August 09, 2018

Sidewalk Scribbler


Crawford Market
Crawford Market Building (on the right)
We emerged from the subway on D. N. Road and walked past the majestic Times of India building toward Crawford Market.

Victoria Terminus (renamed CST)
If it weren’t for the crowds on the footpath, I’d look for reasons to take this route on leisurely walks about town at every opportunity, for, the old Raj era buildings that rise roadside impose their majesty on the seeming chaos presented by scurrying humanity largely centred around V.T. (Victoria Terminus), disappearing into and emerging from it with the same alacrity as headless chickens except the masses align with a method in the madness of Mumbai, or maybe not.

But the crowds preclude any such thought, most times that is.

The Gothic stone buildings resonate of a city that arose on the back of the vision its builders and planners, primarily the British and the Parsis, and to a lesser extent the others, gave it – one of architectural grandeur and splendour befitting its potential as a great port city, a harbour as much for ships as for the commerce they generate on trade routes Mumbai (Bombay) sits on.

BMC
From old photographs of the city it’s still possible to sense the interplay of Bombay’s Raj era architecture with its then sparsely populated streets, their relative emptiness a perfect foil to the architecture, allowing the majesties in stone impose their royalty onto broad streets, never letting up.

With little or no distractions around, I imagine people at the turn of the last century went about their lives aware of their place in the grandeur around, almost taking it for granted, each making space for the other at the same time each lent the other meaning with their presence.


But things have changed. The peace of the Mumbai of the old has been punctured by the pace of migrant influx largely from the North that’s accelerated over the last decade to the extent that the only peace to be had is if you can fashion a bubble around yourself in the midst of swirling crowds and keep your head down.

Enter the smartphone! A device you can lose yourself in even while all around you are seemingly losing their minds.

Even better, immerse in a book. Many still do on their commute to work though not as much outside of the commute as one might expect, say, in gardens and benches around the city except Mumbai has barely any benches streetside where one can rest awhile and open a book if only to flip pages.

Mumbai is a largely ‘Standing Only’ city to those seeking some respite out on the road.

Sir J. J. School Of Art
And if you cannot afford a smartphone, or books, or a home then the options are even more limited in seeking a bubble to cocoon in except in the one instance I came upon close to three years ago when we walked down the footpath past J.J. School Of Art and Architecture toward Crawford market.

An old Muslim woman sat hunched over a book and a notebook on the pavement, writing in the notebook verses from the other book she balanced on her outstretched leg, oblivious to people walking past her, oblivious to honking cars roadside, oblivious to life itself.


Hair oiled and neatly tied into a pony tail, dressed in an old and worn salvar kameez, she peered through her glasses while copying into her ruled notebook what I can only imagine to be Urdu text possibly from the Koran.

I cannot imagine what else it could be if not the Koran.

Her possessions were stacked by her side on the footpath, carrots strewn to one corner, a water bottle re-purposed to hold some cooking oil, cheap steel plates and cooking utensils.


Her footwear was placed neatly behind her; a rose graced an ankle strap on one. It’s likely she was working on her writing bare-feet out of respect for the Holy Book in her lap.

Everything about her was orderly and dignified. Everything single thing.

This was as unlikely a sight as any I’ve come across among the homeless population I see on my commutes and travels across the city, and for this reason alone I could not help but wonder of the circumstances that conspired to push an obviously educated Muslim woman, likely sans her immediate family, to a lonely, homeless existence on the street at the mercy of the Municipality, and without any obvious way to support her as far as I could tell.

What fate had intervened in her life to turn her onto the streets of Mumbai?


Was the book she was copying from lent to her and so she was making a copy of it for her own use? Or was it the case that she owned the book but was copying it down to practice her writing or maybe to better commit to her memory the content of the book? Or was it a way to keep herself busy and retain her familiarity with the written word?

I had no way of knowing.

As we walked past her and put some distance between us, I turned around for a glance.


