“I cannot believe this is actually happening, Lady Flora.” Despite the muffled voice from underneath his face mask, Sir PM’s friend could sense the excitement. He was referring to their first walk in Fort after over three months. Now that the powers that be had permitted fitness activities like walks for Bombaywallahs, the face-masked duo felt more confident of stepping out and doing a check on their dear city.
“Pheroze, you’ve lost weight. All okay?” the ever-observant Lady Flora enquired. “Oh yes, yes. You see, we had to engage in a bit of rationing here and there. No mutton or dhansak and patra ni machhi all the time. Or even akuri on butter-laden pao to snack on. Mrs Mehta ran a tight ship; also, it would be unfair if we hoarded,” clarified Sir PM. “Now that you’ve said it; I like how my clothes look on me,” he smiled, adding, “Please tell me how you dealt with the lockdown; did you at least have someone for company?”
Lady Flora was a conscientious soul and would never dare hide anything from him. “Now, Pheroze you mustn’t be cross or feel jealous with what I am about to say…” she hesitated. She spotted Sir PM’s eye roll moment. For the first time, she realised he actually had expressive eyes. “Remember back in May, during our chat over the telephone, and when I mentioned to you about the kind captain at St Thomas Cathedral? Well, he kept me in good spirits. I was quite in the doldrums dealing with the loneliness, Pheroze. We’d go for little strolls around the traffic island; chat a bit about England. I was very grateful,” she shared, hoping her friend wouldn’t react the same way he didn’t the last time she’d mentioned his name. “Interesting,” Sir PM began, “Well, at least you weren’t alone, which I was genuinely worried about, especially in a city that’s been battered by this vicious virus. I must meet the honourable captain to personally extend my gratitude.” She was relieved.
The two walked slower than usual in the gullies of inner Fort, not before directing a long-distance salute to the glittering Victoria Terminus (now CSMT) as it had just completed 133 years of service on June 20. They wanted to soak in every little frame. The speeding kaali-peeli, the grunting red BEST bus (both carrying only essential services staff), the errant biker; somehow, they felt that the urgency and chaos was amiss.
“There was this other news, trickling in from the West, after the terrible killing of that African American gent in the US. I did get a bit worried for a bit, Pheroze, because I thought I could become a possible target right here due to my origins,” said Lady Flora in a hushed tone. “You have nothing to fear here, my lady.
Bombaywallahs are too busy fighting this problematic disease that is showing no signs of backing down,” Sir PM reassured her. By now they had reached Tamarind Lane. An eerie silence had taken over. It wasn’t the Bombay of old. After all, thousands of migrants who lived and worked here must have headed to their hometowns; Sir PM felt a lump in his throat, as he imagined their plight to make it back home. “What’s it, Pheroze? Your eyes look sad,” Lady Flora enquired. “Bombay, the same home that I love with all my heart, seems to have let some of its own down very badly. I’ve been hearing stories of landlords who have heartlessly told these daily wage workers to vacate their homes since they didn’t have enough to pay rent, let alone food to feed them,” rued Sir PM. Lady Flora despite being atop her pedestal had also seen similar sights. She got a bit teary-eyed, and hoped Sir PM hadn’t spotted it.
And then, as if in sync, both found themselves heading for the steps of the Town Hall. After reaching the highest elevation for a vantage view, they took a break, and sat silently for a while, possibly to say a prayer for their city’s wellbeing.
Lady Flora noticed that Sir PM had suddenly moved at least two-three metres from where she was seated. “What’s the matter, Pheroze? Did you spot something?” she asked. “Nothing really, just practising social distancing,” he answered, sheepishly. “I doubt we will need to worry about that; you are always ten paces behind me,” she chuckled, with a twinkle in her eye as they both stayed on by the steps under an overcast June night sky, and reminisced about their beloved Bombay; truly their jaan.
mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones…wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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