Phase Two

1 Jan

Happy 2012! Here’s another tale about the good folks at Soonawala Colony. To read The One that Came Before, go here.


At the precise minute the earthquake struck, Silloo Damania was perched on the potty, making a mental checklist of the tasks ahead of her that morning. Must be the Chick Van, she muttered, as the floor began to quiver, but five seconds later, Burjor, newspaper and choy abandoned, was banging on her door, demanding she cut the crap and quit the shit. (Not that she recalls his exact words, but she wasn’t one to let go of some good word play if it were served to her on a ses.)

They gathered in the children’s playground, women in hurriedly wrapped shawls, the men still in their sadras, watching swings sway ominously and the ground rumble like an ogre’s belly. So animated were their numerous opinions on geophysics, that it was several minutes before any of them noticed the tremors had stopped. Of course, not all of them blathered on about the Day of Judgment. Some, like 14-year-old Sanaeya and 16-year-old Daraius, gainfully employed themselves by making eyes at each other and blushing furiously, but let’s turn a blind eye for now, shall we?

They trooped home and a gaggle of the most opinionated voices congregated at the Pardiwalla home to watch the news.  Scenes of devastation sprang to life behind the anchor, who announced in near-frenzy that an earthquake in Kutchh had wiped out villages and many of their denizens. A hush descended on this usually noisy group. Shrieks and cries of despair rent the semi-arid land and home to thousands now meant only the endless sky with its benign January sun. Nature had taken a bite of earth and snacked on it with Marie biscuits at breakfast.  You could see its teeth marks where the ground had split. The residents of Soonawala Colony, like the rest of Bombay, hung suspended between horror and disbelief, with the occasional tear cruising down an unaware cheek.

After an hour of repeat telecasts and frequent switching between Star News and Doordarshan  that drove Banoo’s glaucoma-accursed eyes batty, the phone rang and Homyar Pardiwalla walked over to answer it. A 5-minute conversation that 12 neighbors intently listened in to ensued.  Homyar ended the call to announce that Jamasp Patel, chairperson of the colony association, was rounding up a group of able young men to accompany trucks of supplies to affected areas. A cheer went around the room as the men, who had hitherto ventured only as far as Udwada for their annual pilgrimage, welcomed the idea of rumbling off into nebulous clouds of dust to assist their countrymen.  A round of tea was eagerly accepted and “Planning the Mission” began in right earnest.

In the midst of the chatter and raised voices, sat Dolat from the ground floor, listening silently, a knob of discontent growing ever larger in her throat.  Never married and in her early fifties, she shared a flat with her younger sister Persis, cooking and keeping home while the latter went to work. It was a quiet existence, but not a lonely one, surrounded as she was by friends and neighbors from her childhood, but lately, Dolat had begun to get a sense of having missed out on life. Satellite television was her bridge to the world beyond the colony and she wanted a taste of the action for herself. “I’ll go too,” she said evenly, her voice belying the burbling she felt in her stomach’s pit, and drew a deep breath in anticipation of a response.

The clamor continued. They hadn’t even heard her. Food packages, antibiotics and warm clothing were being zealously discussed, and you’d have to be a foghorn to be heard. “I will come too,” she tried again, and this time they turned. The Wall of Voices collapsed on her slowly, brick by dissenting brick, logic and reason crumbling to dust under its red onslaught and Dolat stared in seeming resignation ahead of her.

The day of departure dawned all too quickly, and after two days and nights of ceaseless activity, in which every man, woman and child played a part, the trucks and their occupants were ready to roll. Leading the pack of do-gooders was Jamasp, with Homyar and Dara as his able assistants. Khushroo, Feroz and their “gang” that hung out until the wee hours, racing bikes on Marine Drive and risking the ire of police and parents alike, provided back-up support and muscle power, as they searched the crowd for the impressed faces of Soonawala Colony’s waifs. Packages and sacks had been hauled on to the trucks the previous night, the men cursing quietly at the heavier loads. Saying their goodbyes and waving to adoring fans, they climbed on, and engines roared to life. The convoy edged out of the parking area, winding onto the street and as the men settled in for a long ride, no one noticed a tiny corner of a rather curvy gunny sack lift itself up and take a quick gulp of air before subsiding into the potatoes again.

10 Responses to “Phase Two”

  1. sukanya January 3, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    can’t wait for the next part…..
    i am reading Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar. This piece almost read like hers-your styles are similar. perhaps because you write so passionately and vividly about your community.
    loved it!

  2. Aunty G. January 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    Parsis are known for their philanthropy
    And, doubtless, for their cacophony
    But, three cheers for Dolat
    For hiding in sack-spud
    And daring to do her bit in the catastrophe!

  3. Orange Jammies January 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    sukanya: Ack! That’s a compliment? 😆 I don’t like Umrigar’s style at all.

    Aunty G: She sure gave it a shot, that late bloomer.

  4. sukanyabora January 7, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Sorry OJ, if I denigrated your style by drawing this simile. But I like her writing and therefore it is a sincere compliment.

  5. Orange Jammies January 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    sukanya: I completely believe you, hon. 🙂 No apology required!

  6. dipali January 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    All agog for the next installment.
    What a wonderful, vivid word picture you have painted!

  7. Orange Jammies January 12, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    dipali: Heaven knows what that lot will do next. I wonder too…

  8. rajni January 28, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    Delightful!Wonder what part 3 will bring?

  9. Orange Jammies January 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    rajni: Peregrinations, perhaps?


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