We took a little walk on Monday night, post dinner. It was quite a relaxing day overall, I had done some long-overdue cleaning, visiting a neighbour so that the kids could play, taken a nap, and gone to watch the lake and the swans in the evening, met more kids, and returned home. A walk around the building seemed like a good idea. She promised to relax and try to sleep in the stroller so I wheeled it out.
The air was still, neither warm nor cool, just pleasant. Felt much better than being inside. We were just going to revolve around our building, there is a fair bit of light, and guards posted every twenty meters so no cause for worry. In any case this is Mumbai. I have returned home in the wee hours of the morning, driven through water filled streets late at night, all alone, and never felt unsafe. And this is here, right in our own building. I dismissed the chill and we went around, tak-tak-grint; tak-tak-grint the wheels played on the patterned tiles.
A lone palm tree loomed up, high into the sky. I have seen this tree many times. It evokes a sense of pride somehow, see, we have greenery here. Not quite a concrete jungle. But now I saw it, valiant in its attempt to rise above, surrounded by the innumerable paraphernalia of construction. Steel rods poking out menacingly mere meters from the tree trunk. Cement and pans and what not strewn about its base. On all sides. Oh! What a brave tree to still climb, climb up to the sky!
I recall just a few years ago, maybe three, or four, maximum. I used to walk and walk here with my mum. Mum is a big walker, she is never satisfied, if we did five circles round the building she would say, you carry on, I need a few more rounds. We used to feel great, that if we needed to walk, all we had to do was ride down in the lift. Mum had a big house back home, with a garden, two large coconut trees, healthy, potted plants of crotons and flowers of various shapes and colours that she tended to diligently. The red-oxide floor was cool under our feet, had resisted attempts at modernizing with ‘Mosaic Flooring’ for years. But she could not take a post-dinner walk, no, not alone as a woman. Our walks here late at night were therefore special, and cherished. We used to look around, and chat and chat. “Ma look at that tree, and that one, and that one.” She is also big into getting fresh air. So she would walk around fast, come to me going slower (carrying the child, in the tummy or later, in my hands) and say, you guys stand here, lots of wind here, nice and cool. So we would wait, between the two tall buildings. I would try to talk about the wind tunnel effect but she would be impatient, “Okay, I’ll be back in a bit” and off she would go, walking as if there were actually wheels underneath the sari.
We used to feel real good looking around. There were tall buildings, yes, many of them, yes, but there was the garden - lush green grass, a few shrubs, some young trees, and a sand-pit. There was the other big garden across, coming up, with promise of more lushness, more sand. And then there was always the ‘Jungle’ as we call it. A nice wild place with wild dogs running wild, and a path cut through for walking. Also a fair bit of open space, and a view of the little hill behind which you can see the airplanes heading to the landing strip. Lots of flowers when the weather was good. The old gardener was industrious, watering and cutting and pruning. We liked that word, Industrious, sort of described us both too, of course.
And last night, I suddenly realized. Open spaces, four in number, one on each side of us, have been dug up. Those menacing steel rods are poking out. The promise is of very tall buildings. The hill, well, there is one word for it, raped. Yes, the hill has been raped. The smaller buildings that dot the landscape around (small as in a mere seven floors high), do not block the view or the wind, but have lights and air-conditioners on all day long as industrious people work round the clock. The short-cut down the stairs that takes us to the road behind directly is un-passable thanks to the cloud of cigarette smoke there. The same people who work all night also take many cigarette breaks, and they take them here, under our noses so to speak.
A relative that visited me a few years ago is reported to have gone back home and told everyone that Kenny’s place in Mumbai is horrid. You can stretch your hand out and touch the person in the next building, that close the buildings are crammed together, it is so claustrophobic, the lady is supposed to have said. Of course when I heard about it, I was incensed. Maybe Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray in
In another ‘gross misrepresentation of facts,’ a young teacher had told my parents in a sort of complaining tone, that I, Kenny, was ‘complacent.’ I looked up the word, and was suitably incensed. From the Oxford Dictionary:
• adjective smug and uncritically satisfied with oneself or one’s achievements.
— DERIVATIVES complacency (also complacence) noun complacently adverb.
— ORIGIN from Latin complacere ‘to please’.
I had peeped into my office for a bit too. With all the talks of expansion and reservation and modernization, the open area in front of my window is the victim. A brand new shining building is to come up there. Complacent as I am, it feels like its time to make a few hard decisions.