Why I left Mumbai

After being born and brought up in Mum­bai, I left it in 1997. Over the years, many peo­ple have asked me about why I shift­ed from Mum­bai to Pune. It is time I wrote about it.

For me, life in Mum­bai was all about trav­el­ing through the sub­ur­ban local trains. The first time I start­ed trav­el­ing alone on the local trains was when I was 10 years old. I trav­elled from Ghatkopar to Charni Road to attend Yoga Class­es dur­ing the sum­mer vaca­tion. I remem­ber even as a child, instead of sit­ting on seats inside the women’s com­part­ment, I used to stand in the door. I remem­ber some elder women scold­ing me for doing that as I was just a small kid.

After grow­ing up a bit, next set of mem­o­ries are of trav­el­ling through the local train in the ear­ly morn­ing at 4:30am to attend “Agar­w­al Class­es” dur­ing the 11th/12th grade. By then, I had a “First Class” “sea­son pass”. Even at 4:30am in the morn­ing, there was no place to sit, so I trav­elled stand­ing in the door. Life con­tin­ued as the years flew past.

By this time, after trav­el­ling so much by stand­ing in the door, I knew every pil­lar and obsta­cle that came too close to the door as the train pass­es it. There was a sto­ry asso­ci­at­ed with each pil­lar and obsta­cle – how a friend’s friend had his head smashed by it, and so on. I could nev­er trav­el “inside”, as I need­ed fresh air, so always trav­eled stand­ing in the door.

A strong mem­o­ry comes from col­lege days, when I was the youngest mem­ber of an ama­teur Astro­nom­i­cal Group, ‘Khagol Man­dal’ in Sion. We used to trav­el to Van­gani for full-night sky obser­va­tions. In order to car­ry our huge tele­scopes, we need­ed to board a Kar­jat train at Vic­to­ria Ter­mi­nus (VT). Imag­ine doing that, when each seat in the train is booked using a hand­ker­chief well before it comes to a stop on its way in, 10 min­utes before it starts on it’s way back.

After that, came the work­ing years. Trav­el­ling to VT every day for work. 9:51 was my reg­u­lar fast train from Ghatkopar to VT. Avoid­ing watch­ing peo­ple from hut­ments defe­cat­ing along­side the train tracks was a reg­u­lar rou­tine to which I was very well accus­tomed to by then.

By this time, I was a proud “Mum­baik­er”. After the 1993 blasts, I remem­ber get­ting goose-pim­ples and swelling in pride the next day when going to work, see­ing bill­boards that pro­claimed in huge let­ters: “Fri­day: Bomb blasts. Sat­ur­day: 93% atten­dance in Offices”.

Then, some­thing hap­pened. I was once trav­el­ing in a train stand­ing in the first door behind the driver’s end. I liked to watch the sur­round­ings go by from that “first per­son” point of view. Between Sion and Chem­bur, a girl, scream­ing, tried to jump in front of the train. Some­one pulled her back at the last instant. It is a mem­o­ry I will nev­er for­get.

On a dif­fer­ent day, some years lat­er, I tried to board a fast train from Dadar for Ghatkopar. I could not get in, even in the “First Class”. I became des­per­ate, and decid­ed to be adven­tur­ous. I climbed the win­dow, with my fin­gers on the rain chan­nel at the top of the car­riage. Yes, I trav­elled from Dadar to Ghatkopar, for about 30 min­utes, hold­ing on to dear life, while my fin­gers and hands were in excru­ci­at­ing pain, while the train was hurtling along at 85 kmph. An unfor­get­table expe­ri­ence.

And then on a usu­al day to work, I was wait­ing for my dai­ly 9:51 at Ghatkopar. The train could be seen in the dis­tance, approach­ing the sta­tion, when it sud­den­ly stopped. Some­one sui­ci­dal jumped ahead of it and was killed. So the train was delayed. Does any­one think about the life of Mumbai’s local train dri­vers? They face such sit­u­a­tions all the time. And when­ev­er it hap­pens, they’re not able to sleep at night.

My response? Like the innu­mer­able num­ber of oth­er pas­sen­gers wait­ing for the train, my response was of irri­ta­tion and anger at get­ting delayed for work. I was not con­cerned about the loss of human life, my only con­cern was about get­ting delayed to work. My dehu­man­iza­tion was com­plete. When I lat­er thought about it, I decid­ed that I need­ed to leave Mum­bai. I did and have nev­er regret­ted it. I am a human again, and val­ue human life the way I wasn’t able to, when I lived in Mum­bai.

