Things You See On Mumbai Locals #3


Traveling in locals (assuming that they are working)  during the heavy monsoon showers is an unique experience. You have the surreal pleasure of enjoying the beauty of the gray skies and the cool moist breeze – without getting wet or squashing through mud!!
You can watch the silver droplets rain from the sky, you can see the thirsty trees spreading their branches out towards the heavens, and some will even dance to the preppy beats of the wind. You can marvel at the gray clouds with streaks of pale sunlight cutting in between. They seem to have thrown a dark blanket over the city,  and Time has curled itself up in it, and gone to sleep. It’s hard to say whether it’s 6 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon or 5 in the evening, if not for your dogged watch – the ultimate workaholic!
You can bring your face close to the window bars, close your eyes, and enjoy the soft, wet kisses of the raindrops.
Or you can be like me – you can take a seat back, and enjoy the masterpiece.


Things You See On Mumbai Locals #2


Today while returning from a friend’s birthday lunch (on Mumbai’s lifeline of course – what else would I use?!) I had a sudden moment of epiphany about Life. As I watched the blue sky dappled with sunlight and the green trees wet from the last shower, flash by, I realized Life isn’t so different from a moving train ride.
We board the train at birth, and can only alight it after Death. All that lies in between is a magnificent journey. There are beautiful sights sometimes, like sprawling green meadows and rambling silver brooks which make me feel happy, and ugly sights like a garbage dump which makes me sad or angry.  But they both are transitory. I can’t stop and gaze at them. One second is all I get, to be jubilant or dejected in, before the train moves on, and all that is left is a memory.
Our friends and family are like our co-passengers. They get on the train at some point, and for some time we travel together, but soon their stop comes, and they get down, while I must go on. I can try holding onto their hands, till momentum tears us asunder; I can try craning my neck, craving  that one last look, but no matter how hard I try to hold on to the moment, it’s gonna fly away on the wings of nostalgia.
The train however moves on……..

1st July 2014: The Slow-Fast Conundrum

Let me at very first tell you that only people who have experienced the vagaries of Mumbai Western locals will be able to empathize with my current predicament.
To go to college, I needed a fast local and so I decided to catch the morning 9:00 fast. My usual dilly-dallying not withstanding, I arrived at the station at the exact moment the train arrived at the station! We couldn’t have planned it better even by intention. This resulted in the usual clogging of the overpaes stairs, with panic-stricken passengers like me hurrying to alight the stairs and board the train, before all the seats were taken; and other harried passengers, who had just alighted from the train attempting to rush up the stairs and to their connecting train/rickshaw stand/bus stand.
In the moment of panic I just let the crowd carry me to the coach, got in and made myself comfortable. It was only after the train left that I realized that:
a) It was running before time, something that hasn’t ever happened or was likely to happen. Running behind time – sure
Running ahead of  time – oh no,no
b) There was another train standing on the other platform, marked for the same destination!!
A little conversation with my co-passengers established that I had indeed boarded the wrong train!! A slow, instead of a fast, which added some extra 20-30 mins of travel time. So I did what any (in)sane person would do – get down at the next station, and wait for my train. A Word Of Advice: In Mumbai, once you get on a train, you hang on for dear life till you reach your destination!
My train guide told me the next train to come would be a fast, BUT the neon railway indicator and the people waiting on the platform assured me it was a slow, indeed supposedly the same slow my railway guide told me I had been on!!!
When the train arrived I asked (unwilling to believe my trusted source could be wrong) one of the passengers in the train, whether it was a slow or fast. She assured me it was a fast. I quickly got in.
Like with doctors, it is my personal dictum that one should always take a second opinion. Like with doctors, it only further adds to the confusion. Doctor W will tell you that you have fever and the stomach infection is just it’s offshoot, and you must follow X prescription. Doctor D will tell you that it is clear you are suffering from stomach infection due to improper functioning of your liver enzymes, and the fever is just a reaction to the same, and you must follow Y prescription, while following X will only make you sicker!!
On the train, the second person I talked to assured me it was a slow local, when her neighbour chimed in “No,no. It’s a fast!” I was just about to thank her, when the lady near the window burst out, “What nonsense! This is a slow!”
Now the debate intensified and people started voicing their own opinions. One was of the belief that it was neither a fast nor a slow, but a government propaganda to create strife. Another blamed the underground militia. One was of the opinion it was going in the opposite direction, and nothing anyone said could change his mind. It was his belief, and by God, he was going to stand by it!
Let’s just suffice that the station left, and the one after that, but no one could reach to a conclusion. I am still on that train, like the rest of them, hoping and praying that it is indeed taking me where I want to go. But who knows, who can predict?! Man proposes, the Railway Company disposes.


