Dr. Aniruddha Babar,
Dept. of Political Science,
I remember a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine. We were having a lavish dinner at one well known Chinese Restaurant in South Mumbai located near Marine Drive at Churchgate. As we were busy chitchatting a waiter (with a red uniform, a cap and typical Mongolian eyes) came to serve a soup, my friend looked at him and asked mischievously if he is really from China. He did not answer, he asked his name, he said ‘Jigme’, he stubbornly probed further and asked him the meaning of his name, he gave a dry smile, bowed and silently went away. While my friend was playing a joke on that poor Tibetan fellow, I kept looking at him with anger. I immediately blasted out,
“Hey Man, have you gone bonkers or what?, how can you asked somebody such stupid and highly derogatory questions, wasn’t that insulting to his honour”?
“I was just joking dude, was trying to know him!
“Hell with your joke, he is a human being, isn’t that enough for your cruel curiosity”?....
Many years have lapsed after that incident. My friend’s words are still ringing in my ears. As a child and also as a grown up man I never understood the fascination that humanity has developed to labelled out the people. The notion of “us and them” was beyond the grasp of my little brain.
I looked around, it’s almost 8.30 at night, and it seems the local trains are running late tonight. I picked up the chair on the platform of CST Railway station and started observing the crowd. Mumbai is indeed a city of dreams, I thought to myself. People come from every corner of India to play a gamble with their life. Some win. Some lose. But nobody goes back empty handed. Mumbai gives something to everyone…hopes, lessons, questions, answers, love, hatred, scars….
Life as a young Criminal Lawyer has been good and challenging so far. More than money the experiences that I have gathered matter the most for me. Experiences, given by people-good, bad, ugly help you to become a better human being in truest sense. But some experiences are enigmatic, complex, they make you restless, they make you challenge the truth of your own existence in the society, they compel you to look at yourself from the top of the distant mountain- like the experience that I had while my friend was literally pulling the leg of that poor waiter. Thoughts were clouding mind as I was wiping sweat off my face sitting on a cold steel chair at the Railway Platform.
Few months back at crowded Andheri Railway Station I met Adriana Chatterjee, a Free-Lance photographer who was then busy early in the morning in randomly clicking pictures of people, and I was running frantically on the foot-bridge to cross it fast to reach the Andheri Magistrate court in time. Within a blink of an eye I dashed her. We both slipped on the floor, her camera flew away; must have got broken. My bag had fallen down and like a fool even in that highly embarrassing situation a question came out of my mouth-
“Clicking pictures, why”?
“Searching identities”, a swift reply came.
“Sorry, need to leave; take my card.” I muttered, took my bag and ran away.
At evening at 5’o clock on that same day a call came.
“Mister, are you the one who dashed me in the morning, broke my cam and ran away..huhh?’
“I had to, I apologise for what has happened in the morning ma’am but sometimes you cannot control certain things.’ I politely replied.
“That’s OK, but for now I need to meet you to steal your purse to repair this poor thing. She giggled.”
And we decided to meet at Andheri station, at the same point where destiny dashed us.
After formal introduction, I asked her about her photography adventure of the morning. She told me that she is trying to understand the society through her third eye-the Camera.
“Is it possible to understand the world through lenses?” I asked.
“I think so, that is why I said in the morning that I am searching for identities. World is not made up of people but identities, living, burning identities.”
“There cannot be identity unless I take up one.” I argued.
“That’s subtle, your society is your identity, your history is your identity, this struggle for survival is your identity, you run to reach to the court in time is your identity, you eat-sleep-make merry is your identity, in the crowded train you becoming the part of it becomes your identity. I am embracing those identities in my lenses. These are visible identities, easy to understand. However, there are invisible identities too- not so easy to understand.”
“Ha, invisible identities. Interesting! Are you talking about Ego, Status and Power?”
“Not the way you understand, it is much more than that and I know, I am playing a safe game by not venturing in this invisible world of identities. For I know, there is no coming back.”
Adriana was becoming philosophical. It was too much to stand in the corner of a busy foot-bridge and discuss philosophy.
“I want to know more about what you say.”
“Then wait for me, someday I may return to the same place Aniruddha.”
“Are you going?”
“Yeah, today’s my last day of shoot; I need to catch a late night flight.”
“And camera? Its broken na…”
“I threw that away…..”
How much did I know about Adriana whom I met in the morning by accident? We talked. She was in search of identities…visible ones. Reluctant to enter into the world of invisibles. What could that be?
I was lost in thoughts; suddenly an announcement of the arrival of train was made. Since the trains were running late, the local platform of Chhatrpati Shivaji Terminus turned into a battle field. I had to really push myself in to catch a prize- the fourth seat! What a relief. Only true Mumbaikar could understand and cherish the pleasure of sitting on the fourth seat in local train. The ‘Gladiators’ outside the train on battlefield of platform; suddenly become very friendly, pacified, polite and harmless creatures once they get a place in a train compartment. My compartment though crowded was indeed breathable. Four people were sitting right in front of me on the opposite seat. It seems three of them were known to each other but the fourth one was a stranger- just another commuter, like me.
