India !

Johannes Manjrekar


In Bombay it was trains. We lived there for only a year – the seventh year of my life – but that was long enough to get obsessed by the local trains. When we moved to sleepy Mysore there were no local trains, so it was first insects, then birds, then "chicks”.

But in Bombay it was trains. I loved the ride to school, especially the stretch passing the biscuit factory, where you could smell the vanilla well before and long after the factory had come and gone. And the bit where you could see the airport, the parked planes like awkward giant birds that never flapped their wings. My only regret was that my school was at a "slow” station, so I could never ride the fast trains there, the glamorous ones that went thundering through the humbler stations with magnificent disdain. I adored those fast trains, was awed even by the columns in the train timetable that had all those little dashes in them to indicate where the grand "fasts” would not stop.

I visit Bombay often. Though I maintain a lingering affection for the local trains, this vast metropolis has now become to me the city of crows. They are everywhere – squabbling for ownership rights over garbage cans, inspecting empty buses, looking down sardonically from fences and lamp-posts, presiding carelessly over crowds of harried commuters, looking in at kitchen windows…the Birds in Black are the masters of this mini-universe.

A firecracker goes off and a cloud of crows rises into the air. They flap around in indignant disorder for a while before settling back on their assorted perches. The sun is low over the sea and the fishing boats are close to the shore now.

crow footprints on the sand
a boy stops to ask
if I’ve lost something


Copyright Johannes Manjrekar, 2009