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  • Abhi­jit kadle

    Well said, I have shared some of the expe­ri­ences you describe, and would­nt move back to Mum­bai for a bil­lion bucks… Pune city has its fair share of crazi­ness, but I can deal with and remain human, and humane…

  • Poon­am

    Reminds me of tales of Indi­an women in South­hall throw­ing them­selves in front of sub­way trains. There was so much writ­ten about it — sad thing is we got to read a lot about those but nev­er heard much in Mum­bai. I can very much under­stand what you mean — we get so caught up in work and life that we fail to catch humane real­i­ties of life.

    • Thanks. Start­ing from a com­plete dehu­man­iza­tion, I’m back to being human again after shift­ing to Pune. Life is so much bet­ter.

  • I know this sto­ry. I have to deal with my own demons.

    • I couldn’t deal with them by stay­ing in Mum­bai. I had to get out.

      • My com­ment is incom­plete in many sens­es. Can­not do jus­tice to this in a com­ment. A post is required. 

  • I can empathize. I left Mum­bai (then Bom­bay) in 1986 when I was 13 as my dad got trans­ferred to Ban­ga­lore. I have since spent more years in Ban­ga­lore than in Mum­bai. The super-fast and uncon­trolled growth that Ban­ga­lore has expe­ri­enced over the last 15 years has had its dehu­man­iz­ing effect on us here as well. How­ev­er, over time I have come to real­ize that it is entire­ly up to us. We can choose to care or not about things — even in the midst of a chaot­ic urban jun­gle.

    • True. It is all up to us. And how we choose our envi­ron­ment and how we deal with it is also up to us. I just couldn’t deal with it, stay­ing in Mum­bai. Find it much eas­i­er liv­ing in a small town.

  • Vidyesh

    tl:dr
    Life was fast, hec­tic but amaz­ing in Mum­bai. At a stage in life i felt, Mum­bai sucked out my char­ac­ter and the basic human val­ues and  in me and it was time to move on and reha­bil­i­tate.

    My Com­ment :
    Thats a bit harsh to say about life in Mum­bai.
    There are some times in life when you just can’t do any­thing, you can’t con­trol every­thing. Some times life moves faster than you can imag­ine. Instead of slow­ing down we need sync our pace. Thats what you did i guess.

    You can’t feel sor­ry for all the hurt­ful occur­rences in life and you just need to let go to live on.
    You can’t feel sor­ry for peo­ple who sui­cide or do actions which are deemed insane.

    Any­ways, but i don’t think that’s not what Mum­bai taught you, rather Mum­bai taught you to be a strong & a dis­ci­plined per­son.
    Don’t get me wrong, am not say­ing ‘human­i­ty’ is a bad, its just that some­times you need to choose to pick your­self up first or first help oth­ers get up.

    • There are many truths in what you say. Ulti­mate­ly, it all boils down to how one per­son deals with choic­es in life. “Mum­bai sucked out my char­ac­ter” and “It was time to move on and reha­bil­i­tate” are per­fect expres­sions! That’s exact­ly what I did.

      No, I am not being harsh on Mum­bai, it has giv­en me great joy and as you say, has instilled strength and dis­ci­pline in me. I will always be grate­ful for that.

      Thank you for your won­der­ful com­ment. Adds much more per­spec­tive to the way I used to think about these things. Very grate­ful.

    • There are many truths in what you say. Ulti­mate­ly, it all boils down to how one per­son deals with choic­es in life. “Mum­bai sucked out my char­ac­ter” and “It was time to move on and reha­bil­i­tate” are per­fect expres­sions! That’s exact­ly what I did.

      No, I am not being harsh on Mum­bai, it has giv­en me great joy and as you say, has instilled strength and dis­ci­pline in me. I will always be grate­ful for that.

      Thank you for your won­der­ful com­ment. Adds much more per­spec­tive to the way I used to think about these things. Very grate­ful.

  • Uproot­ing self from home city and mak­ing anoth­er place home is not very easy. Not every­one one has guts to do it, espe­cial­ly for a rea­son like this. Very inspir­ing. Reit­er­ates my belief that we don’t have to walk the path because every­one does. We can stop, refuse to walk and make anoth­er path for our­selves if that is what we real­ly want.