She was still bent over her notebook scribbling into it, nary a glance to the bustle around her, a forlorn figure dwarfed by commuters, alone and destitute. She was lost in her bubble however temporary a moment in the likely permanence of her own state.

Around her the British era buildings lent the Mumbai skyline a majesty matched only by the homeless woman bent over a book in quiet concentration, at once contrasting with the teeming multitude of sounds hiding moments of contemplation for passers-by in the moment they noticed her.


August 08, 2018

Prakash – Light, And Enlightenment




If there’s a definition for a hole-in-the-wall business then you need look no further than Mumbai footpaths. 

While it’s not exactly a hole in the wall where a hand reaches out through an opening in the wall fronting a room at the back, Prakash Light House comes pretty close to it, in more ways than one.

Prakash Light House functions from a footpath some way off Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai. A small cupboard space knocked back into the building's facade holds drawers and open shelves stacked with boxes of armatures for electrical motors, electrician tools, meters and plug points affixed to cupboard doors that open out onto the street and close behind it.

The armatures stacked in the shelf were a veritable advertisement for various armature brands – DCA, DCK, Electro Power, HID, Topline, Hongyu, Dewalt, and Hitachi among others. If you need any further evidence of the extent of Chinese penetration into Indian manufacturing space, you'll find them on this shelf.    

A short platform, not more than four feet long and barely a foot and half wide, enough to work on electrical motors sent in for repairs, juts out on the footpath. The owner sits facing the shelves, his back to the street, while he works on straightening out electrical appliances.

To a corner of this platform or work-bench, facing the street, sat a seemingly contented cat, keeping the busy owner company. It was an unlikely pair from the looks of it.


If I were to hazard a guess, I’d imagine the cat having driven a fair bargain with the owner to provide him company, rather eyes on the street while he has his back turned to it, in return for a ledge off the crowded footpath. In time I’m sure it came to share his meals as well.

Everything about this small setup seemed perfect, right down to the name of the shop – Prakash Light House.

“Prakash” is Sanskrit for “Light” and is a given name in India to males. Used metaphorically, “Prakash” (Light) is used to indicate ‘enlightenment’, rather ‘source’ of enlightenment.

If ever the shop needed additional emphasis as to the nature of business conducted within, Prakash Light House more than sufficed.

It’s not uncommon to name shops after the owner. If the shop owner sitting at his work bench was Prakash himself then whoever named him after ‘Light’ was prescient to know what awaited the child in the future.

Curious, I asked after the cat’s name and a man sitting on the other end of the workbench, likely the owner of the adjacent footpath-shop, replied, “Kaloo”.

“Kaloo,” I repeated to ensure I’d heard it right because the cat was not black to be called “Kaloo”.

“Actually, its name is Kalidas,” he clarified, implying it’s easier to short-name it to ‘Kaloo’.

“Kalidas as in named after ‘Kalidas’ the famous poet?" I responded.

Both smiled.

“Yes” came the answer, “named after the poet Kalidas.”

I smiled at the thought of Kalidasa, the legendary Sanskrit poet and dramatist from 4th-5th Cent. B.C., living on in the soul of a seemingly bored Mumbai cat who couldn't be bothered to fish for food if it could inveigle lodging and boarding from the owner, passing contented purring as poetry.

But who knows. Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction.

And so the last piece fell into place.

‘Prakash’ as ‘Light’ (read shop), and ‘Prakash’ as ‘Enlightenment’ (read ‘The Poet Cat’) covered both bases, and it took a cat to do it.


August 01, 2018

A Double Act At The Airport

Sometime back I travelled to the Santacruz Airport before A caught his flight out of Mumbai for home after landing the US Visa for his upcoming US trip at the time.

He spoke of the travails of getting the visa and was enthusiastic about his role supporting his team on the US expedition.

We didn’t have much time to catch up before his boarding call. It was good to see him after long.

