Monday, February 18, 2008

Mumbai Dreams

In the backdrop of Mr. Raj Thackeray's odious offensive against north Indians, this article in The Indian Express by Farah Baria is heartwarming.
Our housemaid Renu is what Raj Thackeray would call an ‘outsider’. I remember her first day on the job, wearing her best red salwar khameez with its frayed gold trimmings, and a smile worth a million bucks. Two scrawny arms reached out to take the blue bundle I had brought home from the hospital, with a confidence that I would take many months to muster.
Barely nineteen, Renu bathed and dressed my newborn with the practised ease of a professional nurse. Her mother, she explained, was the village midwife, and by the age of nine, Renu was Chief Assistant. When they were not delivering babies, the two would work at the local quarry, loading stones onto trucks in the heat and dust. So this 24/7 job as my infant daughter’s nanny was doubtless the cushiest on our maid’s CV.Two months later, she slipped into a pair of blue jeans to fit her new cosmopolitan status. And by four months she had turned out the perfect mushroom quiche — after I casually translated the recipe — and offered to replace our absconding cook, to supplement her salary. It was time to introduce Renu to Mumbai.We drove to Marine Drive and Chowpatty, to the Gateway of India, and the concrete jungle of Nariman Point. “So what do you think of Bombay, Renu?” I asked, rather patronisingly. My maid wrinkled her nose. “Dirty,” she said. “The air here is not good.”But Renu throve on it, this muggy Mumbai oxygen that ignited the fire in her belly. Every week, she would squeeze into a jam packed BEST bus to the Mahalaxmi Temple, and pay her respects to Mumbai’s divine benefactress. And at the end every month, the Devi’s ‘grace’ was meticulously assigned to a growing fixed deposit.Soon the inevitable happened. Renu fell in love with another ‘outsider’, the building sweeper who swept our nanny off her feet with talk of being a businessman. They got married to take a shot at living happily ever after in that ultimate Mumbai fantasy: a 150 sq ft slum house at Rs 1500 per month.Still, it was Double Income No Kids. (He got a job as an office boy with a real estate broker, selling apartments at Rs 35,000 a square foot; she worked in them, making gourmet dishes for memsahibs like me, who can’t boil an egg to save their lives.)Then last year, Renu rashly emptied her entire bank balance —squirreled over ten tireless years — borrowed enough to keep herself permanently noosed to the grindstone, and bought her decade-old dream: a 350 sq ft flat in a remote Mumbai suburb. It has a separate hall and bedroom, a private bath (oh luxury!), and real cabinets in the kitchen. Best of all, the building watchman calls her ‘madam’.Renu has no idea how she is going to repay her loan, honour her monthly outgoings, foot the power bill, or shell out the water tax. But all that is irrelevant, mere tedious detail. Because, you see, for this daughter of a widowed wage labourer, only the dream matters; the dream of being a Mumbaikar. Yet, somewhere in a dusty village hundreds of miles away is a hut she still calls home

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