Wednesday, September 21, 2011

15 Minutes into The Spirit of Mumbai

So here I am, back after a pretty long hiatus. I think I even saw some fungus developing over this blog when I saw it today. So, what do I have to offer this time? Some more gory fiction? No, not today. The fiction would be coming soon as I am in the process of completing a story I began ages ago. Today, I take you on a journey I took a few days back, which gave me an insight into a totally different kind of people, what the spirit of a city really is.

It was a regular morning in Mumbai and I had come only for that particular day. It was a journey I had to take to Andheri on Friday and to cut short any prospective delays, I decided to take the local train.

"You are crazy." My brother told me. "Just spend some bucks and hire a taxi. Why the hell do you want to get into those insane crowds?"

"What if the taxi gets stuck in a traffic jam?" I argued.

Nevertheless, I had decided that local train it was going to be. As I approached the Churchgate railway station, it was a sight to behold. I was standing across the road facing the station entrance, and the scene in front of me looked like one of those Hindi movies (I later came to know that many movies were actually shot at this particular location.). There were two crowds, both equally crazy. One was desperate to get into the station and another rushing to get out. It was quite an illustration of the condition of our bowels during a case of acute diarrhoea, or in short, total chaos. 

Struggling with my bag, I somehow managed to squeeze in along with the crowd into the station and inside it was an army that would give the Rajnikanth army in 'Robot' a run for their money. They were all different people of varying age, cultures, language, sizes. But an invisible force bound everybody together and there was to an extent a monotony in their actions. To a person not used to crowds, it would have seemed like a riot. Waiting in the queue to get the return tickets, it felt like I was in a movie that was being played fast forward. No person waited more that 5 seconds before taking their ticket and zooming off to catch their respective train. Suddenly I also realised, that sub-consciously I was also doing the same. My feet were moving faster and my mind was in a hurry. For what? I fail to understand even today.

Well, I boarded the next train that would take me to my destination. What I didn't know that this journey would completely change my impression of Mumbai and especially the trains of Mumbai. Entering the train, I couldn't help feeling apprehensive since this very mode of transport has been the target of so many terror activities. Luckily I managed to get a seat (never expected that in the crowd) next to the window. Within seconds of arriving at the station, the train took off with people taking their regular positions inside. There is some kind of magnet near the doors that always attracts a majority of the people. Even if the seats are empty, the people there always love to cling on to the doors, maybe more than clinging on to their wives.
These very people were only recently at the receiving end of mindless fanaticism and Government apathy. Despite being wounded so many times, the city just clicks. Within a couple of days after any attack, the people are back to their feet and go about their daily routine. Many people in and outside the country label this as the "Spirit of Mumbai". Some even go ahead and state that the people here have now learnt to "adjust" and move on. Some say that the Mumbaikaar does not care.

I saw a labourer board the train at Dadar loaded with his tools. The poor man looked to be a daily wage worker. Maybe he was present when the recent blasts happened in Dadar market. Maybe he had lost someone in the carnage. What should he have done? Stop going to work in protest? Move to the streets shouting slogans against the failure of the Government and security agencies to safeguard their people? If he does, who is going to earn money for him and the remainder of his family to survive? 

And it is mostly the same case with the common man in this city. It is not easy to live in a city like Mumbai. It may have its positives, but I for one find it very difficult to warm up to it despite being culturally close to it. For those who label these people as un-caring, do they really have a choice? The common man cannot afford to protest at the cost of his daily earnings. He does not have a father who has left him riches so that he can shun work and protest. So what does he do? He can only thank God that he lived through and pray that no more such incidents occur. With no guarantee that he would live another day, the common man of Mumbai carries on.

At another station I see a hoard of people waiting to board the train as it entered the platform. An equal number was waiting by the door (in addition to the usual door lovers) to alight. The train normally stops for around 10 seconds at a single station. As if programmed, the people de-board the train within a couple of seconds, and the ones on the platform climb inside with amazing efficiency. There isn't much pushing around or the chaos that I normally witnessed in the Delhi Metro, especially at the Rajiv Chowk station.

Some time back, a world-wide survey labelled Mumbai as one of the rudest cities. True, that people usually don't talk much with strangers. It is also true that they may not say "Please" or "Thank you" all that often. But there is one thing for sure, whenever any tragedy hits the city, these very people are the first ones to help each other out before even the police or rescue teams reach the venue. It does not matter whether the perpetrators of the crime are Muslims or Hindus or Christians. What matters is that  victims are always human beings, the very people with whom they travel daily in the trains, buses without speaking a word. And that, I  feel is the real "Spirit" if you feel the need to label it.

As I descended from the train at Andheri, my mindset was changed. This was my first ever proper journey in a local train in this city. May be I don't like it as much as I like my hometown of Goa. Maybe I would never warm up to the city in my entire life. But one thing was sure. This is one city that needs no definition. It doesn't require that the people be only Marathi. It doesn't require that everybody follow only one religion. The common man who lives here drives the city to what it is, an economic hot-spot. The common man, with whom the people who rule us have lost touch with.


  1. brilliant!!! thats it...the second-last stanza sums it all...a heartfelt salute to the 'spirit' of Mumbai.

  2. Lovely article...straight from the heart!

  3. In spite of advising you against the local trains, now I feel like taking the ride too! :)
    A journey well narrated!