13\3 PMGP – Middle

The original inhabitants of PMGP were a part of a rehabilitation scheme – The Prime Minister’s Grant Project or PMGP. They had been displaced from their earlier habitat, thanks to a road project that linked two suburban centres in Mumbai. Most were migrants from other parts of the state of Maharashtra.

I had made my purchase from one such lady. It was only much later that I came to know about her profession. She brewed and sold country liquor. Her husband had apparently hanged himself to death and the rumour going around was that his wife was too ‘hot’ to handle.

My building society secretary, with grave concern, had once whispered that the lady was seeing a young but corrupt police constable, even before her husband’s death. I dared not mention any of this to anyone. ‘Budding filmmaker buys flat from a possible adulterous liquor lady’ – this also did not sound good.

But all said and done, my ground floor ‘Kholi’ was quite an ‘adda’ by itself. It had a TV set and so, people gathered whenever there was a cricket match. Otherwise too, people often dropped in with their own groceries, barged into the kitchen, made tea, cooked food, and happily ate it, as if it were their own house. Of course, they did feed me too. But that was really a by-product.

And some generous ones even brought their own ‘daaru’ – in the afternoons, before and after sunset and even at mid nights. Most times I ended up being at the receiving end of their emotional outbursts; mainly relating to personal and professional matters. I also found myself cooking for them, as best I could, so that they eat and then sleep over their ‘angst’. I would thus be relieved of the burden of listening to their woes.

And on few occasions I got emboldened enough to gulp off their ‘daaru’ and give them a taste of my own emotional outbursts – both personal and professional. That was my way of getting back at them. And invariably, my angst increased the following day when I had to clean up the mess left behind – unwashed utensils or puke stains.

One day my roommate, who worked for a then reputed but now defunct media house, had invited around twenty of his female colleagues for a ‘pharata’ party. It was the first time in my life that I had seen so many of them cramped into a 180 square feet area, chatting away to glory as they took turns making 'pharatas'. Needless to say, the next morning, I did get some strange looks from my conservative neighbours and a friendly warning by my building society secretary.

Once when the doorbell rang frantically, I found myself facing my cable guy who led a delegation of eight to ten people – all of them, his friends and family. Also along them was an agitated actress friend of mine, to whom I had introduced the cable guy. Between them, they had a financial dispute.

The amount in question - one hundred and fifty rupees. It was demanded that I mediate. After one hour of hair splitting negotiations and high-decibel arguments, the actress finally agreed to part with one hundred rupees. I had managed to strike a compromise and the cable guy still smiles whenever he sees me.
Acceptance among the non-filmy crowd was slow. But things got easier when I lent some money to a few people, asked my parents to stay with me for a few days, gave access to my telephone to one and all, helped an uneducated youth to get a job and let my ‘Kholi’ be used for social activities like society meetings and photo secessions for voter’s identification cards.

Thus, this ‘lungi’ wearing ‘Madrasi’ soon became fit enough to be considered as one among them.
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