The snacking area outside Arrivals was crowded with people either awaiting arrivals or accompanying those departing.

Come to think of it, there isn’t much of a conversation to be made when you’re counting down the clock. More often than not, if you’re not compulsively eating then you’re compulsively checking your feeds on smartphones when you're not conversing.



That day however a kitten decided it’d relieve the ‘waiting stress’ by going after the dog’s tail as it made its rounds to tables looking for scraps of food.

The tail acquired life, and life acquired the kitten and those sitting at tables and elsewhere in the vicinity. The dog couldn’t care less. This pair was a team if ever there was one, beguiling snackers with their adorable act. Hustlers no less but eminently welcome.



If there was anyone stressed by the thought of flying that day, it’d be safe to say this double act will've calmed their nerves.

February 18, 2018

You Came, (Am) Happy




The first contact with a rickshaw on a crowded and noisy Mumbai road, from the time you hail it as it rolls along the road and you get a look at the rickshaw driver trying to catch his eye as he slows down to acknowledge you, sometimes barely appearing to do so as he sizes up your fare worth, lasts little more than a second or two.

But to a commuter seasoned from travelling in and around Mumbai, that second or two spent taking in the face of the rickshaw driver, and his general demeanour will often reveal in surprising clarity the likely result of their attempt to hail it.

Faces say a lot, most times that is.

A couple of years ago when I saw Suresh Pawar’s face I knew he wouldn’t turn me down. And he didn’t. Soon I was to find out why.

~

“The main thing is the customer should feel comfortable,” Suresh Hemji Pawar replied in Marathi, his eyes fixed on the road ahead.


After getting into his rickshaw at Mulund Check Naka I was pleasantly surprised at finding a designer carpet cover the passenger side of the three-wheeler’s floor, a rare sight, my first in over a decade of travelling in auto-rickshaws here in Mumbai and anywhere.


Most rickshaw floors are bare metal except during monsoons when many rickshaw drivers will cover the floor with rubber mat to protect the metal from rains blowing in and from passengers’ stepping into the back of the rickshaw in wet footwear and umbrellas dripping rainwater.

Mumbai’s monsoons and humidity levels can quickly rust metal. In other seasons there’s nothing to cushion your feet from the rumbling metal.

So it was a surprise to see the designer carpet in Suresh Pawar’s rickshaw, the kind you rarely see in homes now, more because they need maintenance and people now are not only more casual in their tastes in general but hard-pressed mentally to expend effort in maintaining anything, likely driven by their soul turning consumerist, celebrating change rather than getting into the mach-mach culture of retain, repair, and reuse.

One indication of lesser demand for such carpets is now I see fewer carpet sellers making rounds of neighbourhoods where I live, used to live, and where I travel to on my jaunts elsewhere.

The design is common to Kashmiri carpets and used to be a rage in the years gone by when households sought to communicate a “rich” ambience about their drawing rooms centred on showcases, with pride of place reserved for the colour TV that beamed two channels if you were lucky.

In homes with windows brightly lighting up living rooms, the heavy carpets came off well, their greys, browns or reds contrasting positively with the light unlike in poorly lighted rooms where they would add to the gloom and dreary, and misery if the owners matched the mood.  

I’d find it hard to sit long in those living rooms. That was then when I was still cheery and bright and lively.  

~



I shifted my feet to take in the designs at the first traffic signal at Teen Haath Naka. The carpet was aged, holes dotted it. But it didn’t matter. What did matter was it sought to lend a living room feel to the tiny back of the rickshaw in the middle of rousing traffic bumping along potholed roads, cushioned by the bolster serving as a shoulder-rest on the side of the rickshaw. Small pleasures.  

While its absence wouldn’t have made travel any less physically difficult than it was, its presence, as with trappings generally, lent the mood a positive spin, maybe comforting even, as Suresh Pawar had intended. Pawar is a surname common to Marathas and Dalits.

