An uncle very kindly offered to help me get my wedding cards made in Mumbai. He knew a printer for a very long time and the gentleman printed wedding cards as well. All that would be required, as my uncle put it, would be to go over a few designs with the printer, choose one, and he would have it ready in a jiffy. Since the printer was next to his office, it should be a quick chore.
Sounded great to me. I figured that if I went early enough to my uncle in downtown Mumbai, I could wrap up early and make it back to my office in the suburbs of Mumbai well before lunch.
I got to my uncle’s office early and we walked out to find his printer associate. As we walked the by-lanes of the Fort area, we could not figure out which building he was in. Neither his name, nor mailbox, was in any of the buildings that my uncle remembered him to be in.I wasn’t even sure that any of the buildings housed actual people anymore. However, the cigarette and beedi seller on the corner pointed out the building that he worked in and we headed in, like children with torches gingerly entering a dark cave.
We came up to an open courtyard after climbing two floors. There were some ramshackle offices all around. I turned to look behind, and my uncle identified his office. We walked in. An elderly lady, who seemed to be the assistant, greeted us. We walked on into the main office and sat opposite a very elderly man. He was hunched over in his chair. He seemed asleep. I was about to go back to the elderly lady (it dawned on me that she might be his wife) to find out if he was alive, and if he was alive, was he the printer, and if he was both, could she perhaps wake him up?
Just then he stirred, and began to speak to my uncle. As they exchanged pleasantries, the printer gentleman made a comment that was heart rending. My uncle said
“My nephew here wants to print wedding cards. You print all our material. So I thought you would be the best person for him”
He replied wearily “Thank you. You are one of the only people who still come to me for printing”. It was said with a quiet tired sigh that would have melted Saddam Hussein’s heart. Inwardly, I hoped he would stay alive and awake through our conversation.
He went on to say that he no longer carried wedding card designs. I would have to go to a specific street in South Mumbai near the Metro cinema, choose a design, bring it back to him, and then he would print it. It was also the only street in Mumbai where one could get wedding card designs. He suggested a specific shop where he knew the proprietors and that I should get my design from there and bring it back to him.
So off I went to the street of wedding cards. I got lost, since directions in India generally don’t go beyond “Over there” or “It is in the general direction of my outstretched arm” or the most famous “Just ahead”. Eventually, I did find the place. The street was nothing but wedding card shops, with an occasional dairy shop or a sweetmeats shop thrown in. The shop I was referred to was at the very end of the street, naturally, and after navigating people, cows, goats, bicycles, and wheelbarrows, I made it to the shop.
The shop owner did not know the printer. He suggested that it would be more cost effective for me to buy a pre-designed card rather than custom design a card with him. I then shopped at the other stores, but the store owners refused to provide samples without a deposit that would have bailed out AIG. As I stood outside surveying the cards, a cow came alongside and began to survey the cards along with me, swishing its tail. It was unclear if the cow fancied the cards or if it found my shoes the perfect colour to unload some dung.
At that moment,I wondered, and only for a moment since I did not wish to get dunged on, how the day had eloped away from my plans and timelines.
It was already noon. Traffic would now be a force to reckon with. It would take me longer to get to the office, some 25 kms away from where I was, than it would take to fly to Kolkata from Mumbai.
So, without a wedding card design, without an order to the printer, I pushed headlong through the traffic back to my office, marveling at the way time and space warps in the wefts of India.