Just another day in the city…

In the morning rush-hour, the Mumbai local is jam-packed. Sweaty bodies packed against each other like sardines in a tin. All you can see around you is the coloured fabric of your neighbours clothes, or the shiny leather of her handbag; sometimes, the quick glint of her watch, or bracelet, or mangalsutra as it catches the sunlight. Above you there is a veritable mess of hands, clutching at the rods, and all around the pervasive odour of dozens of different perfumes mixed together. Amidst all this serene and regular chaos there was a woman, maybe 50 or 60 years old, placidly knitting. Her needles clicked, and the bright orange jumper materialized before my eyes. Something productive amidst the mad frenzy of ‘office time’. 

In this crowd you would go mad with claustrophobia if you didn’t distract yourself. Some, like me, listen to music on their i-pods, mp3s or cellphones. Some squint at newspapers or books in the dim light that slants through the jumble of bodies; while others, with a snobbish shrug, use a Kindle. Some play games on their tablets, while some others are busy issuing directives on the phone. Amidst all this, there was also this lady, who was busy praying. Her eyes closed, she sat placidly, completely ignoring the mass of people around her, clutching her prayer beads, and serenely reciting the name of God. 

Outside the station, the hawkers had already set up stall and were screaming out their wares. The food stalls made the most business at this time of the morning. All those who had sacrificed breakfast for a few minutes of extra sleep now tried to cram some nourishment into their bodies. Others who had forgotten to pack their lunch this morning, purchased food packets for the afternoon. Among them, there are also some mothers who had packed their share of into their kids’ tiffin boxes, because it is his/her favourite dish. For them the roadside dosa/vada is the only option now. 

After the train, it is time to board a bus now. Just as crowded, but if you run, and are lucky you might get a window seat. I was extremely lucky today. I got a window seat. So while everyone else had to clutch at the handlebars and try to hold their insides in while the bus rolls onto its destination at breakneck speed, reminiscent of a roller coaster ride, I got to sit and admire the scenery of the urban jungle. Our bus stopped at a traffic signal, and beside us another car stopped. In the front seat there were two women, busy gossiping. In the back seat, there was a young child, about 2 or 3 years old. He stared at me with wide-open eyes and I looked back. After a minute I waved. A minute later, he tentatively waved back. A bond had now been established. Soon we were playing peek-a-boo, and laughing uproariously – at 9 o clock in the morning, at a busy intersection. Soon, the lights changed, and the traffic started moving. The car carrying the child vanished in a puff of smoke, and I was left waving. My quota for magical moments of the day was over. 

The bus stopped and half-a-dozen people poured out.In front of the bus stop, there is a Sai Baba Temple, with a golden spire. 5 out of 6, stopped for a second to fold their hands in obeisance before the idol, sitting placidly in its marble sanctum with a golden spire. Only one stopped to throw down some coins to the dust caked hands of the beggar children with matted hair, sitting in the sun, with their arms outstretched. 

It’s just another day in the city of dreams. Broken hopes galore and the defeated sit back and watch, while others persevere for a golden illusion they have heard whispers of. Still others have given themselves over to the rhythm of the city, allowing it to take them where it will. 

(My first Writing 101 post).


28th February 2014: Somebody’s Mother

    The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter’s day.

The street was wet with a recent snow
And the woman’s feet were aged and slow.

