Mumbaiwale: Revisit 1980s Dadar in this hilarious, heartwarming memoir
Let’s see. What do I remember about my childhood? Interminable rosaries. Crushing on Mithun. And trying to determine if Tracy Chapman was a man or a woman.
Janhavi Samant, who lives less than a kilometre away from me, remembers a lot more. Her memoir indicates that she had a better time than I did. Faaltugiri And Other Flashbacks: How I Survived a Childhood In The ’80s recounts an era before the riots tore Bombay apart, before three Khans came to dominate the box office, before the Internet connected us in absurd and alarming ways.
Her recollections are at once personal and public. Indira Gandhi’s assassination coincides with the buying of a new dress. HDFC stands for Half Dumb Full Crack. Her neighbourhood, stretching from Kailash Lassi (east of Dadar Station) towards Hindmata is a happy hodge-podge of communities, classes, and characters. Bakeries stock boiled eggs for mill workers. Junior artistes mill around Ranjit Studios. Small businesses are generations old. The people are strangers, but strangers you see every day.
“This kind of world is hardly represented in English-language books,” Samant says. “If you’re not exotically poor or rich, no one’s interested in the story. I wanted to write about Mumbai we don’t see anymore.”
Samant hesitates to describe her childhood as “carefree”. She grew up with the knowledge that she was cherished, but was otherwise unremarkable. “It’s different from kids today who are told they’re special in every way.”
Regardless, it seems Samant grew up with a flair for the dramatic. One chapter describes the landmark moment when her middle-class household got a telephone, a clunky rotor-dial landline. Here’s how Samant saw it:
In those days, the big thing about phones was not the making of the call; it was the receiving. There was much authority in being summoned to the phone because someone was in need. There was that thrill in lifting the receiver and saying with authority, ‘Hello.’
Phones were taken seriously. Nobody called to ask mundane insignificant things like, “Where have you reached?” or “What’s up, man?”. If people just wanted casual information about some person’s well-being, they visited each other. They called only if it was a matter of great importance and urgency. Few of our society households did have a telephone but we didn’t have symbiotic neighbourhood relationships with any of them. So we didn’t receive many calls.
But then our phone arrived and soon our social worth rose. Immediately, the next-door Shirsats took our number; my mami upstairs, whose calls came at the Prabhu household earlier, switched loyalties to us, even if it meant climbing down three storeys to answer one call.
For five days, my sister and I played with the dead phone. We pretended to be film heroines saying, “Kyaaaa... nahi” in that exaggerated tone and then collapsing on our knees while sobbing into the receiver. Sometimes we pretended that a killer was following us through the house and we were frantically trying to reach the phone to call the police. (As you can imagine, we devised many of these film scenario-inspired games: heroine-rushing-up-a-hill-to-commit-suicide or hero-mother-getting-shot type games). Or we just picked up the phone and sang songs into it. Every evening I came home from school, I asked chirpily, “Has it started yet? Can we make a call?”
Then finally in about a week, the phone started – just like that, on its own. Our parents were out and I guess it was the rainy season because we hadn’t been allowed to play outside and so, my sister and I, Sai and Bali (the Nerurkar siblings from the fourth floor) were playing in our living room. Then during one of our phone games, we heard the dial tone. Boy, did we freak out! For some inexplicable reason, we immediately called 100.
The conversation went a bit like this:
Police control room: Namaskar, Mumbai Police room.
Four kids chortling: Aye, tum police pandu hai. (At that time, pandu was a big word; I think it meant buffoon.)
Police: Hello, who is speaking?
Again with more giggling: Tum stupid hai, idiot hai.
Police: Aye, who is speaking? Police will come and arrest you.
Sai (in a fit of bravado): Tum padrya hai, tum hagrya hai. (In plain speak, you are a farter, shitter.)
And then we quickly put the phone down and started laughing.
Samant’s neighbourhood is now a bustling sari market. The shoppers, many of whom come in large groups from as far away as Surat, are actual strangers. Samant has a landline. But it never rings. Memories are being created for a new generation, at least for those still paying attention.
Faaltugiri And Other Flashbacks is published by FunOkPlease. 150 pages. ₹249.