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Stories from a MUMBAIKAR…

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Once he completed his graduation, Alber had caught hold of one verity he was not guilty of – His dreams were too big to be detained within the one-room workshop of Kareem Tailors; the epiphanic sounds within his self-proclaimed insane mind were meretriciously louder than the continuous paddling rhythm of his Abbuu’s sewing machine…

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other” asserts Charles Dickens in his novel A Tale of Two Cities. How could he possibly know that?

It was a dusky compendious evening in the laggard town of Latur (eastern Maharashtra) when I first came face-to-face with a mystery. The dust-cloaked greasy face of ALBER MASHAYAK was surprisingly and unassumingly glittering with delight. Mystery Man.

I had never seen a man, 6 feet tall, an unsubtle physique, a pedestal nose, in his early fledgling twenties and in my acquaintance, to be wondrously excited about selling movie tickets outside a single screen theatre, infamously named Sapna. I would refrain the readers from getting into the legal sense of Alber’s act. For he, an enduring movie buff, was in divine happiness over the Friday release of the movie Hum at Sapna.

Jumma chumma de de (read “Jumma, give me a kiss”)” he hymned as he passed dexterously across the thick crowd of youth brigade, presumptuously dressed in an unbuttoned black shirt knotted at the ends to mimic a film star from the movie.

And Yes, it was a hymn for Alber. An ardent passion can turn a flimsy movie song into a hymn. For the Man. Mystery. Again.

“You are a commerce graduate. Second class passed! How could you resort to selling movie tickets illegally? Have you no sense?” Alber’s father – his non-condescending Abbuu, confronted him as he arrived home for dinner.

“Hmmm,” Alber’s sonorous voice could only come up with this. His efforts were mostly concentrated gulping the rice he was served by his mother, his Ammi.

Alber finished his swigging act and rushed back to his room, a small under-the-staircase arrangement that hosted a charpoy and a small lamp; emblazoned posters of film stars surrounding him all along the cracked walls of his personal den. –  Dreams. Uncanny.

Alber had been a good son for his parents. Mostly. His academics were pertinent. Not in a way that his parents boasted his achievements aloud, but they weren’t ashamed of their underachieving son either. His Abbuu, usually dressed in stark white pyjamas and a befitting white kurta, intermittently recalled his son’s, young Alber’s hullaballo whenever a new movie released in the town.

“He used to drag me from my tailor shop, holding my kurta with his tight grip, pleading me to take him to the movie theatre,” Abbuu’s words had a sense of fatherhood when he narrated Alber’s stories as a kid to his friends at his tailor shop. Kareem Tailors.

“May Allah show him the right path. Once my son gets a government job, I will be free from my worries.” Abbuu’s usual ending remarks of a conversation were more an appeal than an asseveration to the Almighty.

The maniacal euphoria the city of Mumbai breathes is veritable and does not exude any scientific or psychological validation in the regard for that matter. ALBER MASHAYAK could not agree more.

Once he completed his graduation, Alber had caught hold of one verity he was not guilty of – His dreams were too big to be detained within the one-room workshop of Kareem Tailors; the epiphanic sounds within his self-proclaimed insane mind were meretriciously louder than the continuous paddling rhythm of his Abbuu’s sewing machine.

MUMBAI was the destination. Alber’s elusion was orchestrated with the inclusions of robbery – Ammi’s Dabba savings, as she referred it; and a late night eloping with one’s beloved dreams. His train travel among the vegetable vendors seated near the toilet door of a passenger train was eventless. The stink around was an ironic signal of the impediments to come.

The journey of ALBER MASHAYAK within Mumbai was multi-folded and jolty – being a spot boy (helper) on the sets of films, television soaps; being an official ticket-window employee at Galaxy Cinema, Bandra; then gradually moving to the role of production assistant on T.V advertising engagements; to leapfrogging to second campaign manager for Parag Sarees – He was unstoppable as the wind. AND RAMBUNCTIOUS TOO JUST LIKE A TWISTER.

Finally at the end of the 6th year of his exile, Alber made that one call he was planning for years – “Hello, Abbuu, Salam Alekum! Alber bol raha hoon. (Read – “Hello, papa, this is Alber”)

The next day the Mashayak family received an invitation to the opening of a company Kareem Film Distributors Pvt. Ltd. Accompanied with it were 2 AC-Tier train tickets to Mumbai.

Alber had proved himself instrumental in the generational metamorphosis of Kareem Tailors to Kareem Film Distributors Pvt. Ltd. Today the distribution company handles most of the distribution business in Mumbai and North India territory for the most prominent film producers in the Indian film industry.

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Mumbai believes… (Excerpts from ‘Mumbai dreams…’)

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment

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Religious sensibilities are often imbibed in Mumbaikars. The precarious truce between the two predominant  religions (H&M) dwelling in the nooks and corners of Mumbai has always been a subject for politically moulded views and equally sensationalising media.

Growing up in the Mumbai (then known as ‘Bombay’) of early 90s, witnessing the cannibalising riots and bombings of 1992-93, gains a prominence in my childhood memories. Flashes of crude impertinence taking the form of inhumane insanity was visible even to the naked eye of an 8 year old. The fresh-fruits stall of a Rahimchacha beside the community hall was not safe for someone named Rahul. Not anymore. The notable Haribhai  samosewalla  was not safe for Rahul’s friend Iqbal either.

“Rahul, don’t ever go to Rahimchacha’s stall. It’s dangerous. Woh bure log hai! (read – Those are the bad guys!)”  The same was supposedly fed to Iqbal by his kin about Haribhai’s stall.

