Fenugreek

It’s incredible that our planet is home to seven billion people and counting. In the comics I collect from the piles of treasure-trash thrown onto the beach, there are pictures of a different world. A world with money, a world with heroes and princesses. Something very different to the beach. To my beach.

I won’t tell you where exactly but on the northern edge of Mumbai is where my world is. My mother makes extra cash cleaning middle class houses, she then comes back to her own make shift house held together with weak wiry string. We have a blue sheet of plastic that has done us the honour of flying across the gutters of the continent to be one of our four walls. The other three are my mother’s old saris, the lime green colour and the once luminous purple boarders faded by the sun. Our roof is nothing to brag about, it is just a few white jagged pieces of plastic and brown cardboard that used to be a box my father found washed up on the beach. Every night as I lay my head I see the words “Dell” and “INSPIRON”, repeating them over and over in my head, wondering what they mean until I fall asleep.  

My father was brought up in a normal house but was then disowned by his family for marrying my low cast mother. So he made a home here on the beach. He jokes and calls it his small beach apartment. My mother mocks his optimism by asking him if he would like the AC on higher, lifting the blue plastic wall from the sand above her head and holding it in place with a stick. Despite their differences in realism, they are in love.

Today there is a panic in my father’s eyes. He does not send me to school, but I am still woken up at dawn by my mother with the same distress in her manner. They begin to talk in low hush voices and my eight year old mind can only take a few moments of concentration before I walk away. In my world if something is serious, if there is something you need to know then there is no hesitation, no difficulty in finding out, no hush voices and low tones. There are no secrets here.

Normally, as I step out onto the sand I can smell the fresh fenugreek Ali, our neighbour, cuts from his plantation. My mother says that he loves to cheat people out of their money, charging seventy rupees for a bunch of fenugreek that is only worth twenty to twenty-five rupees. He says that it is because his plantation is the freshest in all of Mumbai. His secret being the water he digs from under the sand which is sweet, not salty. But as I step out today I am not met with the fragrant scent, instead the smell of waste, normally hidden by the plant, explodes into my nostrils hitting the back of my throat.

I look around and people are dismantling their houses. Men are on top of their makeshift roofs tearing down the foundations of their shelters.  Women are piling their belongings onto the cement of the sidewalk, holding their tiffin boxes and their framed pictures of deities, clutching onto misbehaving children and scolding them.  My world was behaving strangely, not in the nonchalant way that it usually acts. Nasrin, Ali’s wife walks over to my mother and asks why we aren’t doing the same as everyone, why we aren’t making our house look as if it never even existed. She says something about the machines coming, the life destroying bulldozers sent over from the government.

My mother’s face doesn’t look like Nasrin’s. It is not as panic stricken, not as worried. My mother has seen many of her houses torn down, many of her palaces smashed to smithereens. She knows the rituals of the government and their live size toys.

“Let them come,” she says. “Let them come, only when I see them will I believe it.”

She is so strong willed and thick skinned; I begin to think that my father chose her for her brutal approach to life, rather than her feminine charm.

The day passes fairly slow as most of my friends help their families take down their small memories one by one, only to put them back together again once the machines have come and fulfilled their duty. I feel the trembling on the ground before I hear the roaring of the engines and climb on top of my roof to have a better look, above the crowds of people that have gathered. I don’t get to look for too long as my father rushes me down and gets on the roof himself to snap away the thin threads keeping our shack together. They are here, they did come, and it wasn’t just a rumour!

My mother moves quickly now as the machines come closer and closer, tearing down any hint of formation, any scent of a home is crushed under the contraption’s heavy conveyor belt feet. The long arm of the bulldozer is extending, reaching for our house. It gets closer and closer until my mother and father can save no more, until our shack is broken and scrunched into nothingness under the weighty apparatus.

For the fourth time this year, our home is destroyed. A few hours pass and I suddenly look towards my mother who is laughing, she embraces my father and they are both happy. Then I hear her words of happiness.

“The government is going to be busy with an election!” She sighs relief, “They’ll be too busy to be tearing our homes down any time soon for a few months.” With this small piece of news, even I am happy. For a few months my world will remain intact.

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