Vignettes of a city: impressions from a slow walk.
Falkland Road is, of course, really Patthe Bapurao Marg. You knew that. It angles jauntily off the severe east-west gauntlet of Maulana Shaukatali Road, stretching actually from the Tardeo junction to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Road. It is only the final segment -- from Maulana Shaukatali Road to Sardar VP Road -- that is, of course, Bombay's long-time red-light district.
Many others have written far more eloquently than I could about the sex-workers of Falkland Road; and it's unlikely I can find something new to say about them. Yet even so, it is a sobering experience to walk down this street. Never has so much flesh looked so sordidly sad, and I truly mean no offence when I say that. The females of the species who stand on the road are certainly past adolescence -- their tight blouses leave you in no doubt of that -- yet most of them have an air of utterly tragic youth. Oh, they wear those lurid petticoats, they probably pad their blouses, they paint themselves thick with lipstick, some dust themselves with powder to look fairer. And they meet the eye of every male who passes with an unmistakable, disconcerting, yet somehow still imperceptible, inquiry.
This is adult territory in every sense. Yet so many of these women are so obviously children. What are they doing here?
Silly question, yes. What's the point of bemoaning the oldest profession? Of all the incongruous thoughts, this is the one on my mind as we walk this street.
There is, never mind the girls, plenty else to see here too. One strip of shops has both Ma's Dental Clinic (where the dentist is Dr HK Ma) and Dr CH Yi's all-purpose clinic. There's also the "Indo-Chinese Institute for Medicine", which pursues "Research in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Allied Sciences". What Chinese doctors and dentists have meant to this part of Bombay is another story altogether, worth its own exploration.
Close by is one more of those theatres, Silver Talkies ("Balcony Ticket Rs 16"). Today the feature is "Swiging Love in Pagal Diwani" (sic), which sounds intriguing enough to miss. I could say the same about New Roshan Talkies, even if the feature there is the more demure "Sher-E-Hindustan."
Then there's Pila House, marked by a number of this city's ornate horse-drawn rickshaws parked on the road outside (tight-bloused girls pouting behind). Inside is a small yard which houses dozens more of these horse-carts and the horses themselves. All getting a morning cleanup.
Plenty to see, yes, but on Falkland Road it's really about the women. Reminders of that everywhere. On that balcony, a sheaf of coloured saris, drying in the sun. That building, a long row of dark cages, women standing outside.
Many more women, many more of those famous cages. Then, as we approach the Alfred theatre and Maulana Shaukatali Road, right up against a row of those cages, I see the sign. And for some reason, it seems to sum up this neighbourhood of clinics and horse-carts and theatres and Chinese medicine and girls, girls, girls. It says:
"Coffin will be issued free of charge to any people and caste indeed no relation."