Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mumbai Mumbles : The busti burger - an assorted way of life in the northern suburbs...

Busti Burger - Mumbai North
From the top echelons of my building, the panoramic view of the Mumbai city is stunning in its grandeur.    You tend to feel that you can see the end of the world, but you realize that you can see only one part of this great city.  Ethereal view this!  

 The sun ceases fire early, leading to an early twilight these days - winter is setting in.  Grey shades of haze hide the sky-scrappers and voila!  this is a view on all sides.   Just below this daunting skyline, one can see dark brown patches covering the hill side.   Slowly this dark brown patch with a blue tarpauline topping spreads fast and this is how.

Busti Burger in the making
 As the rains disappeared, the tall grass and the shrubs have turned honey-brown in color and dry.   Fit to be burnt.  This patch is set afire during the nights.   By morning,  a strong haze envelopes the neighborhood.   A pungent smell hangs in the air.   The honey-brown grass is now smoke and ashes.   The area, now is fit to become a home.   

Dry grass burnt to clear a squatter settlement
The burnt grass is cleaned up.   Bricks and cement appear and in a week, a basic construct with a blue tarpaulin roof is complete.   Operation-apaharan is complete.   A new squatter settlement or shanty town is born.

This operation apaharan has been happening for ages.   People from the North and elsewhere have come to this great city to stay and strike livelihood.   Every migrant is looking for low entry barriers.   There are enough bandwagons to jump on.  Low skilled jobs, criminal, semi-legal, chores, adulteration, petty-shops, political business almost always need extra hands.  These extra hands need roofs.   Roofs which are easy to construct, occupy and then expand.   

Inside these constructs, which now are called or busti's, life is abuzz with glory and glamor.  Always some wheeling-dealing is happening.   The facade makes to shrink in disgust.  Inside, as we see in the papers, is sometimes palatial.   Air-conditioning, marble floors, direct-to-home television,  LCD TV's, fridges are a norm.  Electricity is free and the gas cylinder is typically smuggled.   
Burger by night - The glitz of the expressway

When you drive through the narrow lanes of these busti's, one can almost see that people are happy and busy.   Kids were shoes, ties and uniforms to school, and youngsters dressed in jeans.  At the same time, there is a sense that you are driving through alien territory.  If you were to bump someone in the car, you would be history.  

The northern suburb areas of the city stretching from Dahisar to Andheri-Santa Cruz has a typical demography.  The spoils of this part of Mumbai, in Independent India, has been divided between the powerful building communities like the Hiranandani's, Lokhandwala's, Thakur's, Raheja's, Lodha's and the bustis.  

You can see as you drive from the airport to Dahisar, along the Western Expressway, there would be a cluster of high-rise buildings surrounded by the bustis.   They look like a busti-burger or a slum-sandwich.  
Local Mahotsav - keep'em happy

And each of these bustis has strong party affiliation or a so-called non-profit trust.   These affiliates and trusts run the show literally - local contracts and governance.   These are strong vote banks, almost 70-odd lakh votes across Mumbai.   A huge influencing factor the politics of the local council to the country.   So they better be taken care off.  So the loose ends tie.  

Littany of shops - cosmetics,eateries, clothes
Every festival is celebrated in zest and fervor.  The politicos or the local influentials pump money to keep the folk happy and content.

One such event is the local mahotsav - mega festival.  Small fairs- melas, selling local eateries like vada-pav, bangle shops, fortune-tellers etc., dot these fairs.  Cheap clothes, embroidered and other-wise, giant wheels fitted with bright colored-tube lights,  fortune telling robots are all part of it.
Merry-go-rounds, giant wheels - play!

The busti folk dress as though there is tomorrow, and the men-folk preen their family around in pride.  The kids eat the rose-candy, and take a ride in the giant wheel.   At the backdrop of each stall, you can see the political sponsorship displayed.  

You enjoy, we speak - the realpolitik
A stage for an evening meeting - the bragging brigade arrives, and the microphones amplifies the voice of the local party speaker.  Empty plastic chairs lie scattered around and few uninterested by-standers clap for the heck of it.  

The school ground, where this mahotsav happens, is surrounded by high rises.   The evening walkers in their Nikes, do their rounds,  but they don't display emotions.  Their faces reflect years of this uneasy co-existence - of the skyrise and the shanty town, they are used to eating the busti-burger.  
Political air cover ?

As the evening wears on, the lights and noise of the mahotsav dies down.  The hawkers count their money and make their way back to their houses.  The families, happy with a day well spent and together,  hike in an overcrowded rickshaw and disappear.   Crushed tea-cups, smoke and embers remain.   Somebody's got to clean up, but that's for another day.

The lights in the high rises too go off, and the city goes into slumber.   The busti-burger is ready to be served for one more day...

-The One

Photos courtesy The One


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