It has been a while since I wrote something. Of course, I could cite paucity of time as an excellent reason and it would not be a lie. But it would not be the entire truth either.
Over the last one month I travelled between Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. I went into the crevices of the cities which some of us have chosen to forget about.
In Mumbai, along side swanky new apartment complexes on an arterial road, are huge areas covered with make shift houses and blue tarps to protect them from rain. Walking in one of those gullies, failing to escape the overflow of sewage I reached a school. The school entrance in itself so tiny that I had to double over to get in (and that, believe you me is saying something!) and I had stepped into another world. There was a tree running through the middle of this dilapidated structure as if somehow nature was trying to offer to the children what we could not. There were dark classrooms teeming with children. The corridors had ankle deep water and tiny paper fish floated in it outside the grade 1 class.
Stepping out of the school, I saw a tiny house which was slightly sunken into the ground. The walls were blue and adorned with the drawings of a three year old who at that very moment was sitting with her mom outside to do dishes in a broken pink tub, filled with water while the water like sewage flowed alongside.
I meandered out of the gullies and stepped on to the main road. I looked back and I could not spot where I had just come from. Ahead of me, I saw a gated community which shields its world of manicured gardens and glass balconies from what lies outside. Standing at the gates, I saw a gaggle of mothers waiting with their children for the school bus.
I heard a mother admonish her third-grader daughter, telling her not to cross the road and go to the other side. The daughter seemed oblivious to her mother’s concerns. The help standing alongside did not grasp most of the conversation since it happened in English. Suddenly, the mother turned to the help and yelled at her in Hindi reminding her that it is her responsibility to ensure that the child does not stray into the unsafe ‘mohalla’ that side. Another mother chimed in about the horrors of the unknown evil and how she cannot imagine why people would ‘choose’ to live like that.
The school bus with its half tinted glass windows arrived and the children filed in. The moms waved and added last minute reminders about lunch, homework and the money in the bag for some school trip. The bus drove away.
The help handed a key to the mother and confirmed she shall be back in the evening to cook dinner. The mother walked into the gates and the help crossed over to the other side of the road.
It suddenly started pouring and I realised I had forgotten my umbrella in the school. I started walking back and saw the help going the same way. She had a plastic bag wrapped around her head and she was walking along the edges of the shops trying not to get drenched. I followed her and I realised she is going to the school as well. We reached the miniature door together and her tiny daughter stepped out wearing a rain coat. She could not contain her stories about her class and burst out excitedly in Marathi to her mother. Her mother took her water bottle, adjusted the hood of her raincoat and listened rapt with joy. They walked away hand in hand into the sheet of rain.
The peon in the school handed my umbrella over to me and I turned to head back. I saw the tiny house which was slightly sunken into the ground. I could not spot the mother or the three year old. I saw the broken pink tub – right in the middle of the house, collecting the water leaking from the roof and overflowing into the ground.