Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bombay ki hawa..4

Am I really independent ? It is a question that has been in my mind over the last few months. Independence, according to me rests in your own mind and the ability to express your thoughts without a sense of being curtailed or controlled. But independence is also about how one copes in today’s world- at the workplace, with inlaws, among friends , for that matter in any society where control seems to be the buzzword. People like to control you not just by power, but even with emotions. There is always someone telling you how to live , always with well intentions, but they eventually rob you of your will to live life the way you want, to commit mistakes and sometimes make the mistakes again..Independence is also about acceptance – its about accepting the moment and your own state of mind . If you are weak and vulnerable, so be it. If you are consumed with ambition to reach a certain goal, its about being non apologetic about it. Sometimes your mind becomes overbearing or weak and that is when it starts controlling you..is that a sign of being independent too ? And often how independent are we to control destiny ?

Many years ago, when I was a naïve 21 year old, I recollect asking myself the same question . Sitting on the last step of the Mount Mary’s church and looking out into the sea, I often thought over the meaning of independence. Did it fit the life of someone who was staying alone for the first time with no one to keep tabs and live your life without anyone out there to control you ? I could come home or whatever I called home whenever I wanted, go wherever my mind wishes, probably try alcohol or attempt grass or even find boyfriend(S) according to my wishes. And yet, I had no such desire then .Smoking and drugs has always been a no no to me, non veg is against my principles and boyfriends..well, where were the men ? (That’s probably a subject for a different post) .

I did wander aimlessly through the roads of Bombay, getting in and out of local trains and learning a lesson or two about friendships and relationships and enjoying many a beer by Carter road with new found colleagues and classmates – but that I realized was not the real essence of independence. The paradox of independence is that it is often coupled with the word responsibility, and it is when you are alone, you learn to be responsible and not necessarily independent. You are not just responsible for your physical being, but you also learn to be responsible for your decisions and your thoughts and actions and the way you portray yourself to others. Why am I rambling along these clichés ? Let me tell you the story of K ..

I finished my course in March 1996 and my internship in TV 18 started in April. At the end of the month, I walked into my boss’ cabin and asked her if I could get a job there. I was startled by my own boldness and later by my naïve nature when she did say yes and I took her word for it without a letter. I went home to Madras and told my parents that I am not coming back as I had a job and I would need to find a place immediately after my exams. My parents weren’t too happy but they let me be and I returned to Bombay in June for my exams. The hostel was very clear. I had to vacate on the 16th day, the day after my exams and instead of studying, I went looking for a roof over my head. I called up friends, read local tabloids and even asked my canteen guy, but finally I got hold of a broker in Bandra. I told her I had 3 days to vacate and I needed a PG. I also told her I had just 5000/- with me and I could afford her brokerage, deposit and the rent with that amount . She found a shabby pad for me near Bandra reclamation where two Goan sisters lived in a 2 BHK , a common toilet and bathroom and the entire flat was not more than 500 sq feet. I had to share my room with another girl while the other bigger room was shared by K with the two older women. My terms was simple. I paid Rs 1500/- a month for a bed and half a table, 2 shelves in a wardrobe . I could buy milk and keep food in the fridge and cook , but need to pay extra for gas and for telephone and I need to inform them if I was not coming back in the night. The room was very tiny, being in the ground floor and the kitchen was extremely dirty with fish and bones lying all over the table. Being a vegetarian, I had no problem with friends eating non veg or even storing meat in fridge, but I cannot take the smell of fish, especially when it is being fried. Nor can I take the sight of meat and bones lying all over the kitchen table after being cooked. Nevertheless I agreed, telling myself I will be out by 7 am and return only at late nights and all I need was a bed to crash.

I remember then setting eyes on one of the most scary looking men Ive ever seen . I was shocked . He was huge, massive like a giant from a fairy tale. His face was dark with large haggard looking eyes and his hair and unshaven beard almost merged into one. He looked a bully and spoke like one. I was silent for a moment as he enquired for K and left a message for her with the landlady . I was told he was P, K’s friend and he did odd jobs for the Goan sisters.

That is when they told me about K. My landlady almost considered her as a daughter and told me to look at her as a rolemodel. She was successful, beautiful, intelligent, articulate, confident and street smart according to the two women. And they were in awe of her. I was warned about her likes and dislikes and was told not to cross her path. She also got priority over kitchen, TV, bathroom etc..I finally did meet K after 3 days of moving in.

