friends, knew … and most of those family & friends had since stopped speaking to them. No one else knew about the incident, or about the 5 guys involved.

And, now there was someone out there. Someone who knew … and was after them.

These 2 had begun to worry about Smyth, Andes & Jonzy. The 5 of them had been the main perpetrators of the ‘incident’, even though later things had gotten out of control and lot more guys had joined.
But then, rest of the three were well settled in their respective lives in different parts of the world. Nobody could possibly reach them in London, New York or Toronto.

Not true anymore …. because Andes had just been hunted down … hunted down in New York !

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This one is for you, Punds. Its also my tribute to the wonderful memories of ‘kattas’ that many of us have, and a salute to the wonderful city of Mumbai.

This post is inspired by the Sugandhi-Katta photo on Punds blog.

Punds, hope you won’t mind my interviewing Sugandhi-katta without taking your permission.
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—– A CHAT WITH SUGANDHI KATTA —–

She has always been there for all her friends. She has seen it all – Friendship & Rivalry, Affairs & Fights, Cricket-playing teenagers & Cycle-riding kids. She has seen people through their growing-up years – from school to college to their first jobs, and then she has seen the next generation grow up. At times, she has been hounded by paparazzi. Most of the times, she has been hated by parents. She has been ‘blogged’ about.

And, today in a chat with “Walkers & Talkers”, she says that she still has a lot more to see.

Walker Gupte (WG) : Hello and welcome to Walkers & Talkers. I am Walker Gupte and my guest today is Sugandhi Katta — who recently won the “Most Popular Katta of Mumbai” award at the ‘Public-Ka-Choice Awards’.
Sugandhi-ji, welcome to the show. And Congratulations on getting the award.
Sugandhi Katta (SK) : Thank you. And thank you for having me on the show.

WG : First, how does it feel to have an online presence ?
SK : One of my long time friends, Punds, was the first person to put a post about me on the internet, sometime last year. I felt proud that day, when some of the others sitting here mentioned that I was the first ever katta to be on the internet.

WG : You live in the hustle-bustle of Borivali. Tell us your thoughts about this suburb and the people here.
SK : Borivali is a wonderful & happening place. Given the fact that I am a katta, I have not travelled to other places. But my friends have travelled to places all over the world, from Australia to Netherlands to America. And I have heard them say that there is no place like home and that they always look forward to coming to Borivali again. So, I feel I am lucky to have been here, and to have known such nice people

WG : You have seen so many things. You would have so many memories. Could you share one or two unforgettable memories with us
SK : The most unforgettable incident that I will always remember is Roshan declaring his true feelings to Aditi. It happened right here. Very rarely did girls come over to sit with me. But then, that day, since no one else was around, Roshan & Aditi were sitting here talking about silly things, when suddenly Roshan popped the question. And Aditi said ‘Yes’. To think of it,  that was 12 years ago. Now, I hear they have moved to another flat a few minutes from here. But even now, on some days, Roshan & Aditi come for an evening walk together, in this ground.

WG : You mentioned Punds. Any other people you would like to mention here.
SK : Punds & I have known each other since a long time. He & some of his friends spent time with me even last month, when he was here on vacation for a few days.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Bittu, as he was known to all of us, played and honed his cricket skills in this very ground. He used to jog & exercise regularly, and to take breaks in between, he would come and sit with me, in the shade of this very tree. Well, Bittu is known as Vinodh Kamath to those cricket fans who have followed the 10+ Test matches and 40+ ODIs that he played for India. Vinodh used to visit me very regularly, from his school days right upto when he went to play Club Cricket in South Africa

WG : Thats about the time we have for today. Thank you, Sugandhi-ji, for sharing a few moments of your life with us. Before I go, is there anything that you would like to tell our viewers ?
SK : Just want to say this to all the viewers – Everywhere, in every corner of the world, there is a Katta like me, in one form or the other. We ‘kattas’ will always be there to support you, to listen to you. And we will always be with you – we will cry with you during the sad times, we will laugh with you during the nice times, we will share your sweat … and your sweets. For those of you who live nearby, I will always be here, watching out for you.

And, last but not the least, thank you very much to Punds, for putting out my story on his blog and for being the voice of all Kattas in this world.

There are various stories about how the  great scientist Sir Isaac Newton came up with the theory about ‘the laws of gravity’. Most of these stories revolve around an apple falling from a tree. People have various versions of the story — about when did the apple fall ? from which particular tree did it fall ? did it or did it not fall on Newton’s head ?

