Saturday, September 15, 2007

Power tripping in Bombay

Photo credit: Dey on Flickr
The ejectment of fruit sellers on the corner of Colaba Causeway and Mandlik Road, up the block from Leopold's Cafe. A crowd had gathered, watching two men hastily throwing fruit of all sizes from apples to watermelons into boxes under the eye and prodding barks of two men in beige uniforms. The uniforms stood next to a truck with a caged cargo area in back. The vendors scrambled to collect as much fruit as possible, the small ones tumbling and eluding their frantic hands. They wore an indecipherable expression: bravado (I'm going to pretend nobody is witnessing my humiliation) battled with a desire to search faces for sympathy, any sympathy (You, rival fruit vendor, you know my pain, don't you?).

But, who knows, maybe some of the neighboring street vendors looking on had denounced the scramblers, calling the police with one side of the mouth while smiling and joking with the other. The police tried to shoo away the onlookers and managed to break up the inner circle of the crowd. When I asked an older man what was happening, where they were taking them, he mumbled, "Municipality." Why? "No license." the U.S., that's just another way of saying "town" or "county." Here, I guess it's the city jail.

After they'd gotten in, people slowly drifted off to tell their buddies and neighbors what had happened. I  caught glances back to that corner, where one lucky man was spared the bumpy ride to clean up what remained (he'd been the one bossing a lackey around, desperately), and the glances were worried. It was so for a good two anxious blocks, the news traveling just quickly enough for me to step into those backward glances.

Yesterday, a jeep marked "Tourist Police" cleared a small family from the promenade near the Taj Mahal and Gateway to India. They hadn't been begging, just selling brightly-colored trinkets and enjoying the sunset on a blanket. The Tourist Police woman didn't even bother to get out of the car, but yelling and shooing out her open window, she still had them packing up in a hurry.

Last night, as I bought glucose biscuits from a corner street vendor, the wallah's hand suddenly moved from the biscuits to a pack of cigarettes. It landed then froze. Then a command from somewhere behind my head told him to move to the right, to the right, below, yes, until it landed on Marlboros. I turned around and saw an Indian in an SUV, pulled over slightly at the curb, leaning out the window like the Tourist Police woman had.

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