Planet Bombay

India's City of Dreams through the eyes of a Brit who calls it home

Day 57: City of Crows

Out-of-work taxicabs gathering dust near the Mt Mary steps.

20th May, 2020

D and I are facing a problem that is all too familiar to locked-down white-collar workers the world over. In our case, though, the cause of the problem is not quite so universal.   

Our broadband connection has been repeatedly dropping out, thanks to nest-building crows who’ve been tugging on the fibre-optic cable. A few days ago it went down completely and, due to the lockdown, a customer service agent told me we’d have to wait longer than usual for a technician to come — but no more than 24 hours, he assured me.

Having the internet go down at a time like this is not ideal as both D and I rely heavily on it not just for work, but also for entertainment. A little too much, if I’m honest. We recently finished watching all ten seasons of Friends on Netflix — a dubious accomplishment to be sure. Lockdown seems to have made me more open to feel-good sitcoms from the ’90s than I would otherwise be. There is something undeniably enticing in this age of uncertainty about the optimism and innocence pervading shows of that era — even if their characters, overwhelmingly white and middle class, offered a hopelessly blinkered view of the world. Evidently, there are many others who share this view — Friends has been one of the Top 10 trending shows among Netflix users in India throughout the lockdown.    

Speaking of trending shows, we also binge-watched Tiger King, the series that took the internet by storm during the early days of the pandemic. I’ve always had a penchant for documentaries about oddballs, personality cults and bizarre subcultures, so this was right up my street. Besides, I’d already been introduced to the deranged world of Joe Exotic by one of my favourite documentarians, Louis Theroux.

Our broadband connection was eventually fixed, but not within 24 hours as the customer service agent had promised. In fact, it was only after I called the company a second time that they sent a technician round. Once the job was done we gave the technician a generous tip and took down his mobile phone number so that we could deal with him directly in future, instead of going through the call centre. This turned out to be a smart move as our connection went down again a couple of days later.

After the technician’s second visit I went up onto the terrace and taped the fibre-optic cable —thoroughly notched by crow beaks, like something out of a low-stakes Hitchcock rip-off — to the parapet. I hoped that this improvised solution, or jugaad, to use an Indian colloquialism, would prevent the birds from pulling on it.

Speaking of crows, there is a nest of hatchlings in the tree right outside our kitchen window. There are few things more hideous in the animal kingdom than a newborn crow (they call to mind the velociraptor hatching scene in Jurassic Park) but I find myself rooting for the little gargoyles — hoping that they make it through the many perils that city life will throw at them. When I look at the little altricial creatures, featherless and blind, opening their pink beaks wide to receive deposits of food from their parents, I wonder at how something so fragile and dependent can survive at all in a world rife with violence, sickness and death.   

With our internet connection restored, we were able to tune into a friend’s virtual birthday party. The birthday girl had arranged a packed schedule of entertainments, including a cooking lesson from a well-known chef and a series of team-based games.

It feels strange to celebrate birthdays and other life events during this period of stasis in which the passage of time seems to have been rendered irrelevant. Today marks four years since the day D and I walked into a run-down registrar’s office and were pronounced husband and wife under portraits of a Maratha king and revered social reformers from the 19th and 20th centuries. It seems like a lifetime ago.

After four years of marriage we are still experiencing firsts — a few days ago I finally relented to D’s persistent pleading to cut my hair, which had begun to engulf my ears and curl down my neck. Despite nearly taking the top of my right ear off, she did an excellent job.

We’re nearly two months into lockdown and there’s no telling when things will go back to normal. Air France has cancelled our flights to and from the US which we’d booked for June and July. The booking agent has issued credits which can be used on future bookings.

My brother and I were recently lamenting the fact that the days of affordable travel are probably gone for the foreseeable future. Good news for the environment, perhaps, but not for families like ours, scattered as we are across three continents.  


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Sam

“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” — L Smith

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