Writer’s Block @*&#%^!


Haven’t blogged for more than a month now. Laziness? Boredom? Lack of time? Or is it the celebrated writer’s block? I’m yet to figure.

There are random ideas flitting across the mind. As soon as I catch hold of one and sit down to pen my thoughts, another one flits by and seems momentarily more appealing than the one at hand. Ofcourse, it is a vicious circle of thoughts flying, catching one, letting go and being attracted to another!

I somehow like the idea of putting this down as a Writer’s Block. Wow, sounds so cool. I can quite imagine myself sitting by the window in my room, pen in hand, blank pages on my lap, looking out of the window and exclaiming with a swagger, “O darn, the block strikes back. The wretched writer’s cruel block”.

I think I try too hard at times. Or hardly try at times. The point is, it is all in the head, just refuses to get down on paper.

Oh well, whatever, I’ll go back to my game of catching and letting go.


When Silence Speaks Aloud

It has been quite a few years since the National Anthem is being played in cinema halls prior to screening a movie. People who are seated comfortably with their Popcorns, Pepsis and Samosas in tow, grudgingly get up, sometimes partnered with groans and chair squeaks. Those in the aisles impatiently wait for the anthem to begin and end as soon as possible – wishing they had come in earlier to avoid groping for their seats in the darkness. It is sad to see that no sooner are the closing lines of the Anthem sung, that you see people sitting down and snuggling in the seat comfortably.
I thought I had seen all versions of the National Anthem. There is never a “bad” rendition of the Anthem. Till a couple of years ago, my favourite one was by Bharat Bala Productions, released to commemorate the 50th year of the Indian Republic. More than 30 acclaimed artistes from the musical fraternity in India, including Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosale, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Bhimsen Joshi and others present a ear pleasing mix of harmonious sounds. And every time I hear A.R. Rehman sing “Jaya He” in the end, it sends a shiver down my spine.
Then came the one shot at the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range of the Great Himalayan Mountains. It is picturised on the brave soldiers of the Indian Army, who stand shoulder to shoulder, guarding the highest and most difficult battlefield in the world. The white expanse is in deep contrast with the Indian tri-colour, as it flutters in the sky – a tribute to our valiant Army. The mellow music reaches deep within and evokes a sense of national pride.
“Please stand up for the National Anthem” said the movie screen when I went to watch a film recently – What hit me after that left me speechless.
Children are seen standing in rows, impatiently, in the school playground. A little girl comes running through the corridor. She is clearly late for the assembly. She runs through the rows and stands in front of the stage. The music begins. It is then you notice the ear machines that all the children have worn. The entire piece is presented in sign language by children with hearing and speech impairments. And they begin to sing. They sing without words – they sing through their hands, they sing through their eyes and they sing through their moving lips which emit no sound. The best part? In the end, when the children gently wave their palms to signify the fluttering of the flag.
It is brilliant in more than one way – not just because the campaign won a silver at Cannes 2011. It shows how silence can be an effective way to commnunicate. A person means to say something which is understood in a completely different way by another. In a land where people are divided by language, we break free from the spoken words and possible miscommunication thereafter. Sometimes, the simplest of things are communicated with the least of words, or as in this case, none.
It was the first time I noticed that not a single person moved during the entire National Anthem. Everyone stood transfixed by the rendition. It took me to such a beautiful place where the mind and the heart both co-exist without argument. I stood for a while after it was over, sat down quietly and wiped a stray tear.
Truly, patriotism knows no language.

The Most Unexpected Call

9th May 2011


It is 2.30pm on a sweltering Monday afternoon. I’m half way between Pune and Mumbai in the latest Volvo brought to you by Mercedes Benz [fancy eh?] – trying to sleep [unsuccesfully at best!!]. To add to my misery, I have an oblivious mother who has happily slept in the discomfort offered within the confines of the seat. A terrible neck-ache, a bad movie [FYI – “Apne” starring the Deols, Sculpted Shetty now Mrs. Kundra and Miss Lack o’ Acting Kaif] and random boredom totally flood the mind.


