Friday, February 16, 2007


I like going to Dongri. I occasionally go there to sort through accounts on my job. It's a lovely airy office, on the fifth floor of a Kutchhi Jain girls' school.

Today, I took the train from Bandra to Sandhurst Road. It was a holiday, so the streets and station were relatively empty. The ride was made more pleasant by the soundtrack of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World". Generally, I can't stand headphones, and the only soundtrack to my commute is Indian Railways, i.e. train noises, commuters, hawkers. But I was in such a mood to hear Louis this morning!

Sandhurst Road station has a condom vending machine right next to the coupon validating machine, so that the "CVM" sign could mean either. I take the condom machine as reflective of the Sandhurst Road economy, rather than of a concern with sexual freedom. I cross Nowroji Hill Road no. 5 with its kerbside second-hand "store" (today it's selling used paint brushes, a pair of battered golden shoes, and used teacups), and go past the two temples and the occasional large and pretty goat, to Char Null (four taps). I pass old balconies, Hindu and Muslim "hotels" and sweet shops, a few old art deco buildings. Cross over to Pala Gully (Samuel Street), go past the shops selling Islamic religious paraphernalia, shops selling headscarves and burqas in black and colors, past the travel agent selling package tours to Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, and to Iran and Syria. Everything about Samuel Street appears Muslim now, but it must not always have been so. The name Samuel, of course, is Jewish. It seems to me the area was more Gujarati than anything else. The Muslims there are overwhelmingly Gujarati. I know of Hindu connections to Samuel Street: Kiran's family had an office there, and my mother's family lived not too far off when she was a child. And, of course, the CVOD school is Jain.

The reason I like Dongri, I think, is that it's like my Naani's neighborhood near VT station, less than 2 km away. All the buildings around there were pressed together. They were brick exteriors, with timber floors, and had dingy wooden stairwells with tall steps. At the street level, through open doorways, you saw old people doing business in old offices in old-fashioned ways (pedhis of commodity brokers and wholesale agents). There was (still is) the Madanmohanlalji mandir nearby, the cowshed on the street level and the temple itself on the first floor. The streets are narrow, and the shops and people in them still seem similar, somehow, to what they were thirty years ago. Life seems to go slow there.

Going to Dongri by train via Sandhurst Road is so much more agreeable than the cab ride from my office in the Fort district. Nothing underscores the wretchedness of Bombay like the ride along P. DeMello Road. Along the entire way from Mint Road to Char Null, which is a half-hour drive, where the kerb probably is (or would be) are tin and sack-cloth homes, with raggedy kids playing, people washing or cooking, people lounging, people welding / polishing / repairing, all on the road, inches from the traffic. Behind broken gateposts and sagging walls, there are bare, dusty compounds. Long stretches of kerb are inexplicably rubble, and the passing traffic constantly raises dust -- a sight I see everywhere in Bombay. It makes me sad to think how the environment is for most of us in this city.

No comments: