The three minutes between the rickshaw and the office

In Mumbai, the events and details of a couple of moments can feel like enough for a whole day.

Crowds of men hover in the street, bees on a honeycomb as I step out of the rickshaw in the morning. Every space within one hundred meters of Khar station is packed with day labourers who sit back on their haunches or stand in chappals, shirt-pant combinations and side parted hair. They wait to be told what to do.

I step over the ragged curb onto the dusty pavement in the tea stall. Men sit in rows, bright lights hum and fans whir overhead, drying circular tea-stains on linoleum countertop. I trade a hundred rupee note for small change, money which has been passed through thousands of hands. The chaiwala stands slumped over his cauldron, looking at me while he pours tea into a row of cups in trays. The manager drops coins on the counter, worn from coins being dropped before. Steam erupts and spills into the thick air, making the whole space hazy and humid. I drop the coins into the rickshaw driver’s hand, noticing that his ring finger is missing its nail, and trip into the road.

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Crossing the street means looking down at feet to find the path least cluttered with human traffic, angling your shoulders like a goat in a herd. Safely on the other side, a stray dog wearing a jingle bell on a twine collar and a stray child wearing his history in his body language both look at me hopefully.

In the stairwell is a dead rat, broken with its chin up against the wall. As though it had been thrown down the stairs by the tail. I feel sweat prickle and bead on my lower back.

At the junction of the next floor, cross-legged behind his basket is a subjiwala. The woman of the house stands in her nighty, bargaining with him through the steel grate. She feels empowered in this argument because she’s safe behind her door, and she’s looking down on him. Subjiwala manipulates chillies through his fingers in consideration. He has been there long enough for an ant colony to form from crack in the wall to his baskets, cutting away shreds of a carrot.

Upstairs, I hold the door open while transferring from outside shoes to inside slippers because the maid is coming up the stairs behind me. She steps over the threshold, braid slipping across her back, a shift of green glass bangles. “Ghar per koi nahi tha” she says in explanation as her three year old cousin steps through the doorway behind her, wearing ‘western dress,’ sucking on her fingers.

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16 thoughts on “The three minutes between the rickshaw and the office

  1. That was a lovely post, and all the reasons why I could never hack it in Mumbai. It’s got it’s pros, but its just too cluttered, and this piece reminds me of the few times I’ve been there. I can see why it would be charming to a tourist, but I couldn’t make it a way of life.

    • Hello Icyhighs, and thanks for writing in!
      Where are you staying? Mumbai is often too much for me, but I still stay here, and still love it. I don’t know if I could do it forever, but am happy to do it for now.

  2. Mumbai is Mumbai. It has a life of it’s own. Quite an interesting description. For three minutes it is certainly not short. I remember those daily wage labourers ourside Khar station for sure! How long you been in India. You got the HIndi thing going on :D

    • Hello Anand,

      Thanks for visiting and commenting! A lot can happen in three minutes in Mumbai, especially in the morning rush at Khar station. The details in the beauty of Mumbai are what keep me here, I think. I’ve been here in Mumbai for nearly two years, and in India nearly four.

      • Reminds me of that song by Eagles – New York Minute.
        You have been in India for quite a while. :-)

  3. Superbly described, I really loved it !! Although I have never been to that interesting part of the nation, It feels like pretty same as here in Delhi!! Crowded places, shouting people, narrow streets , but that’s the real India!! Time has blessed us with hard-to-even-see-at-the-top towers, big bang malls and a-damned-changed lifestyle but still true India resides over streets across the country !!! However, as being a foreigner, you really did a great job !In fact you are still doing it!!! Awesome , you and your blog, both !!!
    Anyway , a lovely post and would love to catch you with few newer and more interesting topics.

    • Hello Veby,
      Thank you so much for visiting and commenting! I’m glad you liked the description. I’ve been to Delhi several times and would describe it in much of the same way: cosmopolitan cities in India all seem to be equally stimulating and interesting.
      I hope you keep reading :)

      • Oh C’mon Bronwy, it’s completely my own pleasure and the whole credit should be gone to you only!! You know bronwy as being an Indian I generally feel ashamed watching foreigners getting treated badly in India. But, it’s not real “India” and indeed, you have been doing great describing India as what it is actually! and you are doing far better than most of Indians!!! So, it’s my pleasure to be one of your follower(A Happy one)………………..

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