A city is defined by its human idiosyncrasies. That is what makes them unique. Of course, there are things such as topography, architecture, location, temperature etc. which vary. But none perhaps as interestingly as the behaviour of humans living within.
I just finished reading Sam Miller's "Adventures in a Megacity". Essentially a tour of Delhi in concentric circles, he presents a piquant view of how its people interact with the city. With a creaky knee, he covers nooks and crannies of "my" city that i didn't even know existed. And perhaps will never be to, and experience. Not only perhaps because i'm downright lazy, but also perhaps because Mr. Miller is a firang and i'am desi. Some of the things described in his book are never going to happen to me. Like the touts at CP surreptitiously squirting shit at my shoes. Hoping to have me pay them back to clean up. Nor would ear-cleaners above Palika Bazaar be ambitious enough to approach me with a chart of written references from Irish nurses and a Rs 300 bill.
At the same time, i would perhaps never be alarmed whenever i see people nonchalantly walking across tracks of a local train. Nor would i get concerned about "killer" pigs following me at a slum in Rohini. Not because pigs are perhaps not attracted by my brown skin, but because i would seem affected while trying to be excited about such mundane happenings.
So does that mean, there is nothing about Indian cities that i can find idiosyncratic? Of course that cant be true; and that's what instigated me to start my own "Adventures in a Megacity" Except for some problems for which I had to find immediate solutions to. I was 1600 kms away from the city i wanted to write about, ie. Delhi. Serious problem. I had to compromise by replacing it with the city I am in right now. Thus my mega city becomes Mumbai.
Next, came the challenge of it not being something original. Mr. Miller, and countless others have done it already, and clearly, i would not be doing anything unique just by replacing Delhi with Mumbai. Plus the Geography of Mumbai doesnt really support movement in concentric circles. Unlike the plains of Delhi, its shaped like the palm of a hand, and attempts of circumlocution might require me to walk across long stretches of the ocean. Also, i was not exactly excited about having to meander through the inevitable slums in this city . So in the hope of doing something original, i hit upon a plan of meandering across Mumbai through the eye's of others. I chose my medium to be the unique rag which is synonymous with the city. Mumbai Mirror.
Tabloids, by their very raison d'etre, provide citizens an alternate interesting perspective about happenings in their city. They may be scandalous, more closer to base feelings, and spread innocuous rumours about starlets; but are in general colourful and harmless publications with no greater pretensions then their circulation figures. Fulfilling citizens need for material to gossip on. Mumbai is blessed with several such. Maybe its because of the film circus here, or maybe its because people here are too closely stacked up and need an emotional vent. Whatever be the general reason for the increased gossip appetite, my specific contribution till date was as a dedicated bed time reader of the Mirror. All that has now changed.
Mr. Miller set up on a concentric spiral across the city. I decided to set up on a similar spiral of the pages of the Mirror across one month in time. He picked up the Delhi map and plonked his finger at the centre and spiralled it outwards to chalk his route. I, similarly picked up the calender for the most recent month, ie. May, put my finger on its centre date (it auspiciously turned out to be May the 13'th) and spiralled it outwards. And thus began my derivative adventure.
Fig 1: Mr Miller's route Fig 2: My Route