THE incessant drilling continues throughout the conversation, as it does through most of the day. Their home a stone’s throw from where tunnelling work is underway for the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro rail, 88-year-old Narayan Lavate’s forehead is creased. “I don’t know whether we’ll be alive when the first station comes,” says Narayan, a resident of the Laxmibai chawl in Kalbadevi’s Zaobawadi area.
Exactly a year ago, Narayan and his wife Iravati had written to the President of India, seeking permission for physician-assisted suicide before they become bed-ridden or before they die a slow natural death, of old age or terminal illness. Certain now that their plea will not be accepted, the couple is bracing for a city where they have seen change intimately change some more.
The Lavates’ letter was forwarded to the Maharashtra government chief secretary for consideration. After some correspondence, the couple says they know their wish won’t be fulfilled. “We never thought we will see 2019 coming. But I guess we will,” Narayan says as Iravati nods.
The couple lives alone in Laxmibai chawl, Narayan’s home for 75 years. Iravati moved in 51 years ago, upon marrying him. Through the decades that Narayan spent working with the state transport department and Iravati as a teacher at the Aryan Education Society High School, they have seen Mumbai’s transition. From a tram ride at 10 paisa per head to the death of the city tram in 1964, to buses to CNG buses and now electric buses, from taxis to Ubers, and now the Metro rail, the Lavates have watched keenly.
Iravati’s evening strolls have ceased. Blue barricades with “Mumbai is upgrading’ painted on them dominate the roads outside the chawl. “I would walk to the Ram temple in Kalbadevi every evening. Now the roads are dug up. There is no footpath. I am afraid I’ll fall,” says Iravati (79). It’s getting increasingly tough to hail a taxi, so every time she needs a ride, she calls a former student to come pick her up.
Two chawl buildings near their home will be pulled down soon as they prepare to undergo redevelopment. Narayan’s visits every afternoon to his old office in Mumbai Central have also stopped. “There’s too much traffic,” he says. The only thing that remains constant in their lives is the limited water supply in their chawl building. There’s water in the taps from 5 am to 6 am, like clockwork. Every morning Narayan immerses himself in five newspapers, regional and English, to stay updated. He still does not wear spectacles. Iravati switches to television every evening to watch a Marathi soap.
Since their letter to the President, several NGOs approached them throughout 2018 to place them in old age homes. The two refused. “We don’t want to depend on anyone. That is why we did not have children,” Iravati says. “But now even to walk outside on the lane, I need help.”
A maid buys them vegetables every day and cleans their house. Iravati receives Rs 25,000 in pension every month, they spend Rs 500 per day. The couple disagrees on multiple topics, including who will operate the TV. But they agree on one point. What would they wish to change about the city? “The space for pedestrians. Hawkers have been pushed to the footpaths,” Iravati says, as Narayan nods.