I remember when I first came here, which is to say that my memory recollects only that visit which I can remember. Of course, the first time I visited this city was way, way back, six months after I was born when my mother boarded a train to Mumbai with my sister in tow to visit dad, who was posted here. But of course I have no recollection of that visit.
So, I remember when I first came here, four and a half years back. I would like to think I’ve had a pretty complex relationship with this city – whether I have arrived here or I have left from here, it’s always been due to certain personal circumstances, some happy, mostly so-so. The first time I came here was in the course of supposedly happy tidings but that stint was cut short due to some events that eventually again led me here.
Professionally, I seem to have found my moment of epiphany here, enjoying my earlier as well as the current stint – personally, it’s a whole different ball-game altogether.
Some memories stand out – like the time I got pushed out of a moving train onto a platform, mostly bruising my ego rather than anything else. This time too, I have had my fair, or maybe more than my fair, share of mishaps. A near-miss with a small truck, getting my back scraped by an auto-rickshaw, getting hit on the arm by a biker who wanted to over take a pedestrian from the left and of course, twice twisting my right foot, the latest being a slip on the stairs in a rush to catch the train. No wonder the modern-day parable says that one shouldn’t run after three things in life – bus, train and woman – hold true, though about the last mentioned category, I would reserve my judgement.
The Mumbai local is a distinct category by itself – it’s a living, breathing organism that snakes to and fro in the city for nearly 21 hours a day. Crowds jostle for every milli-inch of space. What is interesting is that even in non-peak hours, when there’s enough space inside the cabin, commuters will still hang out from the doorway to give an impression that the train is overcrowded. It takes a seasoned traveller to decode that trick.
Much of a Mumbaikar’s life is spent shuttling between point A and point B, either on the road or on the train. It’s an everyday ritual of reaching the station, climbing the stairs to reach the desired platform, then mingling midst the crowd awaiting the arrival of the train, jostling to get the foot in, with the prime objective being to push another in a bid to grab that vacant seat, or if not that, getting the prime spot at the doorway which is breezy enough when the train rolls, positioning yourself strategically to alight when the train rolls into the destination station so that u can alight even as the train is slowing down to a halt and then rushing up to the exit to beat the surging hordes alighting from the other compartments.
It’s amusing to see the forever-rushed crowds – there’s no comma, no semi-colon, no pause and certainly no full stop! You rush to catch the train, rush to grab the seat, rush to alight from the train, rush to exit, rush to grab the auto-rickshaw to deliver you to your home…sometimes you wonder where and when does this rush stop. And what’s the tearing hurry – because the trains are never in such a rush as to be on time, always running late by more than a few minutes.
Walking at your own pace in fact can be quite perilous in this city, as I have personally discovered. While the human pushing and jostling is sufferable, when you start getting hit by bikers trying to pull off a Rajnikanth-ish stunt on a narrow strip, you know either your days are numbered or you are just a magnet for bad luck.
Compared to the first option, I’d feel much better if it’s the latter!