Pedder Road Flyover

It was here
underneath the posh flyover
with its underbelly bursting open like a crammed carton of sins
that I learnt about life.
I saw existence morph from penthouses and slick condos
to the wall-less homes of ragpickers
like a Salvador Dali painting, except for the curation of colors.
Grey was the color here – it was in children’s hair,
in men’s intentions, inside women’s wombs,
between the fault lines of being born poor
and in the meager light of a dawn
that somehow always escaped with the sun.
Women sat in blouses and petticoats
on saris spread out like carpets
combed hair, picked lice, smoked bidis, chewed Areca nuts
reveled in the mild kick of carcinogen numbing their mouths.
They cooked once a day over wood-fired clay stoves
in aluminum pots – rice, added alarming amounts of water when it was done.
In the short run, water made the stomach heavy.
Here there were no long runs…
The naked, insect bitten infants looked crimped.
Always begged for the breast, their faces wan with hunger
that they shouldn’t have ever known. Ideally.
Here they lived – under the canopy of opulence
on a road named after Mr. W.G. Pedder,
a British Municipal Commissioner of 1879 Bombay.
Politicians changed the name to Dr. G. Deshmukh Marg after a social reformer.
But somehow the families here still picked garbage,
waded around in stench, did death’s work,
stayed alive only because cholera was dead.
If you ventured out at the devil’s hour,
you’d have heard them groan into the darkness
as at last, traffic dimmed around three in the morning.
A few hours of oblivion must have felt good
with loyal street dogs curled up warmly by their sides.