There is, nestled among the old, winding lanes of once upon a time Catholic community of Juhu, a men’s barbershop. Here, I can get me a relaxing foot massage and a pedicure that takes care of my very painful – if not timely treated – ingrown toenails, all for about US$5. Now, where in the world would I get a deal like this? Well, in Mumbai, of course! This mega-metropolis, home to over 12 million people, is a shocking contrast between the haves and have-nots. With a growing middle-class, Mumbai can be, sometimes, very pricey. So this foot treatment, for me, is a real good deal.
The salon is some distance away from my hotel, The Leela, near the international airport, but Mumbai now has a super modern and efficient metro system that runs right outside The Leela to a short distance from the salon. The air conditioning in the cabins is set to summer months when the heat, humidity, pollution and mobs can fry your brains, but they forget to, or can’t, or won’t, adjust it for the milder ‘winter’ months between November and January. So I curse myself for opting to wear comfortable shorts this morning. I buy a return fare for 75 US cents and begin climbing several steps towards the Metro. A massive cow and her calf, both completely obstruct both ways to the Metro, however. Nobody makes any attempt to move them; rather, they touch the bored and weary animal then their foreheads in reverence and retreat the steps, cross the road and come up from the other side.
Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, with the Zuljana horse. I have seen this with my own eyes at Kesar Bagh in Dongri on Muharram 8th. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?
Going down the steps again, crossing the busy and maddening traffic, climbing back up again seems too much work, since I have already run six miles this morning. I contemplate jumping over the animals but quickly discard the thought. Sentiments about eating beef in India and getting killed for it fresh on my mind, I retreat. Fast-fast.
Raju, the child-adult from Bihar, gives me a toothy smile as I enter the salon; his nimble but strong fingers earn him a Rupee Fifty (75 US cents) tip with my every visit. I gather I am the first customer of the day, it being 10 AM on a Sunday and by the sedated look of the place. People in Juhu are affluent; early Sundays are time for sleeping in or eating paratha or dosa breakfasts leisurely.
Kaise ho, Saheb, Raju greets me affably, springing to his feet and getting the paraphernalia ready for the pedicure. He knows I come only for the foot massages, since my head, with its lush invisible mane, needs no maintenance. As Raju works in to ease the aches of today’s six-mile run, I relax and enjoy life’s small pleasures and fall into a sublime trance. I open my eyes at the rattle of the doors opening; it is the salon owner. Mr. Das wishes me a rapid Namaste but his face sours when he realizes I am the only customer. So he quickly starts trying to change his fortunes by appeasing the gods. There are arrays of different gods, decked in gold, sitting and surveying us all from a specially built shelf close to the salon’s ceiling. Mr. Das kicks off his shoes, filling the air with an evil stench of unwashed feet. He climbs on a stool and decorates each god with a bunch of chameli flowers, which helps mitigate the assault from his unwashed feet. All six gods accept the gift, except for one. The bunch of chimelis will not stick to one god, try, as Mr. Das wants. He tires after a few attempts and discards the bunch. He then lights up two candles but yet again, is not his day. One lights up nice and bright, but the other refuses to take the spark from Mr. Das’s burning matchstick. Affronted, Mr. Das utters a curse, uproots the misbehaving candle and crushes it between his fingers. He then lights up a bunch of agarbattis. The gods must have forgiven him, as all smolder up, emitting a cloud of pleasant smoke, purging the foul stench of unwashed feet altogether; I breathe easier. He offers the burning agarbattis to each of the gods, muttering a prayer.
Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, at various zarihs. I have seen this with my own eyes at Pala Ghali mosque in Dongri and here too, at HIC, Sanford. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?
My good temperament after the pedicure and foot massage is rudely broken as I wait for a rickshaw to take me shopping. A street cur and I both jump through our skins when a wedding band starts up close by with a crash of drums and trumpets; the onslaught is sudden and earsplitting. The cur yelps in fear and scurries away; I try and steady my wildly wavering heartbeat. The wedding party begins winding down the street, causing immediate traffic snarls. There are about fifty people, both sexes, flailing their arms around and swaying their bodies to Bhangra music, which is catchy. Were it not for my (utmost) self-restraint, why, you would have seen me bopping around Juhu that day. The bride and groom are seated high under a rainbow umbrella mounted on a wheeled cart drawn by two smartly festooned horses. The sherwani-clad groom has a silly smirk pasted on his face while the bejeweled and garlanded bride looks around with a bored expression on her face. A plump woman in a sari that bares a generous midriff lifts a coconut high in the air and slams in on the tar road. It’s supposed to shatter, but alas, does not. It bounces instead and goes soaring away, ricochets off a parked vehicle and disappears into a neighboring garden. The plump woman looks crestfallen, as if she’ll start weeping tears any second. Another coconut is thrust onto her fleshy fingers. Her face clears and she raises her arms and crashes the nut with gusto. Bingo. The nut shatters and people pick up the pieces of white flesh and feed each other. A portion is sent up to the newlywed couples as prasad.
Hmmm. Now where have I seen this before? Ah yes, we Khojas do exactly the same thing, at various marriages. I have seen this with my own eyes, including that of many mines. So this is where we picked it up. No problem. Bhai Bhai, we are, no?