In a moment in Mumbai
Somewhere in Mumbai, an elephant waits at the side of the road in the night. Shifting his weight on legs like leathery tree trunks. Dismissed from a wedding party, with nowhere else to go, the elephant man now sits atop the elephant and smokes a beedi. Spitting dry smoke into the wet air.
Somewhere in Mumbai, a kindergarten class is wrapping up for the day. Some of the teachers are Muslim women in their early twenties who were married seven years ago.
“Bada gol banaenge” they sing before ending the day, sending the children home.
The teachers veil their beautiful faces, and slip black, embroidered burqas over brightly coloured salwar kameez. Prepared to head out into a world that is darker than the brightly coloured blocks and cheerful songs of inside.
Somewhere in Mumbai, thousands of people swarm like angry bees on a honeycomb in a local train station. Covered by corrugated metal roof. Above, one lone goat trots across the tin, hoofs making small sounds. Baking in the sun.
Somewhere in Mumbai, teen girls wavering between tradition and modernity visit different places of faith on their day off. Looking for something that no-one has a name for. They visit a church, a mandir, and finally Haji Ali masjid, getting drenched in the downpour on their way. Then they eat ceetaphal cream and head home to change clothes. When they come back into the house, Mom greets them at the door with a scolding for getting wet. Momentarily forgetting what she had been doing beforehand.
Somewhere in Mumbai, a thin dog with jutting ribs tries to cross a busy intersection. He is confused, scared of everything from having only known abuse. He darts this way and that to avoid being struck by autorickshaws, whose drivers hurl out curses with abandon. The dog finally settles in the shade between a tea stall and a mobile wala. Gazing reproachfully but hopefully at all that life has offered him. Not much, but just enough.
Somewhere in Mumbai, a Ukrainian girl is perched like a bird on the bathroom counter in a five star hotel. Her long legs are folded and her feet are in the sink so that she can be close to the mirror. There, she paints her face and pouts her lips to look like the sexy white doll she is being paid to be for some wealthy Indian’s party.
Another one sleeps, a piles of curves and angles in tight clothes on the edge of a stage. Pumping music surrounds and fills and empties the space.
Somewhere in Mumbai, an unseen and unremarkable little girl carries water in a cracked plastic container on her head.
“Paani leke jao,” an uncle had barked. Her careful feet pick around the debris that litters the construction site she’s grown up on. Water leaks from the container, sitting in beads in the part of her hair before rolling down her forehead. A drop falls from the tip of her nose onto her bottom lip and she tastes it. If she was in another life, she would have had more things and wouldn’t have had to carry water. Maybe she would have gone to dance classes and birthday parties.
Somewhere in Mumbai, African refugees wait in a foreigner registration office. Enormous women with glowing black skin, tight clothes pulled over their curves, shiny sandals and handbags. One woman’s right arm has been recently amputated at the elbow, and is wrapped in white cloth. The women spread out on a couch and chattered in a language that no-one else in the office could understand.
Across from them are a Russian woman and her Indian husband. Occupying their own, separate couch. Their child is albino and doesn’t carry any obvious features from either parent. Guided only by feeling, he moves between the poles that divide the queues, the seatbelt-textured ribbon parting his feathery white hair. His pink and blue eyes glow from within and sightlessly flicker back and forth. Watching something that no-one else can see.
A man wakes up in the morning and finds himself paralysed, unable to move from his bed. He lies there all day wondering and without explanation; what to say to his boss. Sometimes the city is too much.
A girl finally opens herself to a man, only to be disappointed. In front of her now is only all of his body, and none of the feelings that she wants.
A baby turns over in the night, away from his mother’s body. He wakes up wailing and lost, until she takes him close to herself and her old clothes. Offering everything she has: not much, but just enough.