Friday, April 07, 2006

Just another day in Sailu's life

Three friends walking down Marine Drive. 8pm. Bright lights, big city.

Me, Jigs and Jayant. Jigs was leaving for America in a few days. He’d just come back from the US Embassy. All his vital papers – bank statements, house records, education degrees, et al carefully stacked in a file. Finally headed for greener pastures. Leaving the city and the country behind.

Jayant was getting to grips with the bull-run on the stock market. A sub-broker, also working for a bigger Parsi broker. His life was all about hot-tips, what to buy, what to sell, how to make money, how to lose our shirts and then some.

So, there we were, sitting at Marine Drive. Staring at the vast expanse of the sea. Fobbing of channa-walaas, beggars, cold-drink sellers, masseuses and the like. And ignoring the lovers, snuggling away in a corner, enjoying their privacy in open space. That’s the beauty of the city. Your own private space among a million others.

One hour of thinking, contemplating, talking and cursing later, we turned around on the parapet to head back home. Jigs knocked off his file and it fell. Fell below into the tripods and rocks that form the barrier between the sea and the wall. Tripods filled with darkness in the night and infested by crabs, cockroaches and even humans. We had no way of seeing where it fell, leave alone chances of recovery.

Three friends now in a considerable state of disarray, panic and chaos. Jigs was cursing himself furiously - Damn ! how could I be so dumb? Flight tickets booked, visa in place, everything ticked off in that list. And then I lose all my papers. Kick them all myself into the tripods at Marine Drive. Oh ya, you’ve not heard that before. All of a sudden, the romance of Marine Drive and the beauty of the Queen’s Necklace were lost.

So Jigs runs across the street to buy a torch and batteries. You can find a Baskin Robbins, a Gaylord, a Pizzeria, a Berrys, a Shiv Sagar and an Indian Summer. But I’ll be damned if you can find a “general store”. Yet, somehow he got them. Ran back to us and three furious heads thinking of a way out. No, it’s not the usual Seinfeld situation. Desperation, yes, humour no. We couldn’t jump down, could we? Nah, we’d simply break our bones and still not find that file.

Then we spot a naariyal-paani waala. Would he ? Could he ? We’d pay him of course. Sure – three dudes at the start of their careers. How much could we have? Hey, we’d chip in Rs100/each. Rs300 is a lot of money, right? For a naariyal-paani wala ? Oh yes, it’s a lot. So, we approached him with our situation.

He asked us where it fell. There was no “X” that marked the spot, so we pointed vaguely below where we sitting. Our potential rescuer. Dressed in a shirt and lungi. Could he save the day and send off Jigs to the US?

Without further ado, he took the torch walked off to a corner we hadn’t seen. There was a hole there through the parapet that everyone sits on at Marine Drive. It led below to the tripods and the rocks. Before we knew it, he’d already climbed down, through the wall and into the tripods and rocks, infested with c, c and even h. We ran back up on the parapet, guiding him towards where the file had fallen.

He vanished between the rocks for what was definitely eternity for us, but not more than 5 minutes.

And then he surfaced. With the file in his hand. Yes ! V for Victory ! We have lift-off! Jigs was headed to the land of the brave and the home of the free (yikes, I think I mixed that up).

So, up comes our hero, our saviour. We ask him his name – he says, Sailu. He hands us the file and starts walking towards his stall. [No, hang on. No naariyal-paani wala has a stall at Marine Drive. He just lays out the coconuts, breaks the top, puts in a straw and there you have it. Only those who brave the Bombay summer every year now the absolute, sheer joy of naariyal-paani. Pepsi and Coke are for the wusses]

After thanking him profusely, we fish out Rs300 and offer it to him. He refuses to accept it. There’s a small language problem, but then anyone who sells anything on Bombay’s roadsides rarely cites bhaasha as a barrier of entry. He says he won’t take a single rupee. So we have three naariyal paanis. Rs30. That’s it. He doesn’t even talk much. He’s not giving us any speech of honesty, hard-work, tough life, screwed city, etc. He just went on to do what he did for a living. Sell naariyal paani.

Thirst satiated, hunt over and totally relieved, the three of us then figure that hey, we could give him our visiting cards – in case he needs our help. So Jigs is leaving India and he doesn't even have a card. And there’s also no point him giving his phone number and address. Me? I’d run out of my cards. Jayant gave him his card. Telling him to contact us in case he needed any help at any time. And that was that. Completely humbled, and perhaps even guilty, three lukhas walk away to their lives. And Sailu goes back to selling naariyal paani.

That was in 1999. Till date, Sailu hasn’t contacted Jayant.

Sometimes when I go back home, I think I spot Sailu at Marine Drive. Was that him ? No.., it was too dark that night to see him clearly. Where could he be? What would he be doing? We’ll never know.

Even as I blog this, I doubt Sailu would even remember the incident. Why should he? This is Bombay. Everyone’s gotta work for a living, rush to reach work on time for a living, slog for a living, brave traffic jams for a living and endure crowded trains for a living.

Yes, this is Bombay. Where Sailu also sold naariyal paani for a living.