Mumbai Diary

Published in Outlook magazine, July 2014

Up in the Air
I voted from Mumbai for the first time during these last national elections and I was genuinely impressed with what I saw at the Walsingham High School voting booth in South Mumbai. Orderly lines, helpful volunteers and fast, efficient voting marked the day in this corner of the bustling Maharashtrian capital city. Reporting live right next to the polling booth was an absolute breeze. I had the privilege of running into one of the most singular candidates India has probably ever had. Forget going door-to-door, Gaurav Sharma, 31, campaigned from window to window! An independent candidate running for the Lok Sabha from South Mumbai, he decided to dress like a man with extraordinary powers, the superhero Spider-Man.

Popping his head into a window after scaling a building, he asked startled residents to vote for him. I asked him by yelling my lungs out from ground level if he thought people could take a candidate dressed up as a comic book character seriously. He yelled back: yes, he believed so.
And why should they have not—because unlike the fictional superhero, Sharma has real guts, int­ense concentration, dedication. These qualities enable him to scale a 45-storey building in just 19 minutes. They’re also the qualities a leader could use to help the citizens of Mumbai. But his plans must remain up in the air for now. The friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man was defeated in the polls. The public chose another candidate, one with his feet firmly on the ground.

Run, Baby Run
Heard of MAMIL? There have been a fair number of articles written on the phenomenon of ‘Middle-Aged Men In Lycra’. I have a slightly different take on it. For me, it stands for Middle-aged Mumbaikars in Lycra. Poke your head out of your window at 5 am any morning and you’ll see them—iPods strapped on sculpted arms, satellite watches synced (if it doesn’t require aligning with the heavens, it’s for amateurs), colours coordinated (for some, only Lulu Lemon will do). Thus outfitted, Mumbai’s runners pound the pavements, huffing and puffing. You’ll see flashes of neon go by.

Of course, running is not a new form of exercise in Mumbai. But there is a greater interest in it now—whether it’s running for leisure, to get fit, lose weight or chase a record—many more people are tying their laces and hitting the road.
I’m convinced it’s the fortysomething men who are leading the charge. A friend who just turned 40 marked the milestone by completing the Iron Man in Spain (1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.5 km run). While I am in awe of these gentlemen and women and the many Mumbaikars choosing fitness over Ferraris as they cross the mid-life mark, it’s also a bit of a killjoy for weekend nights. Saturday night dinners must wrap up at 10 pm. After all, one needs a good night sleep before that alarm goes off at the crack of dawn.
I don’t fancy seeing a Saturday night movie alone, so I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can’t change them, join them. I’ve taken out my running shoes. And I’ve set my alarm for 5 am.

See you at the track at Priyadarshini Park.

Bye Bye Kali Peeli
They’re as intrinsic to the city as vada pav, the local trains or Film City. Immediately recognised as a symbol of Mumbai, the kaali peelis, these local black-and-yellow Fiat taxis, ferry millions of people up and down and across this bustling city every day.
Now, the oldest taxis—the boxy Fiats—are being phased out. The local government says all Fiat taxis must retire once they reach the 20-year mark. No new cars have been made since 2000 and the ones that are still on the road are patched up with tape, tied together with rope, rusty, smelly, and in desperate need of a paint job. It’s really not a surprise that passengers prefer modern taxis—air-conditioned Suzuki models that offer a smoother, cleaner ride. These days, taxi services like Ola or Uber allow you to hire a premium car within minutes, by just tapping an app on your phone.
Having no kaali peelis on the road will leave the drivers with a massive void, says Anthony Quadros, general secretary of the Mumbai Taxi­man’s Union. “For the last 50-60 years, they have been driving these taxis,” he says. Numerous taxi drivers have been able to educate their children, get their children married, all with the money they have earned by driving these cars, added Quadros. “For them, it is a big loss.”

‘Model’ Journalist
Wor­king in TV means there’s always a steady stream of cameras, lights, batteries going in and out of my home, at any time of the day or night. “Don’t you know? Madam runs a model agency,” the liftman will tell you.

With its iconic cars fading away…
It’s a loss for the city that’s now looking at the end of an era. One passenger says these Fiats feel like a loyal friend who has been around forever. Without them, Mumbai roads won’t be the same.

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