Suresh Pawar’s rickshaw bounced gently compared to most rickshaws I’ve been in that rattle until your skeleton reminds you of every bone that makes it whole or one that is missing. The treatment is thorough.

I wasn’t surprised in the least bit that Suresh had ensured the shock absorbers worked well. He looked the upright, no nonsense, methodical sort who had his principles and lived by them, a not uncommon trait I’ve come across in some Marathi-speaking, Maharashtrian rickshaw drivers, a socialist demeanour so to speak.

I gathered courage and rested my back against the backrest, comforted in knowledge that I’d be insulated from the worst jerks on the road. I felt welcomed.

It’s instructive about the state of affairs how a rarity becomes luxury when in fact it should be given.



After all, the first thing you see upon getting into his rickshaw is – आपण आलत आनंद आहे (You came, (am) happy).  आपण (You / yourself) आलत (came) आनंद  (happy/joyous) आहे.



At first I had blindsided आ, the letter common to each of the four words, and tried to make sense of पण लत नंद हे before realising my mistake.


 

 Suresh Pawar had laughed it off, saying, “even when read separately (without ) they’ve meaning.”

He had a point. Though our journey came to an end before he could elaborate on the meaning the words had separate from आ, it was apparent if you could see the obvious.

पण “but” लत “addiction” नंद “joyous” (is) – read consecutively reads as “but addiction is joyous” even with a bit of a stretch with 'लत' 

Addiction to what is missing unless it’s to the hospitality as Suresh Pawar made evident with his “The main thing is the customer should feel comfortable.”

While  ननद (Nanad) is more commonly used to reference the husband’s sister, a term restricted for use by the wife, it is also substituted by नंद (Nand) in some regions of India.

I got off to Suresh waving at me as he kicked his rickshaw into gear, with an ‘Anand ‘ look about me the brief encounter had facilitated on a hectic day.



~
Other – 

नंद वंश (Nand Vansh) was a large kingdom in ancient India, dating 5th – 4th century BC with Pataliputra as the capital before being overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya. The Nand dynasty came to be known for their military prowess and immense wealth.  

नन्द बाबा (Nand Baba) was the head of a tribe of cowherds (Yadav caste) known as Gopas, and came to be known as the foster-father of Lord Krishna after Krishna’s father Vasudeva took the child Krishna to his brother, Nand, to raise him. 


February 17, 2018

Hamara Bajaj In Bora Bazaar




Of late it no longer feels like a long walk from Kala Ghoda to V.T since the time we took to winding our way through Bora Bazaar, dodging people and vehicles without taking our eyes off the myriad stationery and other shops and happenings along and on the narrow road that runs straight before exiting a short way off the iconic railway station.

We both revel in the old world charm of the place, from the shops, the people and the wafting conversations. It’s a place that calls to the organic nature of its character, a bazaar that’s more like a neighbourhood than a place of sterile commerce.

It helps if you’re in no hurry to get someplace, a luxury we were fortunate to have early this week, and a relief after the interminable wait for our turn with the token at the bank round the corner.

The little ‘nothings’ along the way make long walks a breeze. This time around it was the unlikely appearance of an old Bajaj scooter with an empty sidecar.


The scooter with the sidecar seemed to appear out of the blue before slowing down to find a way through the busy Bora Bazaar street. 

An old Bajaj scooter with a sidecar is not a common sight anymore though I’ve seen a few of late, so when one made an appearance with an elderly couple in crisp white that set off their presence against the alternating greys of the bazaar, the character of the street reverted ever so slightly to the good old days as I’d imagine the bazaar to be.

The gent astride the scooter kept his eyes on the jumble of the traffic ahead while the lady took in the view about her. The scooter seemed to be family, a comforting presence by the virtue of having served them for a long time, beginning with middle class aspirations for mobility, upward as well as transportation.

It was a Hamara Bajaj moment no less, even if far removed from its origins, and era.

