Incredible India – A pain in the ear
When I was a kid,the television seemed to forever show programmes about public school life where an offending pupil would be grabbed by the ear by an angry headmaster, yelping in pain as he was dragged across the playground. I think the words "little oik" were used frequently.
In my schooldays. I was caned by the head but never suffered the indignity of being frogmarched to the head's office by the ear,
Until Mumbai, that is.
In a city where touting and begging is natural part of the fabric, you learn to sidestep the earnest pleas for your attention. In fact, you hone a defence mechanism which enables you to glide past the hawkers effortlessly.
But this one was difference.
"Sir, there is something in your ear" he exclaimed as I strolled past. That got my attention, and I brushed away the offending dirt or stale poppadum
"No, it's still there," he gestured, and in that moment my defences lapsed.
Too late to resist. This young man in his early twenties suddenly grabbed my left ear lobe and pulled it downwards sharply. Under attack, I recoiled - but the pain increased. In a second, he suddenly produced a surgical needle what looked like the size of a javelin to my watery eyes - with a dob of ear wax attached to the tip.
"You see!" he smiled proudly. Now whether the wax was actually mine or just some old stuff he happened to produce magically every time, I wasn't prepared to wait to find out. I was already marching away indignantly, my pride a little dented by the whole experience.
I couldn't help thinking for hours afterwards, though, how successful his sales pitch was with other people? With me, it made me pull away violently as an attack to my person. And I wondered too whether such tactics from the young man were wise,coming just a month after the terror attacks on Mumbai?
What is remarkable is how life has returned very much to normal after that stunning act. That's the terror attack, not my ear incident.
The tower of the Taj Hotel is open again, the older part of the building will be welcoming tourists by the end of next month. And the Leopold cafe, which was targeted by the gunmen because it's a meeting place for Europeans was full of them again. The Europeans, not the gunmen, obviously.
Indians have a philosophy which prompts sayings to go with the life-goes-on attitude of Mumbai and its 20 million citizens. "Tolerance is the first step towards wisdom, and wisdom itself cannot be built with an intolerant mind" said one poster. "No compromise with the Paks" was another scrawled on a rock which painted a different view.
But above all, Mumbai is a city founded on contradictions. It's certainly going places, but progress in the full sight and sound of millions of street dwellers. What must visiting dignitaries think when their trip from private jet to resplendent palacial suites think as they pass line after line of cardboard shanty towns? There's 20 miles of them en route from the airport
But to move the poor out of the city is not a wise option either, Mumbai must try to live with both lives - the entrpreneurs living cheek-by-jowl with the poorer-than-poor. Having said there's a need for entrepreneurs, surgically-removing wax from someone's ear with a screwdriver is not, to my thinking, a way out of the poverty trap. But I could be wrong....