Autobiography of a Mumbai traveller
The moment I set my foot in this strange city, I remember being frozen for a few moments. It took me a while to register and respond to the sheer magnitude of the crowd. But then it was not just the crowd. I have seen huge crowds. But here, in that incessant swarm like movement that made the mind go dizzy, I could see that every one of them was in a hurry and seemed to know where to go. Each face had that definite sense of purpose and at the same time a different calm of being completely at home finding their way in this huge sea. Somehow, I seemed to be the only one for whom it looked like chaos.
When I tried to understand how all this works, I found this magic rope that binds this city together. The local train! Each life here is a tight rope walk. For the faint hearted it is a horror. For a Mumbaikar, however, the local train is what takes him to the exhilaration and torment of his dreams and also brings him home.
As I missed the first train, perplexed after seeing how a crowd this huge can board a single train in half a minute, I understood one thing. I needed to simply give in to the unseen intelligence that makes sense and pulls out beautiful things from this magnificent chaos. It can take you with it. The city has an intoxicating rhythm of its own. If you are ready to tap along, you shall be a part of this deadly dance in no time. Deadly? Yes. There’s a hidden battle cry in even the silent whispers. I just took a few steps into that direction and I was hurled on board before I knew what happened.
Since then, I have learnt to relax. And yes, today I am one of those many faces that I saw on the first day who wore the calm of walking in a garden even as they appeared to be running for their life. The starting vibrations of the local train and its sound and its pulse is now as dear to me as the smell and touch of opening the morning newspaper. The new faces that I see everyday are too familiar to be greeted. I watch them making business deals on phones, studying for exams, listening to music, pondering about life, reading shlokas that can bring good luck for their job interview and even enjoying the magic of a wordless romance with someone special. All this in that half an hour on the train. What they do in these fast moving trains, standing in unimaginably awkward positions holding on the bars, in so many ways carries the very imprint of their lives. The wordless glances exchanged in those times with the so called stranger don’t require any formal introductions.
In the matter of five minutes, I have shared deepest things of my life, without knowing someone’s name. Neither does anyone ask for it, nor is it necessary. When life is as fast as a local train, there is time only for the essential. And that unseen essence can be felt in moments without a warning, and yet slips off again when the station arrives and gets lost once again into the scattering crowd.