  • Yogi­ni

    I can empathize with you. I didn’t have to trav­el by train reg­u­lar­ly until my par­ents moved to Thane in ear­ly 90s. I have clear mem­o­ries of March 12, 1993. It was a Fri­day and I had recent­ly start­ed trav­el­ing by train. The trains were abuzz with news of the blasts. I couldn’t wait to come home & make sure my fam­i­ly was okay. Came home to the news of two dear friends being injured in the blast. I was on a train next morn­ing at 7.00 am, the ear­li­est I could leave home to go meet my friends at Jaslok Hos­pi­tal. One of them died on Sat­ur­day after­noon. Anoth­er friend & I start­ed our return jour­ney to home at about 8.00 pm from Bycul­la. The trains were unusu­al­ly emp­ty. We both got scared and start­ed cry­ing. The events of past 48 hours final­ly hit­ting our young 18 yr old minds. We were in ladies 1st class com­part­ment- the one which gets con­vert­ed to open to all after 8.00 PM. At Dadar sta­tion a few peo­ple got in…most stared at our tear stained faces..at me try­ing to con­sole my friend. A a few min­utes lat­er a man came and start­ed cajol­ing, enquir­ing about our mis­ery. By the time we reached Mulund peo­ple were offer­ing food and water to us. One of them made sure we got rick­shaw from the sta­tion to home. 

    I don’t dis­agree with your view­point that Mumbaikar’s are dehu­man­ized to a large extent..but then there also these moments where peo­ple do help. 

    • Thank you for shar­ing that per­son­al episode — I am very sor­ry to hear about your loss.

      Yes, there are great anec­dotes of acts of kind­ness dur­ing times of crises. These, how­ev­er, are the excep­tions in extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions. Nor­mal, dai­ly rou­tine life is where peo­ple tram­ple over each oth­er to board a train or a bus, break traf­fic rules in rash road rage, and so on.

      When the 1993 riots start­ed, I and my pro­fes­sor were stuck in col­lege at Matun­ga. She stayed at Ban­dra and didn’t have any trans­port. So on my motor­bike, I took her to Ban­dra, from where I returned back to Ghatkopar alone. We drove through burn­ing bus­es, and riot­ing mobs. I was scared like nev­er before. Life in Mum­bai was always event­ful, what­ev­er the sea­son!

  • Yogi­ni

    I can empathize with you. I didn’t have to trav­el by train reg­u­lar­ly until my par­ents moved to Thane in ear­ly 90s. I have clear mem­o­ries of March 12, 1993. It was a Fri­day and I had recent­ly start­ed trav­el­ing by train. The trains were abuzz with news of the blasts. I couldn’t wait to come home & make sure my fam­i­ly was okay. Came home to the news of two dear friends being injured in the blast. I was on a train next morn­ing at 7.00 am, the ear­li­est I could leave home to go meet my friends at Jaslok Hos­pi­tal. One of them died on Sat­ur­day after­noon. Anoth­er friend & I start­ed our return jour­ney to home at about 8.00 pm from Bycul­la. The trains were unusu­al­ly emp­ty. We both got scared and start­ed cry­ing. The events of past 48 hours final­ly hit­ting our young 18 yr old minds. We were in ladies 1st class com­part­ment- the one which gets con­vert­ed to open to all after 8.00 PM. At Dadar sta­tion a few peo­ple got in…most stared at our tear stained faces..at me try­ing to con­sole my friend. A a few min­utes lat­er a man came and start­ed cajol­ing, enquir­ing about our mis­ery. By the time we reached Mulund peo­ple were offer­ing food and water to us. One of them made sure we got rick­shaw from the sta­tion to home. 

    I don’t dis­agree with your view­point that Mumbaikar’s are dehu­man­ized to a large extent..but then there also these moments where peo­ple do help. 

  • Anony­mous

    I have lived in sev­en cities in my life, and will prob­a­bly live it many more. Which might also be the rea­son i do not feel any­thing at all for any par­tic­u­lar place/city. I love every place for its own idio­syn­crasies and char­ac­ter, but I do not miss any, nor would I feel lost/out of place in a com­plete­ly new one.