And then the phone rings – loud enough to wake up everyone in the bus [including the drowsy driver and excluding my semi-sedated mother].


Nemo’s name flashes on the screen [First thought – damn u Nemo, mera 3000 bucks kab dega, Second thought – atleast someone to talk to and kill time, Third thought – no time for that, I had answered the phone by then]

Nemo: Hi, there’s something very crazy that I’m gonna ask you. Ready for it?
Rish [perplexed, immediate unrelated ideas come to my mind – Is he going to ask me out? (noooooooooo), Is he getting married? (whhaaaaaaaaaattt), Is he sitting in the same bus as me? (a quick glance around the bus confirms he isn’t)] :Yeah shoot

Nemo: Do you have your passport in place?

Rish [passport? HUH?] : Yeah why?

Nemo: Interested in going to Venice?

Rish: Yeah when? [I notice I’ve been speaking in two-worded sentences]

Nemo: Day after tomorrow [i.e. Wednesday]

Rish: Arre wait till Friday na, it is my last day at work


Wait a minute – Realisation strikes – Dude, Venice not Versova. VENICE? DAY AFTER TOMORROW? ME? WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?


Rish [collecting her thoughts post realization – pretending to be composed] : Ok now, details please

Nemo : Niki is helping in organizing an almost- Royal wedding of some big shot Indian in Venice. Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and the likes expected to attend. The wedding walas need a newsletter published for the wedding. So Niki is looking for writers…

    Visions of gondolas, hot Italian men, romantic music and beautiful architecture begin haunting me. Just when I’m arguing in my mind whether to have the bolognaise with fettuccine or cannelloni –


Nemo : Dude you still there?

Rish [absent mindedly – chuck the bolognaise, how about pizza?]: Yeah go on

Nemo : So you in?

Rish [now realistic] : Obviously I totally like [read: LOVE] the idea, but isn’t it too short a notice?

Nemo : Yeah it is. But think about it – All expense paid trip to VENICE. 14-15th May is the wedding. You write the newsletter and then you get to sightsee the next 5-6 days.

Rish : So what’s the catch, why aren’t you going?

Nemo: My passport has expired [hahaha sucker! Almost give small hi-five to imaginary friend]. I’m trying to arrange one within a day. Fingers crossed.

Rish : Oh. It is a very tempting offer but I would have to let you know by evening.

Nemo : Ok. Hurry.


Call disconnects.


Next 2 hours in the damn bus are a joyride. The happy state of mind flirts with thoughts ranging from sitting in a small Venetian café writing my next travelogue to Italian men [well let’s not tread there]

Household discussions on reaching home state the obvious – No honey, you aren’t going anywhere [Ok, maybe not that directly – but the underlying meaning remains the same]


So here I am, 28.5 hours after receiving the phone call, still wondering if I will be able to get on the Venice bound flight tomorrow.


Slap of reality – No honey, you aren’t going anywhere. Bullshit I say!


A Different Today

Truth be told – the “idea” for this write up is not original. It was written for a friend. It is what he actually saw – versus what I interpreted his vision to be based on my own experiences. Though i wasn’t physically present at there, I somehow felt emotionally connected to it, as the scene slowly unfolded in front of my eyes. 

It is one of those infinite moments when life seems to paint a different picture for me. Only on looking closer do I realize that it is the same picture that I have been looking at for years now – but today I look at it without prejudice, without any hang-ups and without any expectations.

A long walk along one of the scenic stretches in Mumbai. Marine Drive – A walkway fittingly called the Queen’s Necklace.

Today, I don’t see pesky hawkers trying to sell their wares and disturbing my peace of mind – I see a little girl holding a bunch of flowers in her hand and looking at me with her big brown eyes – eyes that almost beg me to buy the flowers so that she can feed her family that night atleast.