Train started. People started chitchatting. I was trying my best to adjust myself on the fourth seat with a bag on lap. Those three people started talking with the fourth one who is directly sitting opposite to me on the fourth seat. Being a man of observant nature, I started observing them.
“Namaskar, are you comfortable na, what to do these days trains are running late hence the crowd. Normally at this time the crowd is less. My name is Sashidhar, and here meet my friends Rohit and Jignesh.” ….Third person who has been sitting next to the stranger introduced himself and his friends in a friendly and cheerful tone.
“Namaskar.” A reply came. Nice to meet you, my name is Nitesh Kapadille.”
“Nitesh Ji, nice to meet you. Me and my friends are working together at Bombay stock exchange. Hectic job u see.”
“Yes, I do understand. Though I am not an investment guy I can very well understand your situation.”
“So nice of you. Where do you work Sir?”
“Well, I am a Foreign Language Consultant. I work for an International Language Consultancy Firm. Normally, I avoid traveling by train, since I live nearby at Prabhadevi. It seems, everything gone wrong today. Had my day, finally!”
“Certainly Sir. We all have the days of salt and pepper..heheheheeh... Jignesh giggled and continued… “It seems you are not from Mumbai.”
“True, I am from ‘Buldhana’.”
“Mumbai welcomes everyone. Hehehehheeh…Jignesh giggled again.”
“But Sir, what did you say your surname is?”
Its Kapadille !
Unique Sir. Umm…Kapadille; Rohit was scratching his head…and asked, “Never heard of it before. I have many friends from your region but never heard this surname.”
Yeah, possible. A cold reply came.
“Sir which community do you belongs to? Rohit probed again. I was observing the direction of conversation.”
“Hehehhehe…Jignesh giggled, you have good sense of humour sir.” The conversation seemed endless. A sweat gathered on my forehead.
“Thank You.” A cold reply came.
“I believe, this surname comes in General Category Sir.”
“Yes it does.” A sharp reply loaded with anger came.
“Oh how nice, by the way what is your Caste Sir?
There was cold silence in the compartment except the noise of train. In today’s world in a global city like Mumbai this question is enough to make people feel awkward.
Suddenly a reply came, Kapadille was speaking in a bit sad but confident tone.
“I believe, everyone who has gone beyond the identity of caste is from General Category irrespective of their social genesis, I am a part of that category which believes in just and fair society, a category of a common man who toils every day to earn bread and butter to feed hungry stomach. Reserved are those who are reserved, crippled in their thinking, the narrow minded ones, who are still trapped in illusions and delusions irrespective of their social roots. I was born in a family that never introduced me to my caste, so what I write on the paper or the government stamp that I get is as immaterial as what you think about me and my possible root. We are living in 21st century; we have come a long way Brothers. The old invisible caste identities are now diluted and new castes like-Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer, Military Officer, Pilot, Teacher, Language Consultant, Model, Entertainer, Writer, Poet, Artist etc. are born. Hence, by Caste I am a Foreign Language Consultant and I belong to the community of Foreign Language Experts, born and brought up in India having Marathi as a Mother tongue. – This is my social identity.”
I was stunned after hearing these words. Are we all victims of our past? Are we all eternal slaves of our own negative mindset? Is this the reason why I got angry on my friend when he cracked joke on waiter? Is this what Adriana was talking about- the invisible identities? Have we reduced ourselves to the nation of ignorant puppets of political undercurrents of culture? Have we forgotten the human nature of man? Have we forgotten that we all share the same blood and flesh? Have we forgotten that we all are sometimes good-bad and ugly? Have we forgotten that LOVE and COMPASSION is the ONLY answer? Have we forgotten that we are Human Race?.....have we forgotten that we are one?
Incidents of Caste Violence, Rapes, Communal Riots…….started slipping off before my eyes. Kapadille denied giving a direct answer to the most inappropriate and threatening question. But, will the question die its own natural death? Incidents of the murders, rapes, ostracization and discrimination of Dalits and Tribals are occurring behind the constitutional safeguards. The political voice of Dalits has been muffled. The ghosts of Poona Pact of 1932 caused irreparable damage to the political rights of the depressed classes. The tribals of the northeast have been negotiating with unending battle of identity on daily basis. Underneath the words of development, progress, justice, equality, liberty and fraternity there lurking a cruel face of system which is least bother about the ground realities of society. Sorrows too have a right to dissent ….just like a steam-whistle of yesteryear Trains that would react to the pulling pressure of the ‘CORD’.
We are trapped in strange Kaleidoscopic Prism! Train’s whistle and my restless mind gone lost somewhere in oblivion.