16 DecemberPosted: November 5, 2010
I come out of the stuffy grey building, and the air outside seems fresh, in relative terms. The lane outside the Family Court is lined with trees until it turns towards the highway, and it has a footpath, not cluttered with:
2. Shop extensions.
3. Roadside cafes.
4. Parked vehicles.
5. Cows and stray dogs.
6. Cow dung and dog poo.
7. Or any of the 1001 things that embellish a footpath in Mumbai.
If you walk very, very slowly, you can stretch your legs for around 10 minutes, before you absolutely have to take a rickshaw or risk being crushed by the traffic assaulting you from 360 degrees.
I have clocked in only 4 & ½ minutes, when I notice a car gliding parallel to me, and Mr. Batliwala, our Esteemed Legal Counsel for the Court, beckoning me through the tinted window. I reluctantly walk up to him, while pretending no such reluctance.
Mr. Batliwala: “Come in, come in. I’ll drop you at Santa Cruz.”
“It’s OK. I can take a rickshaw.”
“Of course, you can. You can also take the car.”
Since his driver has stopped the car without much consideration towards other motorists, we are under imminent threat of being honked at. Not wanting to make a fuss, I slide in beside Mr. Batliwala with a healthy regard for a healthy distance between us.
Mr. Batliwala grins facetiously and says, “So you were trying to save some money, ha? As far as I can see, you don’t NEED to walk. You are thin enough, as it is.”
I refuse to answer this personal comment.
Mr. Batliwala repeats, “So you were trying to save money, ha? See, now I have saved you the fare up to Santa Cruz, at least.”
I smile, in a stretching-my-lips-as-far-as-they-will-go-without-cracking-up way. I know from past experience that any comment from me will invite a tiny, sharp laugh, and even perhaps, if he dares, a tiny, sharp slap on my shoulder with the words, “Oh, you pretty liar.”
My polite silence irritates him a little. He openes his briefcase and looks at some documents in an Oh-I-am-such-a-busy-man way and says pompously, “I always finish off some work if I can, in the car.”
Another polite smile from me with a “Don’t let me disturb you” and Mr. Batliwala helplessly bends his head towards his work. I look out of the window.
A signal turns red. A truck draws up besides the car. I instinctively draw back. In a rickshaw, trucks spew their fumes right up your nose. Much as I dislike Mr. Batliwala, I do not mind an air-conditioned drive in the middle of rush hour.
I wonder if it will be too rude to plug my ears with the headphones of my Ipod. I grin to myself, thinking that it will certainly ensure that Mr. Batliwala never offers me a lift again.
And then I tense up a little. On the back of a motorbike squeezing itself between the truck and my window, I see 2x-y. Her arm is around the young biker; her face is turned towards me. She looks happy, in a way that I have never seen in the 2 years I’ve known her. Until she sees me. Instantly, her arm falls away abruptly from the young man’s waist. Her smile slips. Before I can close my gaping mouth, the bike has woven ahead through the tight huddle of tin boxes.
I give Mr. Batliwala a quick glance. He is dozing over his documents; the glasses sliding down his nose. Though I squeeze my own eyes shut, I can still see 2x-y’s neck craned back to look towards our car, her eyes wide with fear.