The scientific minded intellectuals are more interested in possible questions that the apple raised in Newton’s mind – ” Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground ? Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the earth’s centre ? ”

Now just think about a slight & funny change in location here – what if Newton was not in England, but in Kerala or Goa on that particular day.  First, the probability would be very high that he would have seen a coconut falling and not an apple. And then, given the number of coconut trees around, it would have been very likely that as he sat there, thinking of the many things going around in his intelligent head, the coconut would have landed on that very head !

The result might have been something very very different. Maybe the world today would have heard & read more about how amnesia caused by a freak accident robbed the world of a great scientist.

Or, like my young neighbour of many years ago, Bittu, had asked his 7th standard Science teacher – “So, if Isaac Newton had not found “gravity”, would that have meant us living in a world where nothing falls down ?

P.S. Writing about apples reminds me about the “HPMC – Apple Juice Stall” on Platform no. 1 at Bombay V.T station (or Mumbai C.S.T – to be politically correct). Wonder if the stall is still there ?  That was the place which introduced me to the sweet world of apple-juice, during my school-days … and I have remained addicted since then.

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* Notice : This is something that I have written based on a story reported in the media last week. Everything written in this post is a figment of my imagination and bears no resemblance to the persons in the actual incident or to any other person living or dead. The names I have used are random names that came to my mind.

Maybe, its just my way of putting out the anger that I feel, on reading of such an incident. And that the incident happened in my town, Mumbai. Mumbai which has been agreed to by many people, including members of the female sex, to be the “safest city in India to live in, travel around in”. Maybe the city is not so safe any more.

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— 3rd Jan,  2013 – 9:00 PM – Apartment in a town (somewhere in India) —

Trinity opened a new mail that she had just got. It was from someone she did not know.
There were 2 photos in the mail –  2 different photos combined side-by-side into a single jpeg file.

The first photo was a close-up of some guy, whom she did not recognise. Even though it was a close-up, seemed that the guy in the photo was lying unconscious on a pavement, and looked like he did not have his shirt on him. This fella seemed to be lying surrounded by what looked like confetti … loads & loads of confetti.

Trinity froze on seeing the second photo. It brought back memories of a horrible incident from 6 years back.
It was a photo in which Trinity herself could be seen. Of course, nobody could recognize her in the photo as only her back was seen in the photo not her face. But she knew who it was – for 2 reasons.  One, the photo had been made famous by the media, when the news of that incident had come out. Two, she knew it – because she was the one at the centre of the whole incident.

And suddenly she realized it. Trinity saw what the sender of the mail wanted her to see — the unconsious guy in the first photo, could be seen in the second photo too !!!
The same guy was standing right next to her, his face almost clearly seen, in the photo from six years back.

Apart from the photos, there were 2 website links in the mail – and nothing else. No details of the sender, no other text. And the sender’s mail id was obviously an anonymous id – “payback2006-at-gwayindia.com”

The first link said “Photographer captures girl being harassed by 60 men” – she knew this story better than what the media had published then.  The second link took her to some local New York news website, and she read the small article –

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Indian IT guy attacked on New Years Eve

A man was found badly beaten and in an unconscious state in one of the bylanes near the Times Square, in NYC, in the early hours of Tuesday. He was reportedly found sans any clothes on his body, and only the confetti from the previous night’s New Year celebrations at Times Square seemed to cover him. The cleaning people who had started out the huge task of cleaning the tons of confetti were the first to notice him.

He was taken to the hospital. An hospital spokesperson said that the guy is still in an unconscious state and that he has multiple injuries & fractures in both his legs. He is currently under medical observation.
The identity of the person has been revealed as Andes, an Indian IT professional who seems to be working for one of the big finance firms in New York. The hospital authorities have asked for anyone who knows this person to contact them.

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Trinity was lost as to who could have done this. The only other person who knew about the 2006 incident was her husband of 8 years, Neo – and that was because Neo was there with her when it all had happened. They had not spoken about it to any living soul. They had even promised each other that they will never ever mention the traumatic incident again, even among themselves. And at this very moment, Neo was in Singapore, where he had taken up a new job in November. There was no way he could have anything to do with this.

The phone rang, shaking Trinity out of her thoughts.

‘Hey, its me. I just got an e-mail with 2 photos ! ‘