Sunil Sharma is a Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 22 published books: Seven collections of poetry; three of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, nine joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.
Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
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Sunday Mumbai is as crowded as the working day Mumbai. Go to any place and you run into multitudes. They overrun the beaches, parks, cafes- everything. The spirit of the city belongs to outdoors. A bit of the sun, the wind and the sand; they want to enjoy all of them. After Saturday- night fever, Sunday mornings look poetic. Afternoons Mumbai middle class spills out. Fun, excitements are in the air. The islands city becomes an exotic resort. An Hawaiian island. Go to the Nariman Point, the Southern part. A dazzling sunlight brightens up the whole strip. A cascade of the light touches and fires the deep blue of a slumbering Arabian Sea. The dappled waves rise and fall like beer belly. The high-rises stand muted. A symphony of human voices is heard. People arrive in torrents and invade every inch. Lovers, gays, families, ubiquitous Western couples, a rare Japanese and sometimes Arabs. There are food carts, balloon sellers, groundnut sellers, tea vendors. A Carnival springs to life. The sea meets the horizon in a far-off rim. The sky and the sea kissing hungrily in the distance. Taxis and buses regularly disgorge fresh sight-seers who, upon landing at the stretch, get seduced by the gentle rumblings of the sea and the soaring buildings. Wow! It is marvelous! The boulder- strewn area is colonized by the passionate lovers. The phantom buildings of the Backway Reclamation can be seen through a misty spry in the distance. Boats wobble on the heaving bosom of the sea. Tourists and regulars watch the buildings and the sea in a trance. The sea breeze comes caressing. It ruffles your hair and lifts up a skirt here and there. The laugher echoes. Children scream and bawl. Old folks cough. Married couples whisper. Voices in different language singing in praise. Your vintage Mumbai on the Sundays!
People are wolfing down chow mien. A street kid is pestering the eating families. She hovers on the fringe and eyes the food like the waiting hyenas.
—Why India is so poor?
—I don’t know, son. Maybe they do not work hard.
—If you work hard, you can get rich, dad?
—But workers in your factory also wok terribly hard, they are not rich. Why?
—Oh! They gamble, drink. That is why.
—But you also do that, dad.
—Oh! Now shut up and eat, Junior.
The fat eight-year-old boy eats the chow mien in gulps and looks at the girl hovering.
—Now, what is it?
—Should we feed these poor creatures?
—No! None of our business. She should earn her bread.
—She can work as a maid?
—Should we hire her then?
—Nope. She stinks!
—Oh! Exclaims the fat boy and comes closer o his fat bald father.
—You are a nice little kid! Says the bald father, pride in his voice.
—I read a story, dad.
—Which one, darling?
—Umm…About a prince.
—A prince? There are no princes now. We are the princes.
—No, it was long, long time ago.
—Oh! Tell me, son.
—He lived in a palace. He was forbidden to move outside.
—Yeah. Go on.
—One day he saw poor man. He was horrified.
—Was that so?
—Yeah, dad. Then he saw a dead man. He renounced everything.
—What was the name, son?
Hmm….something with an S—Siddhartha, I guess?
—Naw, sonny. Never heard about such a chap. It happens in stories.
—No, he was real. My history teacher told us so.
—Are we here for these dammed lessons?
—Then forget everything and enjoy. O.K?
—Now you are a wonderful kid. ENJOY.
The fat boy and his fat dad return to their food, forgetting the girl in the rags, still eyeing their plates with hope.
Around the corner the Oberoi Hotel, two white women, in their late 20s, are being followed by a pot- bellied young boy, wearing half-pants, his chest bare, dark matted hair and rheumy eyes. He follows them bare foot, hobbling painfully, hands outstretched. The 5 P.M. road is deserted. The women quicken their pace. The boy starts running after them.
—Mem Saab, Mem Saab…help!
—Shit, these dammed beggars! Mutters one of them: They are a pest.
—Mem S-a-a-b, please, two rupees only…
—Nobody is bothered bout them, here, observes the other. They are so hideous! —Yeah, revolting! Confirms the first.
—Mem Saab! Help!
—Worst than your stalkers, exclaims the second one: Disgusting!