It didn’t take long for the iconic tune to well up in my head as they floated ahead, their demeanour set firmly in the middle-class and family values from an era long gone, when a newly energised middle-class tuned in to Hamara Bajaj on their telly in the eighties.

I tried to imagine their youthful faces from three decades ago, of the moment they were handed over the scooter, their first ride together, the space they made for the third person in the sidecar. I must have smiled at the thought for I caught a worker looking at me with a bemused look on his face unless I imagined the reason behind his seeming bemusement.



We paused to let the scooter pass before catching up with it as it waited to pass a tempo carrier, blocking access to pedestrians seeking to squeeze past them. I didn’t mind in the least.  

Every once in a while, hurdles by way of vehicles jamming the considerable foot traffic are more an opportunity to pause and take in the sights jammed cheek by jowl on either side of the street than an irritant.

This is all the more true if one does not have to catch a train from V.T. which  however most people do as they stream in a single minded march, head high, eyes fixed in the direction of the exit the moment clocks strike six and offices across Fort begin to empty of workers from all over the city and beyond.

Some things haven’t changed even if the Hamara Bajaj era did!

~

I’m writing this to the tune of Aa Chal Ke Tujhe Main LeKe Chalu wafting from the kitchen. “My dad used to sing this,” K tells me as I let the song wash over the Hamara Bajaj one, reaching further back in time to an India of a time long before me.

December 08, 2017

Transition: Moments in Crossing, An Exhibition Of My Street Photographs


Click to enlarge

My street photography exhibition – Transitions: Moments in Crossing – opens at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, next week from Dec 13 to Dec 19 (all days), 11 am – 7 pm.

The 50+ photographs going on display were made over the years of commuting to work and travelling around the city on weekends, and on travels beyond the city, each instance providing a window seat into teeming masses immersed in the everyday of being.

I sought. maybe I didn’t really seek, moments that place the everyday in historical, cultural, traditional and geographical contexts. And where they don’t, I sought moments devoid of drama or in the very moment of promising one.

They are about people, their immediate and far contexts, and their lives on the street. Moments caught in transit. Moments that came to stay with me. Moments that cemented my impression of the place and its people.

I’ve attempted to turn the fleeting into a temporary permanence, seeking their meaning as much in what the framed moments seek to reveal as in their act of concealment for, meanings live in dualities, and die in convergence.

Among the places I'll be featuring are Jaipur, Delhi, Bundi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Nashik, Kolkata, Goa, Murshidabad, Bijapur, Benares, Afzalpur, Baroda, Pushkar, and Mumbai among others.

~


Click to enlarge

Why Transitions?

In the street I seek to make memories of my time on it, seeking moments that bring alive its character in frames frozen street side, anchoring the memories to unfolding dramas, often unscripted, mostly ordinary, sometimes unusual, occasionally unexpected.

Each picture seeks to sit at the convergence of anticipation and surprise to remind me of the delight, however temporary, at seeing this materialise first hand, transforming the street forever, its character now tied inextricably to that one moment as it transitioned from the banal to delightful.

For, on the street the degree of separation between the innocuous and the piquant, the ordinary and the novel, the dreary and the absorbing is often so narrow as to be invisible unless in a tiny sliver of an opening when life reveals its magic in a fractured moment while transitioning from the banal to the prosaic, the shutter comes down at the very moment of transition, freezing life in all its quirks, conflicts, endearments, forebodings, intrigues, and contradictions.

It’s these transitions I sought on my meanderings, seeking meaning and the meaningful, where a seemingly plain moment crosses over into the unexpected at the moment its form and function align together to delight the eye and invigorate the senses.

~

Click to enlarge

Do come over and see the exhibition, and if family and friends are not averse to seeing yet another India-centric exhibition of photographs, bring them along too, and help put the word out. Thanks in advance.

Venue: Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai
Duration: 13 Dec – 19 Dec, 2017 (open on all days).

