MUMBAI LOCAL – #7 – The Twisted Surprise

PROLOGUE: Mumbai Local – Stories From The Lifeline Of Mumbai. A series of short stories that explores the  life of a citizen in a local train. Stories, about relationships, about culture and about the undying spirit of the people, just like the lifeline of Mumbai itself. Some real, some experiences, some fictional and many mere an observation. The many a faces, that seem strangers, draw me close to them. Some ambitious minds, some deceived, some real, some fake. Some young, some old, some hot, some cold like stone. I am one among them, and that’s what draws me more close to them. That’s what draws me towards their face, because every face has a story to tell.

If it would have been any other day, the ladies compartment wouldn’t have entertained any male members. But considering the peak hour rush and the unapologetic crowd at Kurla station, the ladies had no choice to accommodate three people, two males and one woman, who by their appearance didn’t look any close to being desi. Yes! They were foreigners who had accidentally boarded the ladies compartment and climbed with precision as the train slowly moved from the station.

The lady among them was a Chinese and the two men were probably Americans. Dressed decently, they got stared from the railings that separated the gents and the ladies coaches. A few men on the other side mumbled in Gujarati that they were new to the city and didn’t know what to do in the situation. Meanwhile, the ladies were happily interacting with their newfound friends and giving them updates about the city and its erratic weather. They also said that the three were lucky to get into the compartment, as they never entertain unwanted guests. A lady also hinted that she could make out that they were not the ‘regular’ ones and so made an exception. Else, she would have certainly shooed off the men who wouldn’t have been half decently dressed as them.

It was clearly obvious that the two men inside the compartment were embarrassed, while their Chinese companion happily chose to capture the Indianness and the Aamchi Mumbai feel on her phone. With the ladies compartment having three new guests, the otherwise dull morning had truly become a refreshing one. Each person was talking about the new visitors in a language that was completely alienated to the three. Do people in other countries also speak the same way when we visit their country? Do we also experience such a situation outside India? Meanwhile, as Sion approached, the men with utmost respect asked the ladies to excuse them. “Extremely sorry to have got in here and caused embarrassment to you all. Kindly excuse us. Thank You!”, they said and boarded the adjacent compartment, while the Chinese lady continued to be happy in clicking more pictures.

The men came in and boarded the gents’ compartment and managed to get a seat, quite lucky I must say! As they sat looking by the window, while fellow commuters continued to chit-chat, one of the foreigners saw a person reading a religious book. He curiously asked him, “Do you follow the principles mentioned in his book?” “No! I actually don’t get time to read when I am at home. I simply read to kill time,” he said. Even before the foreigner could ask his question or give a reaction, the man shut the book and asked, “You have come for the first time to India? Where are you headed towards?” The man replied, “No it’s not my first time here. I am visiting the great Siddhivinayak Temple at Dadar.”  He further said, which surprised me to a great extent, “I had come here a few years ago and visited the same temple. I am just going back to one of the most pious places in Mumbai.” The next thing that he did was completely unexpected. He removed a photo from his wallet, which was a picture of Lord Siddhivinayak, and said ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya!”

MUMBAI LOCAL – #4 – The Awkward Glance

MUMBAI LOCAL – #4 – The Awkward Glance

PROLOGUE:
Mumbai Local – Stories From The Lifeline Of Mumbai. A series of short stories that explores the  life of a citizen in a local train. Stories, about relationships, about culture and about the undying spirit of the people, just like the lifeline of Mumbai itself. Some real, some experiences, some fictional and many mere an observation. The many a faces, that seem strangers, draw me close to them. Some ambitious minds, some deceived, some real, some fake. Some young, some old, some hot, some cold like stone. I am one among them, and that’s what draws me more close to them. That’s what draws me towards their face, because every face has a story to tell.

Akash and Ankita were climbing the stairs of the crowded footbridge at Bandra. They were in an intense discussion about relationships and the pleasures and troubles they bring to one’s lives. It was that crucial age, where one makes important decisions about one’s life. About marriage, relationships, commitments, companionship and compatibility! From issues about celebrating anniversaries to buying gifts, they discussed all. All in the span of the ten odd minutes (or even less) that they walked to reach the platform.

The bigger aspect of the conversation was however when she opened up on a fact that – talking to your ex either means that one still loves him/her. Or that one hasn’t stopped trying! That seemed an interesting dimension to the whole discussion they had. Little did Akash know that Ankita’s these lines will impact him, quite like how the nail feels when struck by the hammer!

They bid goodbye to each other and Akash boarded his train to Churchgate. It was the opposite direction at 5:30 or so, so it wasn’t as crowded like the rush hour.  Akash stood by the footboard enjoying the cool breeze and the slight drizzle of the rainy evening.

As he pushed his silky hair swaying in the breeze from his eyes, he saw someone and was baffled for a second. It was quite a familiar face that caught his sight. It was Divya, his EX! And in a flash of a second all the memories triggered back into Akash’s mind, as the train slowly and steadily passed from one station to another. People came in and out of the train, but Akash was lost in his own thoughts of looking back at what was lost. He remembered Ankita’s lines, “talking to your ex means you either love him/her, or you haven’t stopped trying.”

