Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore


Chapter 7

23rd of June turned out to be one of those typical days of the Mumbai monsoons, wet, moist, a slow drizzle running, frayed tempers and frenetic activity as usual. Not surprisingly, Anup was the first to wake up, and having done so, he started poking Subho.

“What’s the matter?” asked Subho, rubbing bloodshot eyes clearly not pleased with the intrusion.

“First day at office”, said Anup with mock sincerity. “Should we wake him up?” he asked, pointing at Tarun, sleeping on his belly.

“Hmm, Considering that he takes an hour to shit, I think it is advisable", smiled Subho.

The next hour was a whirlwind of activity, and soon all three realized that going to office, and getting dressed for that purpose was not the fulfilling satisfying exercise which they had imagined it to be. Put on top of it, virtually serpentine queues in front of the shared bathrooms, and you would be inclined to give the morning bath a pass. But as Tarun thought, today’s the first day, one should go clean and fresh to the office; plus – who knows what the other co-joiners would be like?

Taking a bath in Hotel New Bengal is one of those experiences which, in spite of being substantially better than an open-air bath in the NCC camp, felt a lot worse. This was because of a multiplicity of factors – you had total strangers waiting outside the door, which in turn rendered you incapable of singing and uttering expletives (which for Tarun and a lot of his friends, were integral parts of taking baths); with the end-result that it was as good as taking a bath in the open. And of course, there would be the occasional stranger shouting at another stranger in another bathroom to hurry up and finish. Even though you knew that this was happening in front of another bathroom door, you knew that there was every chance that someone else would do the exact same thing in front of your door, and the basic enjoyment of the early morning bath promptly vaporized. Time and with it, money, was the basic premise in Mumbai; time was precious and though it mostly left you gawking, the constant on-your-toes-unable-to-relax feeling would ultimately get on your frayed nerves.

As he opened the door and came out, he noticed a pretty looking girl, standing in front of another bathroom, looking dazed, confused, and astonishingly sexy. Ah! Finally! They have pretty girls staying here. Maybe she is a budding heroine. Should I talk to her now? Would it look too obvious? Perhaps she is married…But there’s no sindoor on her forehead. But again, sindoor-on-the-forehead is a thing of the past. People have moved ahead and left tradition behind. It’s just increased the permutations possible. Sometimes traditions are really useful. Just like now. All of a sudden, he realized that he had indeed been staring like a stoned monkey for quite some time now, and that the girl had her face turned towards him now. She saw his avidly aroused eyes, and looked down, irritated but smiling. Tarun bashfully turned his face away and walked away, wet slippers flopping on the ground.

On reaching their room, he found Subho and Anup dressed (Anup had powdered excessively as always); the room reeking of deodorant, and two of the three beds in utter mess. “Give me ten minutes, guys… How do we go to Vile Parle?” he asked, and then realized that the matter had been discussed yesterday. He thought of a better question – “How do we go to the station. There are two lines here: Western and Central. I have heard there’s a third but I am not sure.”

Anup had taken out a small map which showed the train routes in Mumbai, and was poring over it along with Subho. “Vile Parle is on the Western Line. See”, he said, pointing at a point on the map, “right next to Andheri. We’ve all heard of Andheri. Now the closest station from here is – as you can see, Marine Lines. So we take a train from there…”

“Isn’t it better we simply go to Churchgate?” said Subho, “it’s the first station on the route; I bet the trains would be emptier there. I don’t wanna stand in rush-hour and ruin this”, he said, pointing to his shirt-pocket.

“A few creases here and there wouldn’t really matter”, Tarun said, in avid distaste. “But what you are saying is correct. It would be better we get on at Churchgate, because I have heard there are some trains which don’t stop at these small stations.” They are called fast locals, he thought, and smiled without reason.

“Can you imagine what would happen if these trains stop running for just a day?” said Anup. “I mean – the entire population would be on the roads. There would be utter chaos…”

“It happens”, said Tarun, having finished knotting his tie. “Last I heard it’s a very common phenomenon during the monsoons. When the rains get really heavy, the tracks get flooded, and everything stalls. The people do come on the roads, but even that’s not much of a help, because the roads are flooded as well. Basically, nothing moves. It’s like a blindingly-fast action movie paused in mid-action.

“Fuck!” exclaimed Subho. “I don’t wanna be a part of that.”

No-one wants to be a part of that, you miserable idiot, thought Tarun silently. “Let’s go”, he said, standing up.

Churchgate is one of Mumbai’s biggest and busiest stations. Located in the hub of Greater Mumbai’s business district, it sees the greatest rush of travelers in the early hours of morning and at dusk. Traveling by road in Mumbai is mostly excessively time-consuming, and inordinately expensive, making most people prefer trains to other modes of transport. This also leads to mind-numbing crowds on the locals during peak rush-hour. The mind-numbing crowds frequently lead to fatal or near-fatal accidents to unwary people. People frequently flop under the wheels of locals at manned and un-manned railway crossings in the mad rush for time and money. The unlucky few on the trains have a hard life-threatening time hanging out of packed compartments, missing electric poles by whiskers. And in spite of all this, the people are forced to do the same routine day in and day out. This routine, ironically enough, is frequently mistaken for the spirit of Mumbai.

