Walk the talk, stop the hawk.

Can you imagine an aerial view of the majestic Dadar Parsi Colony last Sunday at 10.45 am? It looked like God was playing Pac-Man.  After having quickly finished our morning ablutions, zealous Zoroastrians of all ages and sizes stepped out of their heritage homes, almost with clockwork precision weaving their way through the charming colony lanes to assemble at the lush green lawns of the five gardens at 11 o clock sharp.  The stoic sun had already begun sweltering but that did not deter creaky Cawasji and limping Limji on their walking sticks. Ageing couples with hunched backs but heroic spirits walked hand in hand beside the younger brigade that was represented by Mithoo’s missionaries and Rustom’s rockstars. Hundreds of Parsis congregated for a common cause – and surprisingly for once it wasn’t free food. 

 

With banners in hand and creative quotes on bright red tees we began a protest against the newly proposed hawking policy. Ironically, the over enthused organizers were yelling on loudspeakers that this was going to be a ‘peaceful’ demonstration – so earnest and fervent was the desire for protection of their passions. For others who stood behind this force, it was a time to meet and greet and exchange some loving profanities in the heat.

 

‘Aai gelsappao inyah aaya toh colony ni maa-ben kari nakhse’ some of them quoted as we sauntered through the wide landscape of Mancherji Joshi road heading towards the statue of our founder, aptly garlanded for the occasion. The sun by now was a distant shadow of itself, as we took shelter under the mahogany trees whose branches reached out to hug one another across the soft tarmac, alongside which the lovely agyari was in the final stages of its renovation.  ‘Saalaao pissap potty ne kachro thi bhari nakhse. Colony ma chori loochai vadhi jase. Chokri o ne heraan karse,’ some said with agitated fervor, simultaneously saying a silent prayer while passing the fire temple, in the hope that Ahura Mazda will quickly intervene. Some even suggested that Jimmy Mistry build another massive building to house all the hawkers, as their humanitarian side quipped  ‘even these poor people need to earn a living na’. In Hongkong and China they have huge plazas made for hawkers who will even end up selling you to the guy next door!

 

Little children walked along side their parents and grandparent’s eager to hold up placards urging the government to save our city, to save our souls. ‘Please leave fresh air for my little lungs and free space for my little feet’ pleaded a toddler stressing upon decades of effort by their ancestors to conserve and safeguard the sanctity of their environs.  They currently don’t realize that there is no place in the city of Mumbai that can dovetail you into Matheran just by turning off the main road.

 

And that is why I walked the walk with my 6-month-old daughter, Meher. To teach her lessons in unity, compassion and righteousness. To believe in what we think is right and then to stand up for it. As I pointed out sights and sounds of solidarity and togetherness someone came up to me and said ‘What will she understand at this age?’ and I said to them ‘this is the biggest mistake we make as parents’ – to underestimate the power of what children perceive and fathom. Who knows what she realizes at this age – what these glimpses mean to her? Science has not evolved enough to answer these questions.

 

 

The word hawk comes from the root meaning ‘to seize’.  And that is what hawkers have done when allowed to establish themselves in other areas.  To be honest I’m ok with the occasional junna purano samam wala ambling once a week through the colony adding to its melodious charm. There was another kaka who for the first 10 years I thought shouted out kem na mazda when until only recently I realized that it was garam samosa that he was selling; the weight of the basket on his head giving the nasal twang to his voice. The colony would lose its allure were it not for that momentary cantankerous banter between the macchiwali on the road and the third floor tenant on her balcony, vehemently demanding a refund because the fish turned alive in her stomach on drinking water after having devoured it.

 

There are hardly any pockets left in the city where one can truly experience the Bombay of the yester years. This too will disappear if the government goes around converting every place into a slum dog millionaire movie set.  DPC, as we affectionately call it has a pristine charm to it. Entering this tranquility after driving through a concrete jungle immediately soothes you after a hard days work. Tiny three storied buildings with small ornate balconies where elderly couples wave out to people walking by adds to its sensitivities.  The broad footpaths where little children safely trudge back from school are its lifesavers. Keeping it this way will retain our right to a decent living and give our children something to be grateful for.

 

According to my wife, a world famous urban designer, “Legalizing hawking and making permanent their spaces of operation – a strategy being employed across our country; as scripted also into our national policy on urban street vendors (2006); is only a superficial solution and does not address the structural characteristics of a third world economy.  In India where 90% of businesses are informal and account for more than 60 percent of the economy’s value; it is a strange vision to assume that this large a percentage can ever come to be entirely transformed; least of all at the cost of a hand full of our heritage areas. Can one really pit heritage conservation up against poverty reduction? If the government wishes to legalize hawkers, are we not also ‘legal’ residents of this beautiful colony we all call our home?”

 

Bearing fruit to the protest of our outraged citizens, ‘the local MLA Mr. Kolamdkar and the councillor Mrs Seth have already issued a letter to the commissioner to cancel the proposal’, says Mr Fitter who along with prominent people of the community have spear-headed this andolan of the people, by the people for the people of Dadar Parsi Colony.

 

As we ended the walk wiping the sweat of our face we sipped a glass of chilled limbo pani from one of the hawkers! Well, you know I’m just kidding.