Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The City of Dreams: Part 1

I shall finally tell you about my stay in Bombay, this being the first in a series of entries. Bombay is one big obstacle course. Everything is systematically designed to make your life tougher. The population is too much, its really dirty, the rains clog up the roads and tracks, the trains are madly crowded, the women in the trains are pure evil, the weather is so humid that you never feel clean entirely...this and I am sure there are several other things people can come up with. But Bombay is beautiful, it grows on you and once you leave, you are practically addicted to the city and its spirit. I can't wait to get back.

When I first came to Bombay in class 8 or so (I used to live there as a baby apparently, but I don't remember jack), I was very fascinated. Mainly because I didn't know that cities with sky scrapers existed in India. Bombay's tall buildings and the dramatic curve of Marine Drive seemed to open up a world of possibilities and dreams, a thought that many before me had voiced. When I came this time, excited about the prospect of living there, slightly worried because I had no fixed place to live yet and rather apprehensive about the rains, I confess I didn't like it all that much. The place was too crowded, the weather really sucked, everyone hurried too much and there seemed to be no time to just slow down and talk and to top it all, the rains made the whole place even more wet and dirty. By the third day, I was whining about how I wanted to get back. And yet subconsciously, I was falling in love with the place. I loved the sea breeze, I loved the trains although I almost got smothered in them and my morning bath was rendered useless by the time I emerged from them, sweaty and disheveled, I loved the spirit of the people and I loved the fact that there was so much to do there. So I waited for the moment where I could get a bit free and tramp around. Any enthu traveller will agree that a safe city with a good public transport system is tourist heaven and walking is the only way to explore areas and I am a firm believer in this. So I gave in to my touristy urges, put on my trusty crocs and set off in my characteristic fashion without a map and any clue where I wanted to go! Recorded below are a few of my experience, as a tourist and as a 'Mumbaikar':

A Crowded Train from Lower Parel:
This was to be my day of unfavourable encounters with the public transport system, even if it happens to be on the better side. On my fourth day, I was asked by my office people to go to Lower Parel to meet a guy who could tell me more about my job. I liked my office..all the people there were good fun and drank beer and all the women called each other 'babes'. It was in short, a place I would enjoy :) So went to Lower Parel and finished my meeting and tried to catch a cab to the Lower Parel station, from where I could catch a train to Bandra where I lived. However, no cab was willing to take me and I concluded that the station was close by. I was hesitant to ask anyone as everyone looked so busy and pre-occupied. Then I spotted a crowd of 30 to 40 people heading in one direction and decided to follow them. Let my empahsize that these people looked like the types who'd finished a day's work and wanted to go home. Sure enough, I found myself walking into the station about 10 minutes later, with the added advantage of now knowing where the Lower Parel station was and how I could get to High Street Phoenix (a large mall) from there. I then boarded the terribly crowded train to Bandra. Now this train's compartment contained the by far worst crowd I had ever encountered in my whole life. The world's population plus the population of a few minor planets seemed to be crammed into that space. To top it off, I didn't know the station before Bandra and had no idea when I should start making my way to the door. A lot of women scolded me because I was invariably in their way. When the Bandra station came I began to push though I was rather far behind, trying to squeeze my way out but there was no way past those women. When I finally reached the door, the time for people to dis-embark had passed and women started getting on the train and pushed me back in. For good measure, they also yelled at me. With a lot of 'fuck you's and 'fat bitch's muttered under my breath, I manage to stay put at the door somehow and get off at the next station which was Khar Road. I then took a train back to Bandra. At Bandra station, I was further greeted with cold and contemptuous stares from auto drivers when I told them the adress of my dwelling place. I don't know why all auto-drivers say no with this oh-my-god-why-do-you-want-to-go-there-its-way-below-my-dignity-to-take-you-there expression. So i asked nearly 20 auto-drivers if they would go..some of them smirked at me, some of them made impatient noises and some of them shook their head as if my locality was abhorrent and foul. I also waited feebly for the bus, which never came. Of course during all this time it had been raining and the whole place was smelling of fish and urine, neither very pleasant. I finally walked back feeling very sorry for myself but also strangely elated that I had managed to negotiate all that. I soon evolved a strategy to tackle local trains, after observing one lady who elegantly weaved her way to the crowd that day. I am happy to say it worked beautifully and I will share it with you:

