I woke up unbelievably aware of the time. It was 4 am, signalled by the arrival of devotees at the Lalbaugcha Raja market to get a darshan of Mumbai’s oldest Ganesha– one last time before he could be immersed in the brackish Arabian Sea tomorrow. I was in Jacob’s Circle and the devotees lined up from all directions. They drove in cars or bikes, honked and blocked the footpaths and the main road.
Not a day went by when I didn’t think of him. My Lalbaugcha Raja.
The mosaic corridors of our building were smooth from being used for many centuries. Eight five. That’s eighty five years.
Raiza Mahal was a greying, dilapidated structure that suffered from a building secretary’s ego, and took a constant beating from the downpour it received each year in monsoon. The rainwater impregnated the sides of the walls and dripped through the plaster on the underside of the staircase. The windows emanated fragrances of rogan ghosht peppered with herbs and condiments, rasam and chopped coriander, or the sizzling sound of tadka or the pounding of cardamom and ginger in a brass mortar and pestle. The D’Souza’s usually made vanilla sponge cake on Fridays and sent it up to the Ahmeds, Haldipurs and Naidus, and reserved a slice for me too. The cheap tiles bordering the sides of the stairs were chipped for the last eight years. There was a dimple on one of the steps on the second floor making me trip sometimes.
I ran past Ashraf Mahal, the building in which all the lawyers, engineers and doctors lived, and dashed towards the exit, dodging Aman who was teasing me. I stopped short when I saw someone. Looking around to make sure Aman was out of sight, I made my way towards the person.
A woman stood facing the wall; not an odd sight for the times we lived in. Her black hair was neatly coiffed into a bun — the airhostess kind. I sat next to her feet on the wet concrete floor, and looked up at her face. They were expressionless. Her eyes? They were brown and bloodshot. She had eyeliner on, and her lips were painted pink. Was it some Instagram Mannequin Challenge? But she held an empty grocery bag in her hand. I looked around and grunted. Not a soul in sight. That seemed odd. She seemed as if she were meditating, but with her eyes open. I tugged the hem of her black frilled frock. No response.
I stood guard for her without making a scene. In an hour, a crowd had gathered. Some of them started taking videos for social media. The rest were concerned. I knew these people. They blew everything out of proportion. I felt as if I was in charge of a whole show, where people silently stood to look at her from top to toe. I made a ruckus and drove away men who tried to get too close to her. Asha came by, and was amazed and confused at what she was looking at. She asked me if I knew what happened to the woman. I shrugged.
‘Today is Anil’s birthday. Do you want to go for his birthday party? There’s pizza!’ she said, showing her plate.
My eyes widened. ‘Mayyybe?’ I said.
Pointing to the wall-staring-wonder-woman, Asha said ‘don’t worry, I can take care of her for you!’
Anil turned ten today — a year senior to me. His apartment was on the third floor.
There was ice cream, some chocolates, a slice of cake and Pepsi. There was pizza. Except, there was no pineapple on it. Not even a sliver of it. Ugh.
Holding on to pizza piece, I walked towards the woman. Asha sat there, her chin propped in the palm of her right hand, her long orange frock spread around her. She seemed bored.
Suddenly, the woman turned around. The crowd which had nearly dispersed by the time I got back from the party, crowded her again, and attacked her with questions and accusations.
‘Arrey Lisa medem, kya hua?’ chimed in the ironwala.
‘Lisa, what’s up with you ya. Is everything alright?’ asked Asha’s mother. She was holding a paper plate with cake on one hand while rocking Asha’s baby brother on her hips. The baby looked exactly like Asha but for his thumb shoved into his mouth.
‘Here, eat some cake na?’ said Mala as she fed Lisa from Asha’s mother’s plate with her bare hands. Lisa turned away. Asha’s mother stared at Mala.
‘Have you gone mad or something?’ asked Dylan brusquely.
An old man in his eighties perhaps, ambled towards her, the lower border of his white veshti dragging itself on the floor.
‘Lisa, my dear child, you’re here. I’ve been looking for you everywhere! It’s almost seven pm. Would you go, make some dinner?’
I dropped my pizza to the ground. ‘She’s hallucinating. She’s probably in a trance. She’s not ready to feel normal yet! Can’t you see, she’s disoriented!!!’ I shouted at the old man but he seemed to ignore me.
Lisa looked into her empty bag. ‘No papa, I have to buy groceries. Why don’t you go back home? I’ll come in some time’.
She ignored everyone else.
I was shocked. This lady spent three hours staring at a mildewed wall in a decrepit society, and is suddenly fine enough to make dinner? Is no one going to address the elephant in the society premises?
The old man nodded and turned around to go home. I picked up my pineapple-less pizza piece and bounded behind her. Her frock fluttered in Mumbai’s winds. It was monsoon after all.
Not a day went by when I didn’t think of him. My Lalbaugcha Raja who went missing two years ago.
My biggest cheerleader. Somebody found him swaddled in a pink towel, as a baby at the feet of Lalbaugcha Raja in 2006. He was named Lalbaugcha Raja. Since then he grew up on the streets of Ganesh Nagar, found me when I was abandoned and introduced me to Aman and Anil in Raiza Mahal.
I wish he were named Miffy, Tiffy, Chilli, Billi or Dipli. Something nicer.
Lalbaugcha Raja. Pfftt. He didn’t even like to be called Lala.
She stopped on her way to the grocery store. A grey car shined in the bluish light of dawn. She stared at the car for a couple of seconds.
Click, click, click.
Her car doors opened magically.
I gaped at her in disbelief, and was sure she lived in Ashraf Mahal — all the wealthy with cars lived there.
She seemed oblivious to my presence.
She opened the hood of her trunk, expecting the worst. Or so I thought, looking at her face, now filled with worry.
I got a whiff of something familiar. Something nostalgic. I leapt up and peeped into the boot.
‘Lala! And a full pizza with pineapple pieces!’
I jumped in and licked Lalbaugcha Raja all over. Overwhelmed by happiness, I started nibbling at the pizza.
‘You’ve made a grave mistake, Pipi’ said Lala.
Lisa shut the boot.
I woke up unbelievably aware of the time. It was 4 pm in the evening because the azan from the mosque went off. A woman stood facing the wall; not an odd sight for the times we lived in. I licked my paw and rested my head on the ground. Asha walked up to me with something on a paper plate from a birthday party.
A bunch of us wanted to write 1000 word stories during this Coronavirus lockdown. We give each other prompts and a 24 hour deadline, with which we would have to come up with stories.
1. “ S/he opened the hood of his/her trunk, expecting the worst”
2. “There was pizza. Except, there was no pineapple on it”
3. “I woke up unbelievably aware of the time”
4. “Not a day went by when I didn’t think of her/him”
5. “ A wo/man stood facing the wall; not an odd sight for the times we lived in”
We had to use every single line in this prompt given by Vaishnavi Prasad for the story.