“Hello Mumbai” is a glimpse of the zoetic life in Mumbai that I had written way back in 1999 when I was twenty five years of age and trying to find a foothold in the rush city. I would like to share whatever left of the writing that surfaced while dusting the old book shelves in the store room.
The city is always on the move – the swarming people criss-crossing each other everywhere, the changing traffic signals, the speeding vehicles, the running senior citizens, the man with a flute standing in the corner of the loud subway at Churchgate and playing a heart touching Bollywood number (Chahunga Main Tujhe Saanjh Savere from the film Dosti), the long queues in front of movie theatres, the ever-ready stands of Pav Bhajis, Vada Pavs and Bhel Puris, the Jhunka Bhakars, the on-going game of cricket at Shivaji park, the bustle at Nariman Point, the Gateway of India standing tall through history and the majestic Taj facing it, pavements full of commuters trying to avoid the congested roads, people buying a Mid-Day from the magazine stall, the ever busy telephone booths at Dadar and Andheri stations, the under construction flyovers, the always on gear BEST buses moving around, and the galloping humanity in the life-line of Mumbai – the local trains. In every aspect pace is the characteristic feature. I often wonder where from all the people throng the streets in large numbers. It is always rush hour on the streets with people all around.
Morning never descends on this mega city and neither do night comes. Day life just gives way to night life and everybody seems happy. The city never sleeps as if the concept does not exist in the Mumbai consciousness. I cannot but escape coming across the habituated frequent siestas that people make while travelling in the local trains. Surprisingly, with impeccable timing, their short slumbers wane away as they approach their destinations.
The general compartments of the local trains are always at the maximum. While boarding, one has to rush towards it and the next thing you know, you are inside, as if by some automatic process of pulls and pushes. You have to be extremely fortunate to get a seat, that is, if you have boarded from the originating station. Otherwise you have to be content with standing up, one hand gripping the latch hanging over the head and the other holding on to your bag. In no time the compartment gets filled up with more people than it can accommodate. Someone sneezes behind you and you feel as if your head is the garbage bin with “Use Me” written on it. Someone blows his nose and you are pretty sure that the stuff has fallen on your perfectly ironed shirt. Some sleepy head has used your arm for support and your sleeve is wet with his sweat. That is why people carry an extra pair of dress to change at work places. You are almost crushed in between as your style statement with wrist watch and goggles goes awry inside. You are sandwiched by people and the pressure is felt in your belly and bladder, and till you are out of it (automatically pushed out at your destination), what you need is just “Ek Paon Zamin” – enough space for your feet.
The local train is one of the best dockyard of politics, movies, cricket, stock market and sex (topics are kept open for anyone ready to participate). You know by the sheer timing at which station the train has halted. Come Bandra station and you sense it by the peculiar odour – the stench of Bandra Creek. A group is busy in doing Sankirtan with dhol and manjeera, one TV actor is practising his scenes aloud, there are other Bollywood hopefuls dreaming of making it big one day. There are men discussing business, loss, profit, money, marketing leads, prospective customers, broken relationships, family problems, jobs and everything that affects their everyday lives. People may be unconnected with each other but they are bound together by the local trains that give all space to pursue their dreams.
In this hustle and bustle, there also prevails a sense of leisure in the city. Theatres, Eros cinema, parks, the Jahangir Art Gallery, museum, the food joints, the “Frankies” and “Faloodas,” the chowpatty, Marine Drive, Gateway of India, Colaba, the Fashion Street and lot more places offer to fill the ennui of a lone adventurer. Then there is the grey side of Mumbai too with the much heard about night life and dance bars. There are places that always give me the jitters such as Chembur, Scion, Byculla and Bhindi Bazar. There are docks and ports with a different life altogether and quiet places such as Ratnagiri and its fishing community that seem very much un-Mumbai like. There is something for everybody in the city and as you wind up the day the typical question – “Kay Jhala” echoes in the brain.