Early wake up calls, a brisk walk towards the nearest station, elbows nudging, shoulders scuffing, rowdy women fighting over a seat – well, these were some of the things that I was not accustomed to even after a year in Mumbai. You must be wondering how? The answer is quite an easy one. Living in a hostel; college hostel, ruins one’s habits. Sleeping late, getting up late, sluggish walks, late night talks, eating not-so-edible stuff or at times, not eating at all. Life was a ‘Queen Victoria’s’ one. Hostel nearly made me feel at home. Getting up five minutes before the lecture bell and sympathising, ironically, with those who had to get up two hours before, in order to be on time; are some of the exclusive reasons why non-hostelites popularly known as ‘day scholars’ hate us.
Now that it has been quite some that I have been working as an intern, I am unwillingly and completely abandoned from my conveniences and comfort zone. I realise what a brisk walk towards the nearest station means. Hundreds walking with you, some ahead while others struggling to go ahead. I realise that the passionate struggle to capture a seat in an all-women’s compartment is no less than a Napoleonic invasion. I realise to what an extent it irritates when you are in a dream world, taking a nap and when suddenly someone smacks you. The instance when at Church Gate Station, people crawled in like insects to get into a fully ‘un’loaded train to Borivali, is like a ‘flash-bulb’ memory, intact in the buff coloured fleshy creation, the incomprehensible human mind. I still remember the day I left for Mumbai; I remember the day when my mother cried not because I shall leave soon but due to all those vivid scandalising experiences that triggered such an emotional response in her. She was afraid to let her child face the world, she was afraid to put her child at stake. Her fears weren’t bogus either; the city of dreams, as it is called, often leads thousands astray. No less is the number of girls with a cigarette between the then rosy lips which have now turned black, no less are the number of drug addicts either. But regardless of who they are, people still struggle, nudge, and push, collide, bump in those very Mumbai locals; machaliwalas, directors, students, clerks, all in one.
The idea that entices me is the speed at which this city makes you run. Thousands of them working for the same aim, hardly bothering about what others do, working to make ends meet. Some working for a living while others to add to their brimming coffers. The city offers you myriads of opportunities and to such an extent that it bewilders you, leaves you clueless as to where to start from. And this is when you realise that you have to start from scratch, you don’t exist, and if you think you do then prove it. And in order to catch hold of those dreams you board Mumbai locals; through slums, through the emanating stench, through dogs and cats, through group of rats, all running with you, on the rails, competing with you, with time. The race against time and not a single entity is distant from it. But in the maddening hustle and bustle lies a life, a heart that feels, and a mind that comprehends. A mother whose children are yet amazed by the sound of an airplane, driving thousands of heads towards the sky. A mother whose children are still fascinated by a foreigner among them in a Mumbai Local. And nurtured by such a mother, caressed by her worn out yet loving hands is where I live. And this mother of mine is called Mumbai.
- Niharika Pandit