Today, I don’t see hordes of people walking aimlessly, talking in unnecessarily loud volumes and bothering the rest– I see an old Canadian gentleman help his wife onto the sit-out at the drive, to enjoy the beautiful sunset together.

Today, I don’t see nosey kids being dragged along by their parents to walk the stretch – I see zestful young minds, full of never-ending questions and seeking answers to the mysteries that conspire.

Today, I am not just a photographer looking to enhance my portfolio with the beautiful pictures – I am just a wandering soul who has rediscovered the beauty that routine has to offer.

Today, I walk with an empty mind and a heart full of emotions – my camera giving me the best company. I let my lens do all the talking, where words fail to express what I feel – my pictures take the story forward.

Today,  I discover a new “me”.

The Best Date Ever

        No, there weren’t any roses, no quartet of musicians, no fancy restaurant, no three course meal being served by butlers, no dressing up…and yet it remains forever lodged in my memory as the best [and most unexpected] date ever –

‘Shifting sucks. Unpacking is suckier. And being stranded alone in an unknown city is the suckiest of all.’

    This had become my anthem from the past five days since shifting my base to Mumbai. My belongings had arrived two days back along with a message from my would-be housemate and current best friend that she would be shifting after a couple of weeks due to some emergency back home. I had neither kith nor kin in the city to turn to in case I needed someone to talk with. I was not even friends with the neighbours yet.

    Luckily my company had provided a nice accommodation in South Mumbai, a mere 10 minute walk from the famous Marine Drive. I planned to start sightseeing as soon as I had managed to convert the house into a home. I spent the entire day among cardboard boxes of varying sizes which held all the stuff I owned. Clothes were put in the cupboard, books placed on the bookshelf, kitchen utensils stored in the kitchen and a general tidying up followed to make the house more inhabitable.

    At the end of the day, I donned my favourite pair of pyjamas and plonked tired on the slightly creaky but comfortable sofa. A cacophony of emotions ran through my head, where each emotion tried to gain a dominant position in my mind. Lonely, angry, lost, betrayed and…wait a minute… sweaty? While I was lost in my own woes, I failed to notice that the electricity had suddenly decided to bid adieu. How in the world could this happen? Wasn’t Mumbai supposed to be the ‘City of Blinding Lights’ and all that razzmatazz?? Things were just going from bad to worse, and I didn’t know what to expect next.

    I had a horrible time hunting for some kind of illuminator as I had suddenly become disoriented in the not-yet-familiar place. Finally I chanced upon a box of candles by the bed-stand. As I lit one, I heard a loud knock at the door. The sound caught me by surprise and I whammed my knee into the table. I let out a shrill scream, followed by self-directed curses.

    “Are you alright?” a smooth male voice called from outside the door. Replying with a feeble yes, I hobbled towards the door. The man identified himself as my neighbor [which I confirmed by noticing the open door across the hallway through the peep-hole]. I opened the door and brought the candle in my hand to lighten the caller’s face. It was probably the face of the most handsome guy I had laid my eyes upon. Boyish looks, a day’s stubble, curly hair and almond-shaped eyes which made me go weak in my [already hurting] knees. My hand involuntarily flew to adjust the strands of my unruly hair, but then I realized that this was unnecessary as my checkered pyjamas were already making a style statement of their own!

    I must have missed something he said when he asked, “Would that be fine?”. “Huh? What?” I replied immediately, snapping out of my reverie. “I asked if I could use your phone to make an urgent call as my cell phone is not charged and I have no landline”. “Yeah sure”, I replied coolly, embarrassed by my lack of attention. I handed him my phone and tried to ignore his conversation about some railway bookings.