Timings: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

~

Exhibitions

2017 – Group /  Gulf Photo Plus, Dubai, UAE.
2017 – Group /  Darkroom Gallery, Vermont, USA
2017 – Group /  PH21 Gallery, Budapest, Hungary.
2017 – Group /  South x Southeast Gallery, Georgia, USA.
2017 – Group /  Slifka Center, Yale University, Connecticut, USA.
2014 – Solo    /  Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, India.
2012 – Solo    /  Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, India.

Awards & Other

2017 – Finalist, Daily Life category, 10th Pollux Awards.

April 09, 2017

Of Nameplates and Neighbourhoods


Name Plate

Dr. M. A. Misquita’s Family’

The nameplate bearing the name of the doctor is set in the wall, held firm by four iron clamps that betray their age, that of the nameplate, and of the house.

The neighbourhood is even older, among the oldest in the city.

The use of ‘family’ leaves no doubt that Dr. Misquita intended for succeeding generations to share the same roof, through thick and thin, in turn contributing to the neighbourhood retaining its cultural identity.  

Two more nameplates hang from the wall.

Dr. Apolinario Fernandes

Dr. Lawrence Fernandes

They’re both new relative to the one bearing Dr. Misquita’s name and hang from nails and can be easily lifted off the wall unlike the older nameplate that’s held fast by metal clamps.

While all three are doctors, the latter two include their professional qualifications (M.B.B.S) while the former doesn’t, likely indicating a medical degree of an earlier provenance, maybe from before independence.

Since medical profession seems to run in the family, I wonder if succeeding generations from the Misquita family will in turn affix newer nameplates, designed after practices of their time, each occupying a pride of place amidst those from before.

The difference in the design of the name plates, their wall fixings, the noting (and the lack) of medical qualifications attest to changes in practices over the years just as the renovations to old houses in old neighbourhoods sit uncomfortably with the older layers and constructs.

Like layers of earth exposed during archaeological digs, each succeeding layer revealing an earlier era, so do neighbourhoods in transition, where continuous habitation of homes by succeeding generations ensures that time trails off slowly, the passing of each moment frozen in elements surviving from an earlier time, of an earlier people, of an earlier way of life.

When Bombay loses its old neighbourhoods as it certainly will, replaced by high rises with entrances turned away from the street, walking through neighbourhoods will be no different from walking among nameless, indistinguishable boxes with little of no indication of the lives within, for, in the tell tale signs visible from the street, neighbourhoods talk to passers-by, welcoming them with signs of habitation that attest to identities by way of nameplates among others.

Without nameplates and doors facing streets, neighbourhoods are poorer on their identity.

February 15, 2016

Smartphone Immersion


Packed with commuters heading home, surviving the squeeze in the compartment of a rush hour local from V.T. is less about withstanding the crush with your might than it is about being oblivious to it.

While there's no "physical" escape from the crowded confines of train cars bearing Mumbai's burdened, there's however an escape for the mind.


Here, in an area where two commuters would be hard pressed to find comfort for their legs, four are plugged into their smartphones, each watching a Bollywood movie of their choice without moving their legs; to do so would upset the equilibrium of ‘settled’ space. To still your legs, still your mind and what better medicine to achieve the latter than Bollywood's bombed films.



Oblivious to waves of commuters entering and exiting the train car, they're immersed in Bollywood plots, most of which bombed at the box office but nevertheless live on in little devices offering much succour to harried office goers seeking to shut out their everyday realities in 4-odd inch screens.

February 08, 2016

Goa’s Roadside Crosses, Marigolds, And Fish Baskets

It was a grey August morning when I stepped out and made for the bus-stand for a bus to Margao. Clouds had opened up from before dawn and the light had taken on a desultory tone.

I had woken up to rain drops hammering corrugated sheets instead of the customary bird songs in the trees. If it wasn’t for an appointment to keep at the Three Kings Church in Cuelim I’d have returned indoors and waited out the rain. Instead I struggled with my umbrella and got into a mini bus for Margao.