She was a petite girl, who looked street smart dressed in tight blue jeans and a tighter pink jersey sweater. She seemed like a no nonsense person who looked me over for a few minutes and then moved on to go to the church. Later on, I used to meet K once or twice in a week. She was silent, stuck to her work and often had the last word in arguments with the landlady. I never met her friend P for an entire month.Finally, K decided to be friendly. She started by once in a while announcing that she has cooked aallu paratha or bhajji for me and has kept in the fridge..sometimes she used to throw a couple of expensive perfumes or bawdy earrings at me and say keep it, keep it..she often came to my room to put on her make up and asked my opinion on how she looked everytime she tried a tiny weeny skirt or a tube top. She was always proud of her skin and complexion and said people called her a dusky beauty.I smiled indulgently hoping I will get free dinner and then K started telling me her story.

She said she was a third daughter of a rich man in Rajasthan who had plotted to marry her off to an older man for money. K had a knack for story telling and for drawing emotions. Occassionally the Goan women used to come and listen to every word she said. She spoke about her sister in Bangalore and a brother in Rajasthan. She also said how she had always wanted to be a model and that is why she ran away to Bombay without telling her parents.” Do you remember the Frooti ad – I was supposed to be the model, but the photographer asked me to sleep with him and I refused !” she said. K said she changed her name and became a Christian and now does some modeling whenever she has the time , but works as a secretary . She wouldn’t say where. She cried talking about her parents and about how P helped her in Bombay and that is why she still is friendly with him..” Did he scare you ?” she asked and laughed..Later when K went to sleep, my landlady took me outside and said, “ Don’t believe her, she just tells stories..she told me that P is her brother in law, who was once married to her sister, but is in love with her..and you, stay away from P and all her chelas....you understand ..”


I nodded disinterested in K’s life then. It was just a distraction. I was learning to cope with my own emotions and work pressures and K was like a stress buster. She was always cheerful, her entire petite frame used to shake when she laughed and her eyes were full of mischief. On nights when I got home early , she used to drag me to Carter road and buy me dinner and we used to laugh aloud and sing songs together. We went to Mount Marys on Sundays and she used to tell me about the men in her life. Her boss, a married man was in love with her..what should she do ? She says he showers her with expensive perfumes. Another man keeps calling her on the phone..she used to just call him JI and said he lived in Andheri..she seemed to hold him in high regard, but said he is married too..She didn’t want to settle down, but did want to make it big in life. Her confidence, her charm, cheerfulness, her playful nature used to draw me out on days I was bored and lonely.

About four months later, my landlady told me that I had to move out as her daughter was coming home with her second husband in Dubai. I had just 15 days to move out. I asked K and she offered me after much deliberation, her friend JI’s flat in Andheri. But I wasn’t comfortable and I said NO, athough I had initially considered it. I moved on and found aunty’s place in Mahim-Matunga Road (West) and then never saw K or heard from her again until..

On a new year’s eve, I was out with friends in Jogeswari and we had decided to go to Fantasy land before partying at a friend’s place . And there I saw her, in shimmering gold, with loud make up, with gaudy earrings and an older man, not P at her side tightly clasping on her while she stood there, a disinterested arm candy. She looked startled on seeing me and then suddenly turned her face , uncomfortable, not just with me being there, but with probably herself..She suddenly got lost in the crowd and I searched for her in the crowd. I did find her later, but as our eyes locked, I realized this was not the K I knew….her mask had just fallen by the wayside.

9 comments:

Vijay said...

wow, intense. Do you think life is unfair!!

Anonymous said...

I think her jest to carry on in life was great and she was very clear in what she wanted and great freiend always cheered you up her small way........

Sharada said...

a very gripping read

Arun Nair said...

Well written Lakshmi, Bombay is a land of many tales, of people with many shades.

Anonymous said...

Nice read. Your attitude and behavior in life seems to reflect the adventurous romanticist in me.

Don't lose your touch, your writing is pretty inspiring.

lookingwithin said...

touching...really...i like how u can make the story come alive to your readers...i could see u there with K...on Carter Road...chatting and laughing...and I could see the look on K's face when your eyes met...

u have a gift of storytelling...

Lakshmi said...

Vijay - Life can sometimes be unfair, yes..but I also think it gives us choices sometimes

Anon - request you to first use yr name ...i do agree abt her being there to cheer me

Sharada - thanks :)

Anon - Thank you..appreciate it if you can share your name

Lookingwithin - thanks ..these are people i can still visualise in my mind :)

Anonymous said...

good one... u inspire me....

Anonymous said...

good one... u inspire me....