Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bombay Blues

7th July, 2000- The day I landed in Bombay.

I didn’t actually want to come to Bombay but my Dad’s transfer forced us (me, my sister and my mom) to make a shift. So here I was- ‘A Reluctant Citizen’ of the Juggernaut called Bombay.

Santacruz’ Airport – 1000hrs IST - The infamous monsoons of Bombay had already set in. We collected our luggage and hopped into a taxi for our destination-‘Andheri’. The first thing to hit me, once I was out of the airport, was a stench. It was a smell unlike any other, an unremitting odor that grows from weak to strong and vice-versa but never ceases, a peculiar reek, a stink atypical of the city. I was to realize it much later that it was the smell of the sea, of the waste of 10 million people and the rats that far out number them and of the fish left out to dry in the open.

The cab glided through the broad roads and flyovers in the relentless rains. I stared out of the window at the other cabs and ricks (auto rickshaws) that wheezed pass us and could see the distinct influence the city of Good ol’ Bollywood had on them. On the back of the taxis I could invariably see something or the other written, mostly inspired by bollywood with even the little mudflaps of the taxis displaying the pictures of the favorite bollywood stars of their star struck drivers. There was ‘Jo Jeeta Woh Hi Sikandar’ painted on the back of one, ‘Hum Hain Rahee Pyaar ke’ on another, and there was other with ‘Jala Kar Raakh Kar Doonga’, another one with ‘Humse Na Taqraana’ and yet another with ‘Aaya Sawan Jhhom Ke’. There were other non-filmi creative ones as well some of which have a double meaning to them like:
‘Chal Love Kar’ (the hindi meaning of which is quite apparent but the marathi equivalent for it is ‘move fast’),
‘Andheri Raat Mein Diya Tere Haath Mein’.
‘100 Mein Se 100 Baimaan, Phir Bhi Mera Desh Mahaan’.
And a few weird ones like:
‘Didi Roko Jijaji Ja Rahe Hain’,
‘Mulgi Shikli Pragati Jhaali’, etc.
There were a few with social messages as well;
‘Naitikta Paadha AIDS Taadhaa’.

As we approached Andheri the cab lost much of its momentum moving almost at a snails pace. Well now this is one more of those many things about which I was to be enlightened much later that Andheri is a place notorious for its disgustingly slow traffic. Many people would swear on their lives and tell you that it infact has got the worst traffic in the whole of Bombay. So here I was destined to live in a place infamous for its traffic jams. Finally we reached our house, a 2 BHK quarter allotted to my dad. The next few days were to be spent at home arranging and re-arranging our furniture and other belongings.

Having settled down at my new house it was time to move out, time for my first rendezvous with the city. I had been applying for jobs with various companies and finally I had got a call for an interview from a company with its office at fort. Being aware of my status- that of a first timer in Bombay -dad had instructed me to take a rick to the station and then travel First Class to Churchgate and then take a cab to the Fort area.

But the smart ass I am I decided to do things my way… with a ‘Midas Touch- A la Ajay’. Now that I was in Bombay I wanted to feel like a real Bombayiite, I wanted to get the feel of Real Bombay. So I decided to take the BEST bus (don’t take it literally. BEST is an abbreviation for Brihan Mumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Corporation, the organization that runs and manages a humungous fleet of buses running through the length and breadth of Bombay). So I very smartly went to a bus stop and after some preliminary investigations I joined a queue and stood there, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my bus. It had been raining all night and all morning and it still continued incessantly. Thankfully I had my umbrella with me. There were only a few people and I was quite up on in the queue. People kept pouring-in and joining the queue and soon the queue swelled to a serpent. However, conscious of my position in the queue I was sure of getting a window seat. After a brief wait the bus arrived but the crazy BEST driver seemingly having set his mind for a bit of mischief cruised pass at great speed and halted a good 10 metres from the stop. All hell broke loose; every one who had so far shown the decency to stand in a queue seemed to forget it all and unmindfully started running towards the bus. Now, under the re-arranged order, I found myself standing at the end. Some how I managed to get inside the bus. The last person to get in, I hardly had set my foot on the footboard when the bus started moving. Not yet on a firm footing, half inside the bus-half hanging outside it, my body swayed precariously as the bus moved sending a chill down my spine. Cursing the conductor under my breath I tried to make some space for myself and move inside, but the bus was full to the brim. All this when I had thought of getting a window seat, hmm…not bad!! Still recovering from the scare I somehow managed to reach the station.

