It’s dawn. I’m walking down Mumbai’s Marine Drive. It’s strangely warm, despite the drizzle. My left eyebrow itches. Suddenly, the Queen’s Necklace is switched off.
I turn to the sea. The Arabian ocean. It’s glassy, but somewhat revolting in appearance. I can’t understand it; I love the sea. I love the sheer sense of space – an expanse of wide open water. Today, it just seems so pale, like a corpse. There’s no colour to it. It’s a pasty body of water.
A million thoughts are running through my head right now. There’s no order to them, they’re random, popping up like conversation blurbs in a comic book.
I look down at my toes, I look at the bollards, I turn a full circle, taking in the odd morning walker. There’s a bum coiled up in a corner, a stray dog next to him.
This is Mumbai, capital of the world.
Dead on a Saturday morning.
I cough and spit out the sputum. I hate spitting, but I can’t keep it in either. One more thought: you’re contradicting your self. You hate people who spit. Oh please, shut the fuck up.
I’ve been smoking again.
There’s a slight breeze, but none of the early morning gusting I remember. Even the wind isn’t in a good mood. Somehow that sets the tone.
I try to arrange the thoughts.
I don’t want to be a martyr. But I don’t want to live in fear. I want to walk tall. Yeh mera desh hai, behenchod, I curse at no one in particular.
You can’t change the world, sonny boy. Your fists won’t solve every problem. My father’s voice echoes in my head. My ears are ringing with it.
I wish I could make a living monster out of all the things I hate, and beat it to death. With my bare fists.
But Dad is right. Dad is always right, isn’t he? He’s seen so many more moons. I’m his son.
I look down at my balls, and it makes me laugh. I adjust my underwear, more to reassure myself my testicles are still there. The same testicles which will one day sire a child of my own.
You’re the perfect candidate to leave this country, a well-meaning NRI told me as I dropped him to the airport on Thursday. No, I say, never. But why not? You can’t do much in India. You’ll be far more successful abroad. I can’t and I won’t I retort, because of some misplaced sense of patriotism.
That’s it then, isn’t it?
Some misplaced sense of patriotism.
I almost joined the army after high school. Fauj mein rakha kya hai, all the ex-army uncles told me. So did my Dad.
Then I went to engineering college. Graduated, and decided to become a cop. Laugh, oh how they laughed. Your career will be finished before you know it, they mocked me.
And now, here I am.
Scratching my balls on Marine Drive on a Saturday morning.
Fuck this shit.
I try and construct the monster. Pakistan; Nehru, if he were still alive; Raj and Bal, for a bit of ridiculousness; the IAS joker on tv; the stupid, over-hyped female journalist; those damned militants of course; and sundry other politicos and babus. A chaddar party would be perfect.
The bum is now awake. He fastidiously collects his meagre belongings, climbs over the promenade, picks his way among the bollards, and sits down to take a crap. Craps in the Arabian sea.
I sit on the promenade, perversely looking at him as he takes a leisurely crap, beedi in hand.
The little dog is now barking. Someone is walking a happy golden retriever. The retriever makes me smile, I see him often. As they pass, I whistle and he comes to me. It’s like a semi-ritual now. I scratch his ears, he licks my fingers and scampers off after the middle aged gentleman who owns him.
As I get up to leave, I hear a voice. Sir, can you please give me a cigarette? The bum asks in perfect English. He has wild hair and a wild beard, but he doesn’t look like the wretched beggars I see so often. He’s thin, but he looks like he eats regularly. And he’s standing ram rod straight.
I open the pack, and hand him one. He fishes for a matchbox in the waistband of his pants and lights it. Thank you, he says, looking me straight in the eye.
I hand him the pack. He thanks me again. There’s that eye contact once more.
He turns and walks away. He’s not hurrying, but he’s walking with purpose, the scruffy pooch at his heels.
He’s walking tall.