Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mumbai Mumbles: In a tea cup, part of a storm!

Again, one of those queer coincidences!   How many of them?   And the last one was a big news item.

Some of those innocuous events one is part of, or associated with, become news items or publicized events.   It is a funny feeling to be part of such events.   Especially, for one, like 'The One', with a sense of history.   It only makes life more interesting and colorful, and helps beat the monotonous and the mundane.

Fire in the annual Kolkata book fair
- too coincidental to be true?
Some of the incidents are too coincidental to be true.   In 1996, I visited the annual Kolkata book fair - popular event among the literary buffs of Kolkata.  After shopping for more than three hours, where I bought my first world war II book ( this is one of my secret passions) and left the book stalls reluctantly, we made a passing remark on the single fire engine standing outside - that it would be a pity if something were to happen.

That night,  there was a huge fire, and the entire book fair was gutted.  Millions worth of property and intellectual wealth of infinite value was lost.   And it was the front page item of the next day's newspaper.   That day, I felt that I was part of an incident that made headlines.   Was it mere coincidence?  Or it was a simple observation of the obvious, and that the probability kicked in.

Another incident, again involving fire,  happened in the same vicinity.   The place was the State Bank of India dealing room, and I was in charge of the dealing infrastructure.   There was an upgrade of the fire extinguisher, and I remember making a remark about its impending use.

Just a week afterwards, a small fire happened, lot of chaos followed - and the subject was in action, and a newspaper item, as it never worked.   The feeling was not great, but was interesting.

And the recent spate of such incidents. These incidents were seemingly disparate, but connected if analyzed.   At first, it would sound like an contrived effort to build a story - but am sure that the entire humanity would have similar stories to tell.   And the conviction only increased when the below story happened.

When I moved to Mumbai - a tsunami called 'Thane' hit Chennai.  When I moved to 'Thane', a tsunami was to hit Chennai.  Should I move to tsunami then?  Below was a facebook comment on my profile:

When I moved to Mumbai - Cyclone 'Thane' hits Chennai!
When I move to Thane, ie today, tsunami hits to Chennai!
Should I move to tsunami, next?

Then - one of these mornings, I hitched a ride from Thane to Powai.   We typically take a Nira-break ( a drink made of sweet-palm) near the Mulund Naka.   Another customer of this Nira-wali told that there was some serious traffic expected to build up on the Mumbai roads - considering the fact that there seemed to be a fire and traffic signal failure.

I had never traveled in a Mumbai local in my life, so I vaguely dismissed the news.  One of those many news items that would not affect the safe and secure life of this author.  There were taxis, ricks and colleagues's cars.  So why should I  have really bothered?

The hot summer day wore along.  The meetings and the customer calls.   Life swung between the hot, dusty streets and the nice, cool air-conditioned confines of the customers' receptions and conference halls.   The small tit-bit was forgotten in the deluge of myriad thoughts.

The last of the evening meetings was done. Post this meeting in the Bandra- Kurla complex, I was clueless of how to come back to Thane.   The distance was great - and my car was cooling its tyres ( heels?) in the cool confines of my parking lot.   The sun was going down against the western Mumbai sky.  My colleague suggested, why not take the sub-urban?  30 minutes, will all it would take, suggested, he.
Approach to Kurla station -
the right turn threw me into a

I looked at my watch - it was 5:35.  I called another colleague who lived in Thane for a possible hitch.  He said he was in another part of this world called Mumbai.  With no options, I checked my google maps - application in my blackberry.   It suggested a distance of about a kilometer to the Kurla station.   So after couple of toss-ups, I decided to take the plunge.

I walked the distance of this 1 km - amidst traffic.  This was like wading through a human stream.  Barkha-clad women shopping in hordes, and the hawkers of the flea market on the station road trying to woo them.   A large Innova moved in like an elephant in a narrow temple street, unconcerned about the disgruntled stares of the pedestrians who owned the street - kerb to kerb.  
Burkha clad women wooed by
shop keepers along the station road, Kurla

Some gossiping cops and road blocks later, I reached the ticket counter.  Only few people were milling about the station - unusual sight?  Where was the legendary Mumbai crowd?   Was it a myth?

I took a first class ticket to Thane ( first timer's foolishness?) for Rs 80.  I walked to Platform 5 and inquired with a cop on a train that had just halted.  He said that it was indeed going to Thane.  Elated but confused - as I moved towards the train, the train burst out a hoot and started moving out of the station.   The train had some foot-boarders, and one of them suggested I should take the following train.

The following train arrived in under 5 minutes.  The crowd was ok. I had seen more in the Chennai suburbans ( which I rarely took).   As I entered the train, I saw two things.
The crowd in the Ambernath local

First, men and women had separate compartments - relatively clean by the standards you typically see.   It looked a good idea as it would help avoid harassment and the likes.   Secondly, the passengers wore the back-packs to the front, like the portable cribs that the mom's wear to carry their kids.   Nice idea, I thought.   Both hands free to hold a bar or a railing and can keep the eye on the backpacks.

So the journey started - Kurla, Vidya Vihar, Ghodbunder, Vikhroli, Bhandup, Nagar, Mulund, Thane - in that order.   Each time, people would rush in and out, jostling for entry and exit in the respective direction, the train would then move, people settling down - listening to music from their ear phones or chatting up with their co-passengers, some lost in thoughts, and some like me - fiddling with their phones.  The PA system would announce the next station and the display system - would put up the visual equivalent.

The Ambernath local, leaving Thane
The tea cup?
As we passed through the Nahur station,  I was amused by a loud outburst of laughter from a group of boys - who were foot-boarding.   Foot boarding is a major threat - young boys hanging their body and limbs out of the train - purely for fun or because of the testosterone effect.  And that was a passing cloud.

Finally, I reached Thane, got off the train.  As the train passed by, I felt that my entire train ride, my FIRST IN A MUMBAI LOCAL, was rather eventless.   I clicked a pic of the train, nevertheless.  Getting into a bus towards my home, I felt that the public transport system was rather robust in Mumbai.

Well there was another feeling - I had travelled second class, after buying a first class ticket!   I was indeed bordering stupidity! Except that, there was no queer feeling.
The bus from Thane station to home -
expecting a storm?

That was till I saw the news scrolls on TV that night and till I read the papers next day.

My feeling only grew stronger.   The mundane was replaced with a sense of mystery.

The first news: A fire in Kurla station had derailed the Mumbai local traffic that day 'Kurla station fire disrupts train services. Passengers suffering and irated',
followed by the second:   In Nahur,  foot boarders were knocked off by some protruding pole, too close to the train's skin.

I got into the same station ( Kurla), the same day and there was real calm, while indeed there was a huge commotion around this.   Secondly, my fleeting thought about the foot boarders, indeed transpired as an unfortunate event leading to 3 deaths.

The tit-bit offered by the fellow Nira- customer hit me like a small tidal wave.  Is news following me?  Is it like being a fly on the wall?  Without knowing that there is something brewing just under your nose.  That you are part of it, yet not realizing it.  Like being in a tea cup, but not realizing that there is a storm inside!!!

-The One

( Pictures courtesy The One)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home