A bit wiser by now I decided to follow my dad’s instructions for the rest of the journey. I bought a First Class Return Ticket to Churchgate. I felt proud of my dad; after all he had chosen comfort over the austerity of second class travel for his only son. I very proudly went and stood near the pillar marked with yellow and orange stripes, which is an indicator for where the First Class compartment would stop. Except me there was no one else standing over there, this emboldened me, my expectations went up again and I was sure to get a window seat for myself this time around. After all I had paid almost five times as much compared to the second class travellers. However, the revelation was to dawn upon me sooner rather than later. All first class travellers were standing three compartments down in readiness to accomplish a feat of daring acrobatism; of jumping into a moving train. As soon as the train chugged into the platform people started to put their armory in place; bags to protect and umbrellas to hit. They started to jump into the moving train with the highest degree of precision. I also joined the circus, albeit a bit late. By now the train had stopped and there was a mad rush outside the gate. People trying to shove their way inside and people trying to shove their way outside. “Andar chaloooooooo” was the call of the moment, though could hear a feeble “Are bhai utarne do pehle” from the inside too. All this not for a seat, coz’ a seat was out of question. The whole war is fought just for a few prized positions to stand-in like the ones near the gate, beneath the fan, etc. All the seats are occupied by those who do not mind adding an extra half an hour to their commuting time by traveling up one or two stations, just for getting a place to sit. They then gloat at all the men who futilely put their lives on the line everyday in the vain hope of getting a seat.

The whole fight was over within 5 seconds and the train started moving again. There were some losers and triumphant winners inside the train as well as outside of it. Inside were the ones who wanted to get off and needless to mention about the winners outside. My first journey was a memorable one. I got room to place a foot and rest my weight against a 5’ 4”, groin scratching bhaiya who I feel badly needed a bath, a shave and some sleep. I could relate to the “Ek tang tapasya” (Veerbhadrasan for the highly initiated) that hermits do in the Himalayas. Life and death now depended on a toe that supported me and which in turn was in dire need of some support itself. Notice on the top of my head sarcastically read “It is dangerous to lean out of a running train”. “All right!!!” I said with mamta banerjee in my mind, “Gimme another option!!!”

A typical Bombayiite is a harried lot who has been pushed to the corner by the city, the system and the ever increasing immigrant population of the 'Biharis' and the 'bhaiiyaas of UP'. All of this obviously makes a lot of demands on him both physically and emotionally which in turn makes an average Bombayiite very practical without the unnecessary baggage of useless and unwanted emotions, wrongly perceived by many as selfish and indifferent. But put him in a local train, away from his home and hearth, and he becomes a totally different person. At every stop space is made for the new entrants even when none exists and all this at the cost of considerable discomfort to oneself. Just when you start thinking that the compartment has reached it's maximum capacity and there is no space left for even 'Air', almost miraculously space appears from nowhere just to adjust that one last fellow passenger.
As more stations came and went, the compartment got closer to its bursting point. It now resembled a cattle shed with humans being transported in such inhumane conditions that it would've put animals to shame . With God’s grace I reached Churchgate and was Happy to be ‘Alive’. My first commute in a Local was no less than an endurance test and the fact that I managed to scrape through made me feel proud of myself.
But must give it to the Railways;
they have succeeded in achieving what politicians could not in 50 years,
they’ve brought people of each caste,creed and religion together and made them embrace one another.