The Kadamba mini bus was crowded and everyone who had climbed aboard dry soon gave up on fending off raindrops trickling from umbrellas as commuters packed tight in the aisle struggled to keep them from wetting fellow passengers. There were too many umbrellas and too little space to manoeuvre the hand in defence. Goan mini buses are mini in every sense of the term.

We set off for Margao.

As the mini bus picked up speed, the rain came horizontally at the windows. I had my task cut out between opening them when the drizzle thinned and closing them shut when skies sent a volley of mischievous downpour.


The mini bus began emptying out as passengers got off at the various stops along the way.


As it crested the hill in Borim, pausing by the St. Francis Xavier Church before the bridge over the Zuari, I got my first good look at the skies leaden iron from heavy clouds brooding over lush countryside.

Riding over the bridge at Borim enroute to Margao and back never fails to bring back memories of growing up in Goa.


In time, past Camurlim, and Raia, a familiar landmark at Fatorda emerged roadside, one I used to keep an eye out for as a child – the PWD office building – because it meant Madgaon was around the corner. 

Past the PWD building, the traffic slowed down as it approached the roundabout opposite Fatorda stadium. Three policemen stood roadside by a police jeep.



A blue Maruti Suzuki car stood in the middle of a roundabout, in front of a two-wheeler it had knocked down – the two protagonists in the collusion, a common sight on roads in Goan monsoons. I hoped it was nothing serious.

The mini bus made its way past the mishap, to the bus-stand where I would board a Cansaulim-bound bus on my way to The Three Kings Church atop a hill.

~


A light drizzle fell over Margao bus-stand as I stepped off the mini bus and went in search of another bound for Cansaulim. Mini buses were parked in two opposite rows, each servicing routes into and out of Margao.

“Cansaulim?” I queried a bus driver waiting by his bus.

"Last one," he said, pointing to the end of the line. I walked up to the mini bus and finding empty seats managed to squeeze into one toward the front of the bus.

It was nearing ten in the morning. An overcast sky lingered overhead, menacing scurrying passengers hoping to stay dry on their way about the day.


No sooner I had settled into the seat by the door, knees scrapping the backrest ahead, a man stumbled into the mini bus with a large jute sack of flowers. 



He returned with a second sack containing marigolds before hauling them both into the driver’s cabin. A fragrance of marigolds took hold of the bus and lent the morning a garden freshness.

Somewhere along the way the two sacks will be dropped off at some flower market or maybe they’ve been requisitioned for some event. Either way I’m glad I’ve marigolds for company.

Just as the bus starts up, a speeding Maruti van comes to a halt at the door and a man leaps out from the driver's side before hauling a basket of fish packed in ice from the back of the van to the bus, leaving it on the steps as he returns for the second basket.


A fisherwoman hurries out of the van and requests the bus conductor, a lad in his early twenties, to let her haul her basket of fish into the mini bus. It's a delicate bargain, for it's not unknown for passengers to turn their noses up and glare at the bus conductor should the fish choose an inopportune moment to perspire the hell out the air inside a crowded mini bus.

“I’ll give you 50/- extra,” she cajoles him into agreeing. I suspected he'd agree without any blandishment.


Then a basket of ice lands over the basket of fish. One more basket of fish follows and soon the fragrance of marigolds collides with that of mackerels (bangde in Konkani).


The fisherwoman thanks the driver of the Maruti van and takes a seat at the front of the mini bus before gathering the three baskets by her feet. She’s soaking wet.

“To Majorda,” she tells the bus conductor, offering him the fare.


Her dress, unique to fisherwomen from Salcete, marks her out as a Christian, not that her Konkani accent or the Cross around her neck had left any doubt about it. She seemed hassled from the strain of transporting her baskets of fish.