Tarun, Subho and Anup were thankfully going in the direction opposite to the rush-hour crowds, and gleefully got on to a relatively empty coach on a Fast Local going to Borivili. Subho whispered to Tarun – “They have separate ladies coaches on these trains. Which means the chances of hot females getting on this coach is close to nil, with a capital N”.

“Exactly”, said Tarun, as his mind wandered to the pretty face of the girl he had seen standing outside the bathroom of their hotel, dazed, confused and sexy. He wondered at the trials and tribulations which these would-be actresses had to go through, sleeping with producer after producer before landing a role. Acting was a rewarding role in the long run, but the industry was unfeeling and disturbingly lewd. Tarun wondered if the girl would be able to last. Sadly he realized that out of ten girls who slept with the producer, only one landed a slot in his latest blockbuster production, almost purely based on her performance in bed. The train moved with a lurch, and Tarun’s ruminations were rudely disturbed.

“Do you realize that we are going to travel close to eighteen kilometers each way from here to Vile Parle? It’s one hell of a distance”, said Anup, his face contorted as three other people sat beside him, on a bench-like seat meant for only three. “We really need to find a place close to the office. This kind of travel every day is not for people like us.”

Tarun agreed. Traveling is the most private of all pleasures, but when it meant going to office, you were in a perpetual hurry to go and complete the lousy eight hours, or you were in a hurry because you had an incomplete assignment, or you simply had to reach early because your boss was an asshole. That kind of traveling was frequently disturbing and most definitely never pleasurable. Tarun agreed that a home close to the office was of the essence.

The roads of Mumbai looked very different from those of Kolkata where Tarun had spent two eventful years before college. The roads looked smooth, the traffic seemed controlled, and there were no ugly-looking ambassador taxis. The train-stations were also surprisingly clean and well-maintained. As the train gathered a little bit of speed, Subho pointed to the door on the left side, which looked upon Marine Drive. The sea glistened in the early morning rays, and the promenade truly looked beautiful with only a fraction of the crowd which they had seen the previous evening. The train whizzed past green fields with school children playing cricket, arguably the most popular Indian sport, and reached Marine Lines. “This place is the closest to our hotel”, said Tarun. “See”, he pointed to an over bridge near the station. “That’s the bridge we used last evening to reach Marine Drive.”

The landscape of Mumbai underwent a sea-change as soon as they left Marine Lines. The greenery was replaced with squalid buildings, cooped together with little breathing space in between. Washed linen and clothing hung out of windows, droplets of soap and water dripping onto garbage dumped along the railway tracks. The open and clean atmosphere of southern Mumbai was replaced with a dull, depressing squalor. Children ran around on pebbled roads running along the railway tracks, often too precariously for comfort. As they passed Mumbai Central, Tarun noticed a group of men clamoring to get into a coach packed to maximum capacity, and looked on amazed as he saw one man actually manage to cling onto the coach, hanging on to life by a single bar on a window. He looked away in disgust and utter confusion – if this was what signified the Mumbai and its supposedly indomitable spirit, he didn’t want to be a part of it. The train route from Mumbai Central to Vile Parle turned out to be utterly uninteresting and mostly gloomy, a few skyscrapers in the distance, overlooking miles and miles of slum-land, smiling children, hutments and shanties so close to the railway lines you almost felt like speeding trains would run over them; heaps and piles of rubbish, rotting vegetables and garbage; the revolting stench of rotting leather mixed with sewage as the train whizzed past clogged waste-dumps of Bandra.

It was nine in the morning when the three friends alighted amidst the noises and bustle of Vile Parle station.

“Which side do we go – left or right?” said Subho.

“We go east, whichever way it is…” said Anup, looking into the distance as they climbed the overbridge and he desperately tried to figure out where East was.

9 Responses to “Chapter 7”

  1. # Blogger EQUINOX

    Great!!! The flow is really good.  

  2. # Anonymous Aru

    who was that female "looking dazed, confused, and astonishingly sexy" ? Was she the same girl who used Su's charger ?? Man she was ravishing ..
    if only she was not accompanied by that moron ..
    Its really strange how small experiences shaped up our first days in Mumbai ...  

  3. # Anonymous Sandy

    @Shameek: Thanks

    @Aru: Yes, it's the same female. Of course, a few situations have been modified for reading simplicity.

    It would be really tough to fit in the charger incident with the kind of dazed look which I wanted the female to have if she just wanted a charger to charge 'her' mobile.  

  4. # Anonymous aru

    hehe .. naughty ;)  

  5. # Blogger rockrulezme

    Hey Da....too good man...waiting for the next installment...  

  6. # Anonymous Sandy

    Thanks dear! The next instalment might take a lil time. Maybe monday [:)]  

  7. # Blogger Showknock

    Seems like its going to be a loong wait for other characters to enter the plot! Should I start off the ending chapters to your novel? And accounts of Churchgate? Ask me :-)  

  8. # Anonymous aru

    ShowKnock this is a book more like a Drama to me , other characters have to wait for their scenes :D .. I am sure its going to get more and more exciting as new characters comes into picture.. talking about characters I suggest u read my post on Justiano Fernandez , named 'The Man' ...  

  9. # Anonymous Sandy

    @Saunak

    Yes, it would be a good idea for you to start something on those lines :)

    @aru:

    Yes, of course. The man! How can we EVER forget him!  

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