Scooped out of the bowels of solid waste, like other huts, perched on various levels of the accumulated waste that grows vertical by the hour. The typical Asian shack consists of the usual elements—the blue tarpaulin, corrugated sheets and flattened-out cardboards.
Anna is proud of this piece of space snatched away from other migrants that keep on pouring. Every inch is precious territory and to be defended from the intruders in the City of Moguls.
“Better than sleeping on the pavement, in the open. Pavements are dangerous in New Delhi,” says Anna.
“They are dangerous in Mumbai also. Across India,” his friend, also called Anna for being dark-skinned and Tamil Hindi, replies, voice slurred. “Pavements are fatal for the homeless!”
“At least, we have got a roof in the Capital,” boasts Anna who looks sixty, despite being young but exact age he does not remember and he never cares. Every day is a huge burden.
The hooch sears down his bulging throat. “It is home. My home.”
“Home!” second Anna exclaims. “This is a hell-hole!”
“You are always derisive.” The first Anna says.
“After sixty-six years, did we really get the independence?” The second man asks.
First Anna remains quiet.
“At least, I do not live in the heart of garbage in Mumbai. Better off.” Second Anna— usual boastful self. His host knows the guy from Mumbai lives in an identical hut near a dumping ground only.
“We are the garbage!” exclaims the first Anna. “It does not matter—anymore. More garbage spewed on us every day. Only the poor can survive in this vast landfill!”
“The flies? The mosquitoes?” second Anna —taunting openly now. “They are the bonus.”
“They are fellow residents. Our pals.”
The guest laughs a demented laugh, the raspy voice drowned in the late-evening summer traffic and the sound of the drunken brawl in the shanty nearby. The huts form an irregular line that cruelly cuts across the body of the waste like a raw, festering wound.
A violent odor hits, tickling the flared-up nostrils of the guest. His host remains immune. In the distance, bleached bones of the animals slaughtered in the adjacent abattoir glisten in the faint moon-light. A warm wind blows down.
“It is nauseating!” says second Anna, wrinkling his hooked nose.
“Do not worry. Will get used to it.” Assures the host.
“How do you live here?” The guest is relentless as a judge and jury.
“Do I have choices? If given, I would move to a castle,” says Anna, first. “It is the best patch—my home. That is it.”
They grow silent.
In the distance, honking of vehicles and a drunken brawl.
“I have a secret.”
“Share that—if it is not a murder,” says the guest and winks.
“Oh! Not something violent…”
“Then? Fell in love with your neighbour’s wife or daughter?”
“Not that dramatic.”
“I grow roses,” says Anna.
“Roses? Here? Must be mad. On this dump?”
“Look out —THERE,” The host points out.
Outside, near the opening of the shanty, arranged neatly, in a few black-painted pots, red roses can be seen prancing…like some half-starved and half-clad kids a few feet away, dancing to an unheard music on the tarmac of a broken street, while their anemic mothers cook on open fires!
A community of migrants out in the open, enjoying the early night, as one joint family!
The guest, red-eyed, looks again.
Big roses… electrifying the bleak Dickensian scene
The roses smiling in the tiny light of an earthen lamp!
Bunch of pinks, yellows, whites and reds creating a splash of colours in the brown landscape, resisting the surrounding ugliness with natural beauty.
“You tend to them? Really?” The guest asks. “But why?”
“Yes, I do. They are like my kids. Mine, you know, were killed in the riots. They give me comfort and brighten up my bleak existence, on the outskirts of this crazy city,” the host says and pours another stiff shot, while a bitter wind kisses the sunken faces of the tramps with a hot breath issuing from a furnace…
Sunil Sharma, a senior academic and author-freelance journalist from the suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 22 books so far, some solo and joint. He edits Setu: http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html