On a hazy, warm and breezy morning, my son and I find the trains and roads carrying blessedly light loads. Most people who might have been out are instead focusing on Delhi, where Pakistan is playing India in a sixth, and eventually lost, match. So he and I, we fairly race along to Haji Ali. He's long wanted to trek out to the dargah there, I've long promised to take him, and this is the perfect time to do it: not too hot, low tide in the middle of a cricket match Sunday morning.
What an interesting trip.
For one thing, the look back at the Bombay skyline from where the dargah is, out in the sea, is a minor experience by itself. The buildings with crows and kites flapping lazily about, the buses and cars that scurry along like insects, the hoardings. Even the gaunt Orange hero who croons into a mike on two massive hoardings overlooking the junction -- who responds to that listless visage, I want to know, by rushing out to sign up with Orange?
For another, the walkway out to the monument is -- no surprise -- lined with beggars: families, kids sprawled on the concrete, nursing mothers, woman with half a left arm. At one point, five or six deformed men, bare to their waists. My son asks, "Appa, what are they doing?" They are lying cheek-to-ground and chanting "Ya Allah." That, however, is not the answer he wants.
For such a heavily-visited place, the dargah is surprisingly clean. Though when I see a man standing next to a trash can but flinging a filled plastic bag over the wall onto the rocks below, when I watch an employee diligently sweeping trash off the shrine's floor onto those rocks as well, I feel mildly despondent. The sea, it will clean up our dirt. When will we lose that attitude? Still, the impression of cleanliness sticks.
At low tide, the rocks are dotted with visitors. We join them, eat our sandwiches and then my son plays happily in the soft waves. To my right, a young man helps his mother -- a short, stocky woman in a salwar-kameez, bent with arthritis -- across the rocks. Nearby, a couple whisper and giggle to each other; I look at her disturbingly high heels and wonder how she made it out here. From the shrine behind me, I can hear a pleasant male voice singing "Mohammed ke shahar mein..."; the egret that flies past seems to flap its wings almost in time to his words.
More and more people come out to the rocks. My son plays for nearly an hour, picks up shells and stones, a marble and an ancient 5-paise coin, gets thoroughly drenched. It's a dreamy, lazy time, and I appreciate yet again the delights of seeing the world through five year old eyes. When we stroll back to the scurrying buses, I make a mental note. Have to come out here more often.
A sign inside the monument says "Poor's meal distribution coupon available here." I suppose such coupons result in meals going out to the walkway. Because as we're walking back, a boy goes about delivering thalis filled with rice and chicken curry to the beggars. But not yet to the deformed men, who are still chanting "Ya Allah." Their bare torsos gleam with sweat.