Mumbai sizzled on the edge of monsoon. The sea wall along the waterfront a solid line of the young and old, men, women and children sitting, watching, waiting and catching the breeze. Turgid water lunged at the rocks, spray rose, people squealed, saris fluttered and then a few drops of rain and the wall suddenly blossomed, umbrellas snapped open, catching the light and fluoresced. Umbrellas in India? Any shade you desire. Couples huddled under plastic, umbrellas, jackets – no longer clandestine – love is in the open! Overnight the city became green, lush, damp and steaming. I find new energy in this weather change. Barometer rises, barometer falls along with the blood!
Ahmedabad a few days later suffocated the lungs. Caught as it is in its own desert climate, intensified by concrete and relentless sun. I ran helter skelter for my life dodging traffic and seeking shade where I could. Clouds did not gather only gloom. On the day I left for Bhuj a few drops reluctantly fell, squeezed from a sudden passing bank of clouds like blood from a stone. The drive was forlorn. A pair of wild ass far from their sanctuary wandered in search of fodder – risking death on this truck-laden highway. I made up some lines:
‘On the seventh mile of highway, my driver said to me, nine toppled trucks, eight dead dogs, seven autos racing, six horns abeeping, five goats ableating, four sweeping nuns, three camel carts, two wild ass and a peahen in a neem tree!’
The silliness kept me occupied for a while and I did get to the twelfth mile. At Bachau I swapped cars and drivers. Umar was waiting and the exchange ensures a safe return for both drivers. I always feel at home in his presence, slip easily into this ten year relationship and quickly catch up on the gossip as we drive into the dusk. More factories and more slums line the entry into Bhuj and now Umar tells me development is good. He has changed his tune and I reprimand him. He who has sat with me during discussions with those whose livelihoods are threatened by the industrial juggernauts! But it's all a matter of checks and balances in the heavily weighted game of development! Pockets bulge in some quarters while others suffer as traditional grazing lands disappear, Chinese imports undercut the work of artisans, coal fired power stations destroy coastlines and fishing and villages get swallowed into new towns. He of course has plenty of business.
Kachchh in this July month simply shrivelled, seared by the sun and parched from lack of rain and coated in dust. The omnipresent dust of eons. Thousands of plastic bags caught in trees along the roadsides do nothing to enhance the view. They fluoresce ominously in the setting sun - unlike the umbrellas of a few days back. In Bhuj I was the only guest at the Hotel Prince – now officially closed (shades of being the only guest in the Gangaram soon after the earthquake!). I enjoyed the solitude of my usual room, 220, on the second floor although the corridor is now windowless and I put a towel along the bottom of the door to keep the dust at bay. The whole place is stripped out. A large foreman seemed to spend most of his time horizontal in the rubble as his lethargic workforce moved from one task to another without quite finishing anything. Young men plastered, painted and sanded amidst the usual tangles of electrical wiring. The lift worked (it still sang to me between all two floors), the telephone did not! The downstairs restaurant remained open to the public and a greatly reduced staff served thali three times a day. The owner’s son assures me they will be open by October and I am only thankful that I do not have a tour booked for then!
The golden moment in this flying visit was the late surfeit of mangos – organic, frozen, fresh, whole, juiced or pulped they sustained me until Mumbai and rain a few days later. I do not like flying visits such as this one, I neglect friendships although I did accomplish my mission albeit with dogged determination and sheer bloodymindedness. ‘Only crazy girls come to Kachchh in July’ I sent the text to Andrea from San Francisco also in Bhuj on her own dedicated mission. She agreed and we met for a quick meal in memory of Ranju. But more of missions next time, local wisdom and the beginnings of a story of a mansion in Mumbai.
I do note that I’ve been away and off the air for some time now. Me the blogger who promised herself that she would feed the words every week! Bear with me!