Building dreams in Pali Hill
In Pali Hill on a Sunday evening, pre-rain wind pulls through enormous and ancient trees that have been carefully manicured and managed so that their branches do not interrupt the building of buildings. In a place that is so old and yearns to be so new, greenery should not collide with progress. Tree leaves whisper in the strange gold light that offers itself as a respite from rainshowers.
The north-eastern girls who work at the Thai massage parlours and beauty salon trade their shapeless scrubs for skinny jeans at when that gold light fades behind the building facades. They chat on their Nokias, silky hair falling into their faces while trying to flag a rickshaw to Bandra station.
Wealthy young teens snack at the paani puri stand or race their cars over the rare expanse of unbroken pavement. Every individual who works as a servant, driver, cook, housemaid, nanny, dogwalker or dhobi walks down the hill every evening, up the hill every morning, steady steps at the side of the road.
Behind the Thai salons is a colossal new building, exploding into the skyline like an earthquake. A soon-to-be home for hundreds of wealthy families and all of their cars, handbags, pug dogs, Iproducts, golf clubs, nail paint bottles, takeout menus and LCD TVs.
What will be a prestigious and heavily guarded residence is now occupied only by labourers. A glowing light emanates from a top floor of the bare concrete building skeleton, where labourers have made their home. Next year, this view will cost its viewers crores of rupees. It has cost each of the thin labourers even more, not in stained money but in sacrifices. Each had to get to this city, to this neighbourhood, to this building site to toil and earn a living. The labourer has essentially paid more than a Mumbai upper class family will for the fantastic view that he appears to be receiving for free.
A man lies asleep on the road, half hidden beneath shrubbery and half on display beneath a spotlight. He is a piece of art: the shape of his determination, the angles of his limbs; the jaggedness of his whole entity formed and crushed by his life circumstance, the smoothness of the way that he still lives.
Another man’s completely different set of circumstances has allowed him to live thirty stories above the ground where the drug addict is lying. The man in the building lies in the same shape, on a softer surface.
Mumbai is not a city for the faint of heart, rich or poor. She has offered both men a release, veiled as relief; only robbery disguised as a gift.
A little redheaded boy lives in one of the tall apartments. Tonight, like every night, the blinds in his room are open. Outdoors is inky darkness, his face white with the harsh glow of a computer screen. All of his carefully constructed ideas about the world are being shattered into a million pieces by the new place that he lives. His subconscious mind is working to collect and categorize those pieces while he constructs a virtual building in a computer game.
A woman stands or sits outside one of the majestic and heavily guarded apartment buildings. Tonight, like every night, she is reading a book as though waiting for a driver, in crumbling high heels. I have never seen anyone come for her.