    He thanked and left, only to return twice in a span on 30 minutes to check whether there had been a call for him. I invited him to stay in the house for sometime till he received the call. It’s funny how two random people just meet and click from the word “go”! He had an easy going manner and a smile that lit up his eyes instantly. It was almost an hour and half into our conversation when we became aware of the hunger pangs in our tummy. Considering he was shifting out the next morning and I hadn’t quite settled in yet, availability of a proper meal was out of question. We scoured about in our respective houses for some quick bites. He came back with some leftover pizza, home-made cookies and a carton of apple juice. I furnished a bowl of maggi noodles and potato chips.

    We continued talking about our hobbies, jobs, pets, childhood, hometown….Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, The Eagles, Kenny Rogers and the likes keeping us fine company all night through the songs playing on his I-Pod.

    And then it began to rain. A drizzle at first and gradually pouring in its full glory. The first rain always has an inexplicable way of lifting your spirits so high that it almost feels un-worldly. The pattering of rain sounded like music to my ears. We sat by the window, watching the rain..letting it do all the talking for some time. The street lights enhanced the beauty of the rain drops to an ethereal level. I was mesmerized by the quick transformation of Mumbai from a sad and lonely city into this beautiful place which seemed to have the potential to fulfill all my hopes and desires.

    A sudden craving of tea ended in a frantic search for tea powder in his house as I hadn’t stocked my kitchen yet. Unavailability of gas led to the bright idea of brewing tea over candle flame. As we continued talking about our dreams and ambitions, we took turns at holding the tea vessel over the flame of 5-6 candles. It almost took ten times the time required to brew tea, but it was the most amazing cup of hot steaming ‘cutting chai’ I ever had.

    It was about five in the morning when we decided to take a walk along Marine drive. The roads were still glistening with last night’s rain. The smell of fresh earth filled our nostrils, driving home a sense of pleasure. Early risers gathered around the tiny tea-stall at the corner of the street, to enjoy a hot cup of tea and biscuits before beginning their day. As we walked towards Marine drive, it only seemed natural to hold each others’ hands. It felt as if two old friends had met after a long time and only had one night together to do all the catching up over the years. Watching the sunrise that morning was one of the best experiences I had. The sun seemed to be performing its routine activity of rising with extra beauty and grace today. The sea shimmered effortlessly in the virgin sunlight to provide a breathtaking visual.

    We walked back home in the sanctity of silence; replaying the events of the night and savouring every moment. It was mutually decided to refrain from taking each others’ contact details and leave it entirely upto destiny to decided when and where we would meet next. The idea of mystique sounded great. We said our goodbyes at the door and then went our separate ways.

    I hit the bed immediately after coming back home. He had probably left while I was enjoying my beauty sleep because his door was padlocked when I went out to check. It sadly struck me that we had completely forgotten to even ask each others’ names..it just hadn’t seemed necessary at that time. It was then that I noticed the parcel lying outside my door. Hastily packed in newspapers was one of the little oriental cups we had used from his house to have tea the previous night. The note next to it said – “Hopefully there will be more of these”.

    You can have the best of the moments in the most unlikely of the settings. In my case, all it took was two lonely strangers, a leftover pizza, maggi noodles, old hindi music, great conversation, rain and hot steaming cutting chai.

Je Suis Comme Je Suis

Who Am I?

     No, I’m not suffering from a temporary lapse in memory nor did I wake up in a pristine white hospital room after a head injury to ask the above mentioned question.

     It is just one of those fundamental questions that prop up in the mind at the unlikeliest of the places like the exam hall, while running to catch a bus or board a train, while waiting at the other end of the line when the Vodafone tele – talker puts up on an indefinite hold, while filling up an ever – rising mound of annoying files.. or the eternal classic – on the toilet seat.

     These three words [asked with an appropriate amount of self – doubt and a wee bit of self – loathing as well] are enough to make you stop doing whatever keeps you busy albeit for a fraction of a second. The second most powerful triad of words [after the much publicized ‘I Love You’ ofcourse!] actually has the potential to question your very existence and shake the foundation of what makes You what you are. It forces you to think whether what you think you are or what others think you are IS actually what you are.