He didn’t want to strike a conversation. It was two years since that evening when Akash and Divya had finally parted ways. Weeks of crying and convincing over the phone had yielded no results. With a heavy heart Akash had flown to Bengaluru and immersed himself in making his career to forget Divya and the times spent with her.

Akash and Divya had dated for six years. Quite confused to give their relationship a ‘committed’ status, they were like best buddies, spending time with each other. Sharing small and big secrets. The irony of their relationship was there was one who had feelings for the other, but the other was just treating it like a casual friendship. It was only when Akash decided to go ahead in his career, deciding on doing his masters, did it strike him that he had strong feelings for Divya. He realised that he is soon going to go away from her. He was obviously going to miss her!

He proposed his feelings to her a few weeks after his application to one of the leading MBA schools in Bengaluru was accepted. But Divya wasn’t really happy at the way Akash took a decision about their life. So sudden, so immature she thought was Akash to make his mind, without not even considering what she thinks of their relationship. But the real fact was Divya liked someone else. She was committed to someone else and she hid this ‘BIG’ secret from Akash. The same Akash, with whom everything was shared, big and small. She didn’t react to Akash’s grand and loving proposal.

That night a SMS was sent to his phone, which read:
I don’t want to give you any false hopes. But I am committed to someone else. Let’s not discuss this any further. Bye

He called her back not bothering what time of the night it was. But her phone was switched off. The next morning, afternoon and evening was only spent recharging phones at the mobile tapri. Akash had texted her, spoken to her. She had too called back. But guess it was all over!

Akash wrote back:
Divya we have shared all our secrets. I suppose we were the best of friends. I must have at-least got a hint that YOU are going around with someone. I just want to meet you once. I am heading to Bangalore tomorrow! 6:30 Please Meet Me. Same Place where we used to meet.

All the memories, good and bad, the time at the movies, the crying and convincing over the phone all came back to Akash, as he avoided the sight of Divya sitting right in front of him. He saw that Divya was with someone. Did she notice him? Did he see me? Thoughts rumbled in both minds, quite like the boisterous crowd that barges into the train for a seat.

Akash tried avoiding Divya’s glance. But somewhere amidst the confusion and chaos of the train, the people, the two eyes met eye-to-eye. It was probably the first glance in the two years. Or maybe second?

A similar situation had happened at the market a year back. Akash had come down for Diwali holidays and was shopping with his mother. Divya walked from the opposite side and ‘The Awkward Glance’ was all it took. A flash of a second was all it lasted. No words exchanged. No emotions. Just a mere, silent glance.

During Akash’s stint in Bengaluru, Divya had called several times, enquiring about his health, studies. Akash did chose to ignore calls initially but spoke on a few occasions. One evening the two did try to sort their differences and start afresh. Divya asked if they could be ‘good friends’? But Akash wasn’t in a frame of mind to live with that feeling. Especially when the two of them, for six years stayed inseparable and more or less together at most times. He hung up abruptly and that was their last conversation.

All these flashbacks made its way through Akash’s eyes as he was seeing Divya in front of him. It was Divya, his –ex at the seat. As Mumbai Central arrived, the man sitting next to Divya got up. He clasped her hands for a second or two and released it, smiled and walked towards the door and got down.

As the train sped away, his eyes avoided Divya and Akash was back at enjoying the breeze, which now had got a tad too fast. Quite like how Akash’s mind was rumbling in the flow of thoughts!

What surprised him was Divya walked in a few moments later and started a conversation.

“How are you? When did you come back to Mumbai? You were in Bengaluru right?”

Akash didn’t know what to say. He was surprised at the sight of Divya. And now it was her coming and asking him questions, which again was as awkward as it could get.

“I came back last month. I am working for Deloitte in their Analytics wing”, he said with a light smile, wiping little droplets of water over his face. Thanks to the drizzle outside.

From once informal, buddies it was now a situation where an employer was interviewing his prospective employee. Formal.  She kept asking questions about his days in Bengaluru, his parents, answer to many of them, which she already knew.

Meanwhile Akash kept answering them diligently, (just like a confident interview candidate who will impress to get the job!) keeping it short.

Churchgate had arrived. The last station and it meant that it was time. To cross paths again in different directions. Akash smiled and said, “It was good to see you Divya.”

He wasn’t sure how much he really meant it.

They got down and walked in opposite directions. Only to turn back once again and stare at each other once again what was ‘The Awkward Glance’.

Was it really over between them?

 

MUMBAI LOCAL – #3 – The Man From Another City

MUMBAI LOCAL – #3 – The Man From Another City

PROLOGUE:
Mumbai Local – Stories From The Lifeline Of Mumbai. A series of short stories that explores the  life of a citizen in a local train. Stories, about relationships, about culture and about the undying spirit of the people, just like the lifeline of Mumbai itself. Some real, some experiences, some fictional and many mere an observation. The many a faces, that seem strangers, draw me close to them. Some ambitious minds, some deceived, some real, some fake. Some young, some old, some hot, some cold like stone. I am one among them, and that’s what draws me more close to them. That’s what draws me towards their face, because every face has a story to tell.

