A Tale of Two Cities V: Portrait of a Woman

It’s been a fair while of a) painful waiting for those who like my writing and b) relief for those who thought my writing was crap, but were too nice to say otherwise. The Phadke had stopped ranting as frequently; and when he did get round to it, the usual spiel of “Pune vs Mumbai” seemed to be rather absent from the virtual verbal vomit called his blog (Yes, I refer to myself in the third person sometimes).

Unfortunately however, as I sat in office today doing banker-y things, inspiration struck and struck hard (blame it on an absolutely soul-sucking piece of work called an IPO Prospectus). In the middle of a scarily lucid daydream about committing grand arson in my office premises (It’s my daydream, fire has to be involved in some capacity), I suddenly found myself wondering about women. No biggy, guys do that often enough. But this time, it was far more specific: could the character sketch of a woman be written to capture the character of Pune and Mumbai in all its splendour? The idea seemed good enough, and so after a quick sanity check (and 7 black coffees), I bring to my gentle readers another bout of the Fight of the Century (or so Pune people would have you believe. Mumbai people don’t really give a crap). Brace yourselves, it’s a bit long-winded.

Mumbai, to me, immediately conjures up an image of a woman in her early 30’s. She’s a banker or a lawyer, or maybe even a casting director, and has just broken into the league where women are taken seriously in their profession. With almost Herculean effort, she squints her eyes open at 5:30 am. While it’s not strictly necessary to be up that early, she’s been feeling more and more that some yoga in the mornings could be good for her health. Red beeps on the BlackBerry. *sigh* Maybe tomorrow. Like always.

Her underlings have turned in their work at various hours in the night, in various stages of somnambulation, which quickly sends her BP through various stages of an aneurysm. Thankfully most of the mistakes are easily fixable, and curt emails are rapidly fired off to the culpable fools. A client seems to be having trouble with something or the other (like always), and so she puts quick fixes in place to handle the thing that will inevitably go wrong, all while she’s getting ready for work. Thinking she’s made good time today, she wonders if she can pop into Starbucks for a mocha frappuccino, but then spots her own reflection in a bookstore window. Green tea without sugar it is, then.

Striding purposefully into office, she takes charge. From there on, the entire day is consumed in a daze of fielding prima donna clients, putting out fires that spring up as soon as her back is turned, and reprimanding people who just can’t seem to be able to do their goddamn jobs. A few moments of solace are stolen in the afternoon with a quick chai in her office. Even before she’s finished her cup of comfort, she spies an intern frantically rushing towards her with a wad of papers. Back into the saddle, let’s go…

Things quieten in the evening; there’s drinks with colleagues to celebrate a deal she’s just helped close. Downing her 3rd beer, she guiltily thinks of the missed yoga and resolves to make up. Stumbling blearily into bed at midnight, she cranks out a few more mails to unwary juniors. And so the schedule of Mumbai continues, the tick of its clock more inevitable than death itself.

Pune, a 29 year old mother-of-one, wakes up at 7.30. She’s allowed herself the luxury today since she was up from 3 to 5 am, while her kid was up bawling its lungs out, pooping its pants off, and making itself a general nuisance in every way. But rest is over and it’s game time; food must be cooked, tiffins must be packed and the little bundle of hellfire called her child must be dropped off at the day-care before she goes to work. She hesitates occasionally, still new to the routine; but soldiers on regardless, with the tune of a morning raga on her lips. She leaves the house revising the chapter she’s going to teach (or the piece of code she’s going to write, as it were) that day, giving her good-for-nothing-struggling-artist-hippy brother a stern-yet-loving kick in the keister on the way out.

FC Road is a mess as always and the fumes are worse than usual, but her trusty terrorist face mask / sunshield (a common Pune accoutrement) keep out the worst of it. On reaching her desk, she immediately checks up on the status of her research. It’s tedious going, but it’s working itself up into a nice little thesis, hopefully bringing that doctorate steadily within her grasp. Absorbed in her reading, she almost misses her first class, and arrives to see her dear pupils turning the desks into horses, stationary into deadly projectiles and the blackboard into a thesaurus of unmentionables. But a flash of fake anger and the lightning crack of her ruler is all it takes to enforce order. Yep, she gloats to herself. She’s still got it…

The day passes in a haze of theory, practicals, more research and fending off the relentless and sometimes ridiculous queries of students. Worse yet, if it’s PTA meetings, then she has to tolerate the parents, who just won’t seem to grasp that their child is average at best. She perseveres, she’s just understanding what it means to be a mother…

Holy crap, is it this late? She practically runs out the door and shows up late at the day-care, where a ticked-off didi reminds her of the timings. A 50-note quickly changes hands, and the suddenly accommodating didi waves them goodbye. Entering the house, she prays that her brother has had the sense to do his weed somewhere else today. *sniff* Thank heavens! A quick cook, a swift dinner, and mother and child fall asleep listening to the gentle music (if you can call it that) of her brother’s stabs at creating music.

There it is, then. An imperfect and flawed attempt to capture the soul of a city, in a day in the life of a woman. If, in all the meandering, you have not lost track of the original question (or have cursed at me and shut the browser window), then you may judge which city wins. If you ask me though (and I suggest you do, I wrote the damn thing), it’s pretty neck and neck. They both capture my mindspace and they both, eventually, capture my heart.

But it’s only Pune that captures my imagination. True story.

Author’s Note:
If you stumble onto this one, it’s a work in progress. To be updated in a day or two. Cheers!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s