It’s likely she had bought these fish straight off a fishing trawler that landed its catch that morning on some beach before travelling to Majorda to sell them roadside.

Soon after catching her breath and arranging the baskets around her feet, she thanked the bus conductor for helping her haul the baskets in, and turning to a fellow passenger she said, "There were no rickshaws available today (to bring these baskets) so I came by Maruti van.”

Chal ya, chal,” (Let’s go) the bus conductor called out over the hum of passengers, and the mini bus set off.

Soon after setting off, the minibus stopped by a roadside Cross located in a paddy field. Two women were working the field some way off.

The bus conductor got off the bus with a garland of marigolds, and stripping off his sandals he walked down the steps to the Cross bedecked with similar garlands offered by believers seeking blessings of the Cross.

It soon became apparent that the mini bus was making its first run of the day and the pious observance at the Cross was to seek blessings for the unfolding day, a ritual that seeks a divine shield against the vicissitudes of business and life, rather business of life or vice versa.

Offering prayers on the morning run is about seeking blessings for a “good day” and the well being of the driver and the bus conductor, and hopefully of the passengers as well.

The fisherwoman watched the bus conductor walk down the passage to the Cross shielded by corrugated sheets.


A candle-stand stood to one side, blackened by burned out candles and heaped with two marigold garlands that had probably made way for a new one around Jesus Christ. The two women bent in the rice field did not look up as the khaki clad bus conductor made his way to the Cross.

The lush green of the rice field contrasted with the grey of the monsoons. The countryside was quiet.


Once there, he hung the garland on the image of Jesus Christ and prepared to retrace his steps when the fisherwoman called out to him from inside the bus asking that he bring back marigold flowers from the garlands kept on the candle-stand.  


At first he could not understand her. Then he hesitated, for, the two garlands on the candle stand were offerings made to Jesus Christ by someone and probably removed by another worshipper to make way for his own garland. To mess with them would mean disrespect but the fisherwoman in the bus would have none of his hesitation.

She implored he bring her some flowers that had graced the Cross.




Soon passengers joined in. So he reluctantly picked up one of the garlands left on the candle-stand and returned to where he had left his sandals to put them on. 


He plucked two flowers from the garland and handed them over to the fisherwoman.


She smiled and touched them to her forehead before sticking them into her basket of fish, considering the basket suitably blessed by Christ.

A glow came over her. I imagined her day would go better now than when she started out in the morning, likely selling all her fish for a tidy profit.

The driver changed gears and we were off once again, but not for long.



He stopped at another roadside Cross and this time the bus conductor got off with two garlands – one for Mother Mary enclosed in a glass case and the other for the adjacent Cross.



A passenger alighted. The Sun has broken through and lit up the village in a warm embrace.


Each time the minibus stopped at myriad stops to take in passengers, mostly women going about their morning tasks, the fisher-woman would smile and wish them, apparently regulars on the bus.

Talk would turn to fish and the fish business. She lamented to them that fish prices have gone up and buyers balk at buying them in quantities they used to when they were affordable.

Earlier in the day, soon after getting into the bus, she had requested the bus conductor to drop her before a regular stop in Majorda, seeking assurances he would help her offload her baskets. He had nodded in the affirmative. And as an incentive, she had said she'd give him 50/-.


When the bus stopped at Majorda where the Konkan Railway line ran close, he helped her offload her three baskets of fish and ice, much to her relief. She was getting on in years and a long day awaited her.


He didn't remind her of the 50/- she had "promised" him, instead he smiled when she looked his way and said "Dev Borrey Korum," (Konkani for May God Bless You) before jumping back onto the foot-board. And we were off again.

A faint smell of fish from offloaded baskets lingered on amidst fragrance of marigolds as the bus trundled toward Cansaulim.

Her blessings to the bus conductor stayed with me as I prepared to get off at the Florists shop off Cansaulim Church and await P for a ride up to the Three Kings Church.