During the riots, the playful Mumbai evenings were replaced by a stern schedule of bread and vegetable purchases, adhering to the curfew timings. My father’s advertent walks in the marketplace, with one hand engaged to a red-ribboned white cloth-bag and other firmly gripping my wrist, were fast; his eyes intermittently exchanging glances, once at his wrist watch, once at my mother’s to-buy list. Uncluttered.

But, sensibilities do change as you become an adult walking your own walk.

……

Saddam Hussein, Iqbal’s father, supported his thirteen member family by selling books in the Fort area of Mumbai.

“I sell books of Barbara Cartland to Baudelaire. Which one would you like to read son?” He smirked as I paved my way in through the heaps of books kept on the road pavement that stretched from Marine Drive to Flora Fountain.

Iqbal, seemingly benumbed, never really sensed the depth of books. His father’s wayward ardour about his business as a bookseller far exceeded the vivid intensity of the illiterate character he, so effortlessly, conceled.

……

“Revenge is known to every young and old, every man and woman. We will avenge the innocent blood that has been shed no matter what it takes.” It was far from a cry. It was an unheralded furore on the part of Saddam Hussein.

The transition from a pavement bookseller of Flora Fountain to an opportunistic leader of a small clan of aggravated beings was queer. His concealed frustration as he followed the TV news at my house in Lalbaug was not beyond my juvenile senses. His visits to my house in the evening for watching news and an elderly talk with my father had stopped. Eventually.

……

15 March 1993 Bombay Bombings

“It seems Saddam Hussein was the one who parked the explosive filled vehicle at Plaza cinema. People are talking. It’s not hard to believe!” I still remember the exact words from my father as he returned from office and conveyed the rumor to my mother.

…..

Mumbai Dreams – Part I



The abnormalities of Mumbai beseem this unduly congested city, thought the man sitting on a bench at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus). The usually blatant railway station in Mumbai had chosen to remain silent for the past ten minutes.

    For the man.
    No clanking of trains. No timely announcements. No buzzing of the daily commuters. No creaky chaiwallas (kids carrying kettleful of tea, with tiny hands holding a balancing tower of paper-cups, short flaccid steps paving their way through coarse men and numb women). SILENCE.

The searing heat of Mumbai summers, blatantly known for drenching the ambitious dwellers in sudor, and the exploiting trait of Mumbai television industry, represented by a handful of superstitious and mine run production ventures, had exacerbated his woes. For he, a fledgling scriptwriter in his early twenties, had been at work for the entire summer day battling for opportunities to earn his share of write up in a screenplay for a television sitcom.

“You better be good this time with your write up. Ektaji wants a perforating episode to be telecasted tonight. It will be shown to viewers with the title suggested by Ektaji – ‘Pavitra Rishta Mahaepisode’ (‘Virtuous Relations Grand Episode’).” 
The director had conveyed emphasizing the title, with his hands mimicking a hoarding in space. Typical gestures of a motion picture director.

“Do put some extra rancour amidst the lead pair. Also, we can have a few scenes by killing the protagonist’s brother. We need some heavily emotional glycerine scenes” The director had added in a holistic tone.

“Rahul, you better be good this time.”

The director’s warning cry before disappearing for his lunch had sounded  more restraining than encouraging.

The offstage grimace of this neophyte writer in the television scripting arena had been appalling lately. The Mumbai television industry churns out a superfluity of sitcoms that straddle the limited creative content written on the foundations of romance and the household spurts of epithets between monster-in-laws. A winning formula followed by most of the industry pundits. For a writer, it was callously implied to adhere to these norms and avoid traversing any untouched aspect of story-telling. By the book.

The writer’s afternoon had been weary. Plot Designing. Character Segregation. First Draft. And no time for lunch.

The first draft had turned into an exact portray of his director’s plain unembellished suggestions. Although a smearing touch of finesse to the characters, their behavioral convention was a much needed ingredient to the story, the writer had been reluctant towards it. He was fearful of taking this stride that could annoy Ekta and her accomplices and cost him his chance of writing for this sitcom.

“Better to be a regular writer with a job, money than trying to be an Artificer, a Craftsman and be a cast away.”  He had considered.

Eventually, the draft script had moved up the ladder.

It is presumptively inconceivable to decrypt the pattern in which scripts are reviewed in this television industry. A task that can let down even a gallant writer.

“This is not the way I wanted it to be. It lacks the emotional punch. Raw. It has the elements I had told to include. But its not commercial.You don’t understand what I’m saying!”  The director turned into a confounded philosopher with the first-draft script in his hands.

The lead character being sad about his brother’s demise resorts to cursing people around him, delivers over-the-top dialogues. Squalling.

“This blizzard display of perceptible emotional chaos is commercial. This is what you mean a**” The writer had not been able to put forth his understanding of the situation and his paradoxical opinion on it.

Second draft was assigned to another writer with traditional writing sensibilities.

Disdain.

The writer had perceived this doom as an opportunity to search for work that is originative and doesn’t bind his liberal want for contentment. He’d called a few of his busy ghost-writer friends and inquired about any need of an adjunct to share their burden of work. No Respite.

He’d received a call from one of his acquaintance and, with no halcyon choice at hand, had consented the offer to work as a second-level production assistant for the finale episode of the Indian counterpart of American Idol. The shoot was scheduled to commence at 2:00 am at a nearby film studio.

With two barren hours on his hands, he had taken shelter on a bench at the Terminus.