  1. My strategy works on the hypothesis that local train crowds operate in convection current. People get in at stations and move towards that center, pushing out the people on the edge. So the key is to finally get to the people on the edge as it is the law of nature that you will then keep getting pushed out till you are actually at the door when your station arrives.
  2. About three stations before, starting pushing slowly towards the door. Ask people where they are going and if they are going to a station further than you, move ahead of them. Wait for one station to come. As people out of the train, slowly edge and I mean edge (unless you wanna get screamed at) you way to the door. Stay inconspicuous. Most of the women will move to the center and you will find yourself moving towards the door rather automatically and not even of your own accord! If everything goes according to plan, you will reach the door in time of your stop and will again be pushed out by the crowd of impatient women behind you.
  3. Just to add, in order to get into the train you need to..push....push....PUSH!
Trains Generally:
Apart from that one experience, I quite delighted in taking the trains. Certainly the most enjoyable experience is traveling on the footboard, though I was warned not to do it. Feeling the wind on your face, whipping up your hair, with the thrill of electricity pylons and other trains that zip past you without quite touching you is pretty amazing. I also found watching the approach of a train a particularly surreal experience (I guess I was just looking for cheap thrills). Its almost un-scientific, the way a train approaches the platform or another train so silently and stealthily and then suddenly, it becomes this whirlwind of noise and colour, whooshing past you...and then equally suddenly, there is silence only punctuated by the occasional blast of the horn. I know the Doppler effect deals with this phenomenon but it never ceases to endlessly fascinate me. Having said this, I traveled by trains as much as I could..the further my office sent me on errands, the better. The Bombay local train system is no doubt a supreme human achievement with respect to connectivity and engineering. It brings with great ease, all parts of the huge city within 20 -30 minutes of each other..I know there is a London Underground and so on and so forth but in terms of sheer traveling pleasure, entertainment and joy this system is incomparable!

Coming up next...some actual sightseeing!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Watch it

Lots to write about but pressing issues have to be addressed first. Bangalore has witnessed serial bomb blasts in the past 24 hours. A total of 9 blasts apparently took place in prominent areas around the city including Richmond Town, Mysore Road, Langford Town, Madiwala and a bunch of other places. The moral of the story is that Bangalore is finally cool enough to be a target for terrorists!

Its rather unfortunate, I hope nothing further happens and the this is not the prelude to something worse...its like the whole world, the only world you've ever known has suddenly taken on frightening proportions and is experiencing things you didn't think possible. I hope the city can survive this and anything else that the terrorists have in store.

Take care Bangy, we're behind you!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

'To Dance Beneath the Diamond Sky, with One Hand Waving Free'

May be I could have only done the above when I was drunk but I did it, thats what matters (and scared a couple of second years in the neighbouring terrace in the process, I think). I was rather drunk yesterday and not ready to go to sleep yet so I grabbed my newly serviced i-Pod (yaay!), swigged some whiskey and shot off to the terrace. The initial plan was to lie down and general look at the sky. It was a lovely night, and as I was seeing double of everything, the sky looked quite full of stars (I guess this is what they mean by 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'). However the mosquitoes played spoilsports as usual plus once the warmth of the whiskey died down, it proved to rather cold. So I got up to walk around and a couple of high energy songs were effective enough to send me dancing, jumping, spinning and practically falling off the terrace. I was also singing at the top of my voice and I guess for DISCO (disciplinary committee for the uninitiated) creating a ruckus while in a drunken state, which was is a showcausable offence, but somehow tonight, rules as much meaning for me as archaic Tam songs (which is in effect, nothing).

It was an amazingly lovely experience, possibly even better than traveling on the footboard of a Bombay local train. No one came to check on me, though when I peeped down into the hostel quad once, I did see a certain someone peeping down.

And that my friends is the wonderful result of this potent combination of adequate alcohol, music and a starry night - a catharsis on one hand and on the other, a silent cry to the world, for someone to see me, talk to me, even showcause me for all its worth. I encourage you to try it all sometime...believe me, when you get drunk, don't go and crash on the this!