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.