She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng

Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eyes.

Down the street, with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of “school let out,”

Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep.

Past the woman so old and gray
Hastened the children on their way.

Nor offered a helping hand to her –
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir

Lest the carriage wheels or the horses’ feet
Should crowd her down in the slippery street.

At last came one of the merry troop,
The gayest laddie of all the group;

He paused beside her and whispered low,
“I’ll help you cross, if you wish to go.”

Her aged hand on his strong young arm
She placed, and so, without hurt or harm,

He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.

Then back again to his friends he went,
His young heart happy and well content.

“She’s somebody’s mother, boys, you know,
For all she’s aged and poor and slow,

“And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,

“If ever she’s poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away.”

And “somebody’s mother” bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said

Was “God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody’s son, and pride and joy!”

– ‘Somebody’ s Mother, Mary Dow Brine

I had read this poem in fourth grade, or maybe it was fifth – I don’t remember exactly when, but I remember being mesmerized by it. By the simple association that we should treat people with the same love and care as we would to our family members, because they are someone’s family. I always felt that world peace could be achieved quite easily if everyone was to believe in this simple principle. I am sure terrorists would think thrice before bombing innocent people if they considered the pain they would be inflicting upon the families of the bereaved! But maybe world peace is too big an aim. I would be happy applying it to my everyday life. I do try to.

Maybe that is why I gave my seat up to an elderly lady in the crowded train, in the hope that someday someone might do the same for my mother.


Time That Heals And Hardens

9/11 attack

9/11 attack

9/11/2001 is a date that the world will always remember. Ground zero still remains an open wound in the heart of New York, like the bitter memories in the hearts of the many families of the victims. But thousands of miles away from the continent the effect of the terror attack was also prominently visible.

I was a child of six years, when the world shook in tune to the vibrations of the falling building. A group of fanatics hijacked four planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Watching the smoke rise from the twin towers, I understood what it was to be afraid for the first time. The falling debris pierced through my bubble of safety, and I watched with horrid fascination as the building slowly crumpled and fell. To my young mind, the scene was similar to the Apocalypse – it was to me The Unimaginable.

Our house was situated near the airport and the sight of passing planes was one common to me. Before the attacks, I used to like watching the air crafts, liked running behind them; I was fascinated by them. But now the same jets had adopted a more sinister meaning for me. For months afterward I would scream and cry with abject terror every time a plane passed above our house. The low drone of its engines became the nightmarish for me, and I couldn’t sleep at night from fear of them crashing into our apartment.  I had even packed an emergency backpack to take with me in case of an attack. Till date my parents maintain that they had never before or after seen me as scared as I was during that period. Time heals all wounds, and slowly as I gradually overcame my fear.

A few days ago, my friends and I went shopping during a terror alert imposed over our city. While returning we caught a train from the hapless station Churchgate where during the same month of November another group of terrorists had mercilessly fired on the crowd. I also remembered the blasts in the local trains we were going to alight that had claimed the lives of 209 men and women.
Suddenly a fear like what I hadn’t felt in twelve years made my heart grow cold. Suddenly every grim-faced man with a backpack scared me; every dustbin and every bag seemed to contain a bomb. Terror made my head swim.

11th July Blasts in Mumbai

11th July Blasts in Mumbai

But I had to get home, and this was the fastest way. So with bated breath and trembling feet I climbed the train. Looking at the impassive faces of my co-passengers, I wondered why they too were not plagued by the same fears? Or whether they were? Perhaps the listless eyes and poker face was just a mask that concealed a dam of turbulent emotions. But these were common men and women. They had to toil hard to earn their daily bread and no fear (justified or unjustified) can ever act as fetters on their feet. I looked at the children calmly sitting and realized that though the world continues to shake its impact is not as profound, like a train journey – the initial jolt is felt deeply but slowly you cease to notice the unceasing vibrations of the carriage, except as a minor discomfort. Humans are adaptive, resilient. And it is not apathy but long exposure that has hardened us.