    I have seen many deaths, and will prob­a­bly see many more. But none have affect­ed me much. I think I have become immu­nized to suf­fer­ing around me in an absolute way. I derive my hap­pi­ness from my own efforts and rela­tion­ships, and have insu­lat­ed myself from oth­ers actions to as much a degree as is pos­si­ble in today’s world. (I had flip­pant­ly com­ment­ed on this in a post http://samudranb.com/2011/03/28/where-were-you-when/). I guess on some lev­el, I have accept­ed what is beyond my con­trol, and to bor­row Covey’s words, stopped wor­ry­ing about what is out­side of my “Sphere of Influ­ence”.

    In response to your post, I would like to know why does one’s soul become plugged in to that of its sur­round­ings? Is it not pos­si­ble to keep your­self insu­lat­ed? Is it pos­si­ble to fight one’s sur­round­ings, to “upload” your­self into the “sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment” and make it more in one’s image, rather than “down­load” from it and let it over­write your self? If it is pos­si­ble, isnt it a fight worth fight­ing?

    • My point was that I *did* become insu­lat­ed and immu­nized. And I don’t want to live like that. I do know that in some spir­i­tu­al philoso­phies, this detach­ment is upheld as nir­vana, but that’s not my cup of tea.

      My choice was to be pas­sive and become insu­lat­ed from what was out­side my sphere of influ­ence, or be proac­tive and do what was with­in my sphere of influ­ence — choose to leave Mum­bai! My sur­round­ings are my real­i­ty and I don’t wish to insu­late myself from it, rather I immerse myself in it and enjoy it, rather than fight.

    • Simple_person_india

      I will tell you why… I have fol­lowed all the rules like dri­ving respon­si­bly, even if it means that I miss a turn, I will go ahead and take a u-turn and come back for my orig­i­nal turn instead of cut­ting sharply through someone’s path and endan­ger­ing their path. I fol­low traf­fic light rules. I cross the road at prop­er zebra cross­ings instead of cross­ing any­where I feel like. I wait for the green walk sign to turn on before I cross instead of putting dri­vers at risk… after all the vehi­cle dri­vers do stop at red lights, can’t pedes­tri­ans wait a bit for their walk sign to turn gree? I don’t throw trash on the road… keep choca­late wrap­pers in my pock­et until I find a dust­bin to dis­pose it.
       
      I have done all of the above, won­der­ing why oth­ers wouldn’t fol­low these prac­tices… when they are com­mon sense. Instead all my rel­a­tives (elders too when I was grow­ing up) and friends laughed at me. Told me that no mat­ter what I thought, we Indi­ans will nev­er improve or do com­mon sense stuff col­lec­tive­ly. They said we are too big a coun­try with too many peo­ple to get all to fol­low these sim­ple, com­mon sense rules. I felt total­ly out of place amongst all such peo­ple and became dehu­man­ized too in Mum­bai.
       
      And then I went to anoth­er coun­try, trav­elled through var­i­oius cities and towns… it was almost 4 times big­ger than India and with a decent pop­u­la­tion size. But there it was com­plete­ly inverse. Every­one fol­lowed these com­mon sense rules and the few who didn’t felt so out of place that they would be shamed into doing the right thing. It was like val­i­da­tion of all my life­time of prin­ci­ples and morals.
       
      I am sure you would have found var­i­ous good things and bad things in all cities you lived in. But there are some things that needn’t be so bad… the dirt, grime, traf­fic, chaos, train trav­el con­di­tions, etc. in Mum­bai. But major­i­ty refuse to fol­low some com­mon sense rules and cre­ate such a mess. After see­ing that oth­er coun­try, one feels that all this could be avoid­ed in Mum­bai. But it will not be. That’s the frus­tra­tion… humans have already dis­cov­ered a bet­ter way of liv­ing, right here on earth, but we in Mum­bai will not accept it.
       
      That’s why all the frus­tra­tion and even­tu­al­ly want­i­ng to move out rather than see unnec­es­sary dehu­man­iza­tion every sin­gle day.

  • Man­dar Kulka­rni

    Great post! Hats off to you and your courage to be very true to your heart.

  • Awe­some post. I had expe­ri­ences chick­en ram­ming in Bom­bay locals and had resolved that come what may , I will nev­er live in Bom­bay.