Author: Aashray Akundi

Aashray is a dear friend of mine, who I first met at SIMC, Pune where we both pursued our masters. A theatre enthusiast and a die-hard Shah Rukh Khan fan, the dancer-actor friend of mine shares his first experience in the city of Mumbai. Currently working here in Mumbai, Aashray is originally from the land of the Nawabs- Hyderabad. This is his exclusive story.

It was a usual evening like any other day after work. I went straight to my grandmother’s house in Bandra from BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange) where I work. It had been quite a while since I had met my ammama (grand-mom) and my relatives. It is actually very relaxing feel to have a family in a new city, you do not feel lost. The little joys of meeting a cousin who just came back for a short vacation from New York, the 5 year old kid sister playing around with her little pup and her kitchen set. The pleasures of seeing nani patiently listen to my job woes and the mundane life, uncle and aunt just back from a hectic day at work. A perfect family atmosphere and you feel complete. Each time I made a plan, the ruthless rains of Mumbai (my first experience of the rains in a new city) played spoilsport.

I spent some quality time with them and had the pleasure of having awesome ghar ka khana. Before I could realise, it was time for me to get back to my hostel and sleep. I couldn’t afford to gate late again for the next day’s race to work! I walked down the streets of Bandra passing through a paan tapri. I resisted myself from buying a cigarette (in an attempt to quit, it does work!!), got a rickshaw and headed straight to Santa Cruz Station. It was a routine that around 10:30 or 11 in the night, a herd of women would stand outside the station in fancy clothes. It seemed by their appearance and talks that these weren’t women, one would regularly converse with. A few men enjoyed ogling at these ladies while a few decent ones chose to keep silent and walk away from their eyes. A quick glance at the happenings and I headed off to the platform to catch a train to Mumbai Central pondering over what I had just seen.

At that time of the hour, the train was fairly empty. With just 5 – 6 people sitting inside the second class compartment, I got into the train and made myself comfortable at one of the seats. When the train stopped at Khar Station, a little sweet girl got into the train. She must be around 9 or 10 years old, well dressed. She looked as if she was returning from a wedding with her family. I expected an entire battalion of people to get into the train with her but to my surprise she was the only one who turned up. As the train sped away from the platform, the girl took out two small wooden plates and started singing.

It took me by huge surprise that a girl, so decently dressed, was singing a cliché Hindi song and begging for a living. It took me a while to imagine that girl as an urchin. Why on the planet would someone dress so decently and sing and beg for a living? It’s an ill-fated world, you see. I thought that she is from a decent family. But I was wrong. She went around all the people (all men in the compartment) and started begging for money.

Eventually she came to me and I nodded my head and refused to give her a penny. I don’t think it is right to beg for money. But, I was still thinking in my mind and was trying to judge if this girl is actually a beggar or is she trying act like one. For me I couldn’t see her as one with her being dressed so decently. But it’s beyond words to explain what I saw next. It can put a nation to shame. A man sitting near me called her on the pretext of giving her money. The girl, sensing that she is getting some money to grab a meal for the night maybe, made her way towards where I was sitting. But to her utter dismay, the man began indecently behaving with her. He touched her hands, palms. It was a rather embarrassing scene. There were a few others and me who objected. The man stopped and the girl walked away from him with a silent fear.

I couldn’t bare the sight of the man sitting next to me behaving like a pervert, a hungry dog and walked away to the footboard with sheer awkwardness on my face. I could see the girl, now in one corner, almost at the other end of the compartment trying to control her tears. She didn’t complain, she didn’t express, and she didn’t retaliate. She just was too numb to react on what had just happened with her.
Mahim had arrived.  I got off the train. As I got down and walked myself through the edge of the platform, I could see the man get closer to the girl again. Before I could realise, and as the train begin to make its way from the station, a Good Samaritan, grabbed the hands of the girl and jumped off the train. The boy’s decent look and his concern for the young girl made me realise that I too can do my bit in helping the girl in distress.
By now the girl was all in tears and inconsolable. A few people at the platform stopped by to see, what supposedly was a tamasha for them. Especially watching two young men, trying to console a wailing girl, at that hour of the night. But they obviously didn’t know what she had gone through. We managed to stop her crying and got her a bottle of water. We wondered if handing the girl to the cops was a safer or better option. But with the cops, there would have been loads of question to answer. So we asked the girl as to why she was doing all this. Decently dressed she didn’t have to beg. It was after much hesitation that she revealed that her mother was a sex-worker and abused by her drunkard father. She begs on the train to help her mother so that she does not face the wrath of her husband.

She insisted us on leaving her all by herself and head to our homes. She didn’t mean to create any trouble for us because of her. There was a truth in her words but this was the best we could do. I offered her some money (after I initially was hesitant and finally gave in). I caught the next train and headed back home. It struck me later that contacting some NGO would have been a better option, but in all that commotion, it never came into my head.

It was a disturbing evening for me, but then these are the bitter facts of life we all encounter at some point of time or the other.  Life sometimes put challenges which are difficult to overcome. I am new to the city, but that day it was a lesson learnt about the miseries of life.