November 14, 2007

A Prestige Issue

Each time I raise my head in a Bombay lane to see where I’m going it surprises me to see surroundings I didn’t know existed, more so when I have been that way before. I would have thought that a walk through a lane is good enough to notice everything there is to see along the lane - buildings, names of buildings, shops, names of shops, compound walls, gates, name plates, and any prominent landmarks like temples, and petrol pumps among other things.

Over time I’ve learnt that it is not so simple, at least not in Bombay (renamed Mumbai). One way to look at it is there is something new to see each time you pass that way unless of course you pass that way so frequently that you eventually see everything there is to see and get around to remembering it all.

Thinking of it I believe that unless I were to raise my head at the same spot along the lane each time I take it chances are I’ll notice something new even if it is only for a moment that I raise my head before returning my attention to the footpath. A slight delay in doing so and I run the risk of stepping on a sleeping form on the footpath, bumping into a tree that rises along the edge of the sidewalk, twisting my ankle where the floor has gone missing, stumbling against hawkers’ wares, stepping on dog-droppings or even worse human-droppings. Then there is this continuous stream of folks coming from the opposite direction that I need to dodge to avoid stumbling over.

So, much as I watch with a smile television footage of bumbling personalities of ‘note’ tripping over weak knees wobbly from age but reluctant to let go of levers of power, making a spectacle of themselves while the nation suffers the indignity of parading weak-kneed netas who literally need to be held up on their way to the dais where a speech exhorting the nation to march ahead with its head held high awaits, I would much rather avoid making a spectacle of myself on the footpath even if I’m a nobody. There is nothing graceful in a fall, even if it were an accident.

I’ve noticed people who’ve lost their footing while walking, tumbling to the pavement and on regaining their footing rushing on without meeting sympathetic eyes, driven along as much by embarrassment as by the indignity of it all. A fall is ungainly, an antithesis of all that is dignified, besides looking foolish. A certain fallibility is associated with a fall, any fall else how does one explain ‘he’s fallen in my eyes’, ‘it’s beneath my dignity’, ‘his self-esteem fell’, ‘a fallen woman’, ‘he fell from grace’?

So, when I took an infrequent path one day not far from the Matunga Road station, keeping my head down to avoid the indignity of falling over any of the many reasons ‘inhabiting’ Mumbai footpaths, I raised my head ever so momentarily only to be pleasantly surprised to see this building I had missed noticing earlier.

I smiled before dropping my head and turning my attention to the footpath for, there was little time or for that matter, space, to actually pause on the footpath and look around. To do so would mean suffering the indignity of being stared at by a stranger for blocking their way, or worse still being rudely shouldered aside.

In other words it would mean 'a loss of face', and with it prestige.

As to why it took me another trip that way several days later to notice the other building not far from the first one, well, I would have to start all over again to explain it!

Dignity is after all a prestige issue. So long!


Mridula said...

I am came back to your blog after quite some time and I have to say I enjoyed reading it all the more.

IdeaSmith said...

Ha! This is brilliant!

backpakker said...

You either need a lot of courage or loads of thick skin to keep walking after a fall..either while missing a foot or if its from grace ..

backpakker said...

Forgot to add ..there is this quote I read in another blogger's profile (Akira) -it reads

"I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile I keep dancing. " -Hillel

drips of paint said...

I dream one day I'll be over and roaming the street of bombay and India at large ...

your post gave me a taste of what it will be like .... I'll have to be careful with the dog shit bit ...

enjoyed the way you wrote..

bluemountainmama said...

i really enjoyed this post, anil! several things in it made me smile. i'm one of those who cracks up laughing when i fall... not that it's not embarassing, but it's also funny to me. shamefully, i laugh when others do to. :) can't help it! but i will help them up, even while i laugh. :)

and i loved your description of the weak-kneed netas... we have one running our state that just turned 90! he falls asleep during senate hearings, and rambles on....and on....and on..... and on. but somehow people keep voting for him. i don't get it....

keep looking up when you get moments! :)

Anil P said...

Mridula: Thanks. Welcome back.

Ideasmith: Thank you :)

Backpakker: Sure needs courage. No one would want to come across as bumbling.

Drips of paint: Believe me, not all walks in Bombay are pleasurable, though some are.

Bluemountainmama: Maybe folks think he would be less of a hassle than a younger one :)

Merisi said...

To view an accidental fall as any other than a mishap, even if caused by a momentary inattention, strikes me as very different from the way I'd see it. Maybe that is the reason why I am not afraid to look up, without any reservations.
Do you think this is a cultural difference?

chiefbiscuit said...

I appreciate the humour in this. The photo of the path is attractive in it's way, so maybe it is not such a bad view looking down!

Anil P said...

Merisi: I agree with you. Maybe the embarrassment of a fall has got to do more with drawing attention to an unflattering posture that a fall invariably is :)

Chiefbiscuit: That sidewalk is leafy, and looking down on tops of trees or plants is always a nice feeling, though all may not subscribe to it.

dharmabum said...

simple, elegant post.

i know exactly what you're talking about - on missing out on things when we're all in a hurry to keep going.

Meher :) said...


very well connected between the post, the building names, et all! really nice!! :) :)

And agree about the fall - I feel so very embarrassed - just cant keep my head up for some time! and chances are I might be found trying to laugh with a very obvious nervousness!!! Phew!! And to think - I have had to fall in public so many times :D

And yeah.. your post was a good read - not a particular point to point and say it was good - the whole thing together!

Especially because its mix of so many things - the way we hurry in life - knowing we might miss things, but still hurry because thats the way life is, the way people feel embarrassed about a fall in public - inspite of it being purely accidental.. and things like that!!

indicaspecies said...

To many, nothing is more intolerable than the loss of prestige. I shudder at the thought of 'honour killings.'

At times, 'falling from grace' or 'loss of prestige' are issues that are given undue importance by a person in his/her life, to the point of their ego being affected.

Phoenix said...


Mumbai is a not a place I treasure, me being from the laid back Hyderabad. There are so contrasting , should I say they are as similar as a needle is to an elephant.

Well, coming to the real point. I really liked the way you moved from a description of a city , to the political picture across the whole nation, and to the more human psychological side. And you blend it so well, with no reader finding anything missing in the puzzle.

You are right, there is no grace in falling!

Anil P said...

Dharmabum: In a way, yes. Much of slowing down in Bombay is about not worrying of being the last one in the queue for a bus, or of missing a train, or maybe a rickshaw, the last one when it gets late!

Meher: Thank you. I always keep my eye out for names on buildings, and have come across some very original ones :)

Returning to the 'pauses', well, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we're busy as hell and it is a sacrilege to spare a moment for a glance around, and then hit the sofa in front of a TV after we get back home :)

Indicaspecies: I agree, though I did not mean it in those contexts in the post, but yes, the same applies in those contexts as well.

Phoenix: Thank you :)

Arun said...

The art of being able to laugh at yourself is what makes the difference.

There is no reason that makes a fall worthwhile, but once happens, it looks graceful enough, though not dignified, if you come back up with a wide laughter, looking at the eyes of your fellow walkers. :)

Lovely post. I am always amused at the things that you manage to find for writing, which almost never have a precedence anywhere.

Anil P said...

Arun: Laugh and the world laughs with you, be embarrassed and the world laughs at you :)

Thanks for the 'pat on the back' :)