The first lady stops suddenly. The boy almost collides. The lady glares at the boy and snarls: Go away, pests!
The boy is momentarily taken aback by the harshness of the tone. He gets rooted to the spot, eyes wide.
The women resume walking.
—Superb! Says the second one.
—Oh! Exclaims the first, delighted. I know how to handle the scum. You have to be deaf here. And dumb. Otherwise, they will kill you.
They enter the ornate lobby of the hotel. The tall Durban springs to attention and salutes the woman smartly.
A few seconds later, a tall African walks up to the liveried Durban. The Durban looks at him suspiciously and does not salute.
The 7 p.m. –Juhu beach is bursting with evening revelers. The eating places are garishly lit up. Mats re spread out before each stall and men re soliciting for their stalls. Families and couples are eating the steaming pav bhaji, noodles and chaat. Many are riding horses and the beach carts. The entire beach is littered with soiled newspapers, plastic cups, leftovers, beer cans and cigarette butts. Darkness is falling. The sea is heaving like the bosom of an excited mid. People are playing in the waves. In the shadows, lovers are locked in silent world of passion. Everybody has woven a cocoon around them.
The sea is beautiful! Says the lady.
—More than me? Teases the companion.
—Come on, naughty boy, she replies softly and tousles his crop of dark curly hair. You are very precious!
—More than your husband?
She laughs musically.
—More than your husband?
—You know…He is my husband…You, my lover.
—But I feel guilty, sometimes, says he.
—You are cheating on him.
—Do not be a prude, she says and kisses him, when I do not have such a hang-up, why should you?
—Maybe I am young, says the companion.
—Of course, you are young…five years younger than me… a college grad…But I look after you well, don’t I, honey?
—Yes. He gazes out at the sea, the folks crazy with excitement there.
—It is very simple math, she explains in a mothering tone. My hubby feeds me. I satisfy with my voluptuous body. He is nuts about my body! But you, my baby here, satisfies me fully. So, you are my real man. Got that, baby?
—So quit carping, my babe.
And she laughs—Medusa like.
—And how do you like the beach? Asks the man standing for a minute and surveying the surroundings.
—Good. The sea is real beauty! Your Delhi is sedate, says the tall bespectacled man, Our Mumbai never sleeps?
—That is true, admits the short man, sipping a beer can and smoking, you folks enjoy life. True. Confirms the tall one. In Delhi, for example, you do not have this pub culture. It is like having your girl but no place to screw her.
—Ha, ha, ha, laughs the Shorty, emitting the grey clouds. I am feeling horny.
—Just wait. We will move later on. The tall one assures. Sipping from his can. Delhi is village, he pronounces.
—Yes. There is no life there for the middle class. The Shorty announces in a regretful tone.
True! Concurs the tall one.
An old beggar long with a teenage girl appears. The girl’s blouse barely hides her youth.
—Go away, hisses the tall one.
The beggars stay put. The Shorty, red-eyed, focuses on the girl’s blouse. She becomes self- conscious.
Go A-W-A-Y, bastard! Yells the tall one.
The girl tugs on the sleeve of the old man. They move on like the silent ghosts.
—Good stuff! The Shorty says, lust naked in his red-rimmed eyes, come on, I need girl right now. Wait for some time more, admonishes the tall one. They sit quietly. Two dark well-muscled eunuchs come.
—Want some quickie? Asks one of the two.
—No. answers the tall one.
—Why so much shouting? You man or a castrated one?
They give metallic laughter and move on.
—Bastards! Exclaims the tall one. He finishes the beer and sends the can flying.
—Let us move!
—Where whores live.
At the corner, near a five- star hotel, in a dustbin, children are searching for left over’s. The lucky ones are eating beside the overflowing dustbin.
—Disgusting! Exclaims the tall one. It lowers our image in the Western world. —Yes, agrees the Shorty. I cannot stand such scenes. They whip my conscious.
—Conscience? The tall one sounds amazed. Do we still have a conscience in India? The tall one sounds irritated.
—I feel ashamed…I want to help out…to give these poor kids something,that is how I feel it, the Shorty mutters and moves on…