The Day of the G[raduate] R[escue] E[xpedition]
Now I don't qualify as someone who thinks of this city as any of the above. I admire the spirit with which is bounced right back from all the bombs that cowards have flung at it. But as a city that I'd like to call home, I just don't like it. So this, is about my day off from Pune, and evidently, my day off IN Mumbai.
To wake up at 5am after having fallen asleep at 1am and then to board a bus to Mumbai at 6:30 in the freezing winter morning, isn't the start I would like to any day. So here I was, looking out the bus window at people, trees, bridges, water bodies, birds, garbage, cars, roads.. and strangely, I realized during this visit to Bombay, that perspectives alter not only with time, but also sometimes, with company! When you have no one but yourself to talk to, there's nothing you hesitate from saying, or keep to yourself.
When you are holding on to a rung hanging from the support rails of a local train compartment, and standing right at the door and looking out, you practically see Bombay go by. I have grown up visiting family there and I refuse to call it Mumbai because for me, it will always be Bombay. Having long since overcome my fear of Bombay local train travel, I comfortably hopped onto one to get to Dadar and realized, this was easy because there was no point being afraid even if I was afraid. Because all I had, was me! There was no one who would say it's stupid to be afraid and what not. So I just chucked it and climbed on. Those 25minutes enlightened me.
I realized, after a long time, that just because on the outside, this city is coated with drugs and slums and garbage and bureaucracy and sky scrapers, on the inside, it's just really a 'home'. It's home to I dont even know how many people! But when one has a very fixed impression about a place, one tends to miss out on seeing the little tiny things that make it human, in totality.
I saw that the other day. I saw a young girl of about 6 or 7 yrs sitting on a stair with her grandfather while her grandmother looked at the two of them as the warm looking grandpa pointed to the local and the child was thrilled with his stories.. They sat there, without a care in the world, concentrating just on that moment with each other and at that point it hit me, that no matter how this city is on the outside, it's heart, is still very human. Because it's these people, that are the common people who get ignored day in and day out and they dont have to do anything spectacular to keep their feet on the ground. They're regular people with families, jobs maybe, worries, happy moments..
As I smiled at the sight from my vantage point in the local train, the train had gone by almost 2 stations when I was jolted out of my engrossed memories and thoughts. I guess, when you don't go looking for examples, that's when they all come stand in front of you and practically parade around! I was in the ladies compartment, and there was an old man standing right behind me. A blind, old, poor man who relied entirely on his ears to guide him around. One hand holding the folded walking stick, and the other holding on to the railing, he stood there silently waiting for his station without having realized he was in the ladies compartment. I asked him where he wanted to get off because he was getting scarily close to the edge of the door and he said "Dadar utarna hai" so I thought I'd help him off when I get off at Dadar too. The train was now almost at Bandra and just as it pulled out, I happened to glance at the foot-over-bridge and I saw a dad throwing his son up in the air and catching him again. I saw the little kid smile and chuckle, then I saw the dad repeat his action and bring another smile on his son's face and I realized, even in this frightfully busy city, some people DO manage to enjoy the little things! Because those little things, ARE important!
As that father-son duo climbed slowly down the bridge, the train had covered significant ground. We were then at Dadar and just as I turned to the blind man to ask him if he needed any help, his foot touched the platform and he was on his way! Surprised at his timing and judgement, I thought, circumstances and places and sometimes, people, teach us a lot more than we give them credit for. This man was absolutely at ease with his disability and he didn't want sympathy. He had learned to master the art of "seeing through his ears" so marvellously that I stood there, still shocked and by the time I realized I should be walking out, he was gone.
So as I walked across Dadar's platforms and got out on the East side and walked towards Dadar TT bus stand, I saw hundreds of people trying to make their way around each other without bumping into one another to get to their destination in a hurry. I walked with my hands in my pockets, slowly, observing and thinking and people around me, changed by the second! One second there was a lady in a pink dress next to me, and the next, there was a man carrying vegetables! I just kept walking. I didn't ask anyone how I could get to where I needed to be because this, is where I had spent so much of my time as a kid! All the buildings around had changed. The 'scar's from the bomb blasts could still be seen, and more so, imagined, but ultimately, this was a part of town I knew instinctively. I dug up those decade old memories as I clambered on and I realized, they were rather fond memories! Memories of clean beaches, of streets and lanes lined with trees on both sides like avenues, of coconut water that we would just keep drinking as kids, of those hide and seek games which had o restrictions on hiding place ranges. And it hit me, where had those memories gone? Where were my cousins now? Why was I walking alone in Bombay when half my family lives in this city? Distances exist because we let them.
And then as I was passing a beautiful, old building, I retraced my steps and asked the security guard whether Mr. D'Costa still lived there and he said he didn't know who that was but there had only ever been one D'Costa in that building and he was no more. As the guard went off to his post, I stood with the vacuum like realization that the nice uncle who we would run into several times while we played at Shivaji park, who always smiled at us and sometimes even enthusiastically offered to show us some innovative hiding places, was no more. I don't think he'd have remembered us anyway but I had only one memory of him and now, he was gone. As kids, we were too busy to notice the realities of the world. We were too young to realize that growing old is part of the plan. And now, as I wobbled back on to the footpath, the temporary character of things hit me. Whoever said nothing is permanent, wasnt entirely wrong... I guess.
Some emotions I think, are permanent but the point here was, there's so much to learn from the things and people around you! Why do we always try to look so far that we miss out on seeing what's practically under our noses? Why are we so busy that we can't stop to smile at someone we run into at work or someone waiting for a bus or train at the station? Why have we forgotten how to appreciate the small aspects of life? Why does material comfort satisfy us today? Why ,, there are so many Why's!
While all this was happening, I even forgot about the fact that I had gone to Bombay to give an exam, the GRE. After all those thoughts, it was no wonder that I had even forgotten to call home and say the exam was over. When you spend 3 months almost under self-implicated house arrest, and then when you finally have the chance to go out and live a little, the exam seems to be an obstacle! Hence the title, Graduate Rescue Expedition :) Of course, I'm still not fond of Bombay at large but at least now, Im willing to accept, it IS human.
I don't think I will ever like the city very much, because frankly, I don't like too many of the people in it and having spent so much of my childhood there, I've seen it go from it was to what it is. All in all, my one day Dadar- Andheri visit taught me to go back and appreciate some stuff I'd forgotten about a long time ago :) and for that, I thank you Bombay :)
-" ay dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan, kaheen building kaheen traamein kaheen motor kaheen mill, milta hai yahaan sab kuch, ik milta nahi dil, insaan ka nahi kaheen naam-o-nishaan, zara hatke zara bachke, yeh hai bombay meri jaan..."