     I staunchly believe that it is highly necessary to diligently carry out a session of self – introspection on a regular basis to be up-to-date with yourself. It is one thing to surprise yourself with some self-revelation, but it is another ball game altogether to be continually being caught off guard by your own actions and reactions. Once you actually know what stuff you are made of, then it is easier to showcase yourself as whatever you feel like. It just requires a little imagination, spice and a good deal of acting talent!!

     I may be a god-sent angel for the child I saved from being crushed by a car last night, a nonchalant student to my professors, or just a random passenger to the taxi driver. I have so many roles to play – from highly prudent to completely inane. Why is it that it is the same “me” in all situations, acting in the same way as I always do; yet being viewed differently by different people? Why is it that people look at me the way they want to and not look for what I actually am? I don’t think it should be so difficult to accept people as what they are, rather than trying to mould them into what you think they ought to be.

     Being a ‘yes man’ to try and please your boss, wife, neighbor or whoever matters, is very easy. There is no time to be wasted on weighing your options. But at the end of the day, do you actually care about what you want? In the bid to please every Tom, Dick and Harry, you give up on your own individual sense of decision making.

     It is ok if everyone does not like me. Really. I would rather have a bunch of five friends who love me for what I am, rather than having a hundred friends to whom I don’t matter as much. When everyone is happy with you, then you can be sure that you have compromised way too much in life. I may come across as rude and bashful at times, but if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.

Je suis comme je suis – I am what I am.

Take it or leave it.

Die – ting Or Die – eating??

“Ok. So when do get to eat FOOD?” I ask with what I think is a humourous tone. The dietician unfortunately does not see the humour, gives me one of her ‘O-lord-why-is-this-girl-such-a-mess’ looks and continues to fill me in with a long list of DON’TS – “ no potatoes, rice, egg yolk, yoghurts, ice – creams, soft-drinks, desserts, pasta, cheese, red meat……….and Chocolates”

Now did I just imagine it or did the frumpy dietician actually have a sinister look on her face while saying “Chocolate”? Is it because she can see the wrapper of Lindt peeping out of my pocket or because she enjoys my look of misery at being disallowed to eat the things I actually care about for the next three months? Or probably it may be her way of getting back at me for giggling constantly during the time she tried to measure my dimensions with her measuring tape. It is not my fault – I happen to be overtly ticklish.

As I walk back home, I try to come up with believable excuses to get out of this wretched diet plan. The first thought which strikes me is telling mother that the dietician had boldly announced that I was just fine and did not need a diet – a few miles’ walk every week would just be fine. Obviously mother will not believe this fabrication – she trusts the weighing machine more than she trusts her own daughter. Dejected as no more brilliant ideas come to me, I continue dragging myself home with slow and heavy steps [heavy, partly because of the apathy that had befallen me and partly because my slightly excessive weight would not allow me to trot any faster].

I take a longer route on purpose to avoid crossing my favourite ice-cream parlour which lies on the way. It has the best sundaes in the entire world! The mere thought of giving up the dreamy scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice-creams topped with freshly ground nuts, hot chocolate syrup, frothy cream and small chunks of nougat, forces me to fight back my tears. The bakery at the end of the lane however, is an unavoidable affair. The old lady at the counter gesticulates animatedly as I walk past her shop, to come and try a sample from her new batch of home-made coconut and raisin macaroons. I have been her friend and food-critic for the past five years and it is unfortunately time to let go. Throwing a feeble smile and giving some excuse about having an urgent chore to do, I try to get away as fast as I can from the delicious aroma emancipating from her kitchen.

“I told you it was time to lose weight” – this was definitely not the welcome I expected from my folks when I reached home, but my sister feels it is her obligation to open the dialogue by these words. I throw her the nastiest look I can muster and march into my room. Sticking the diet plan in an obscure and least visited corner of my room [i.e. above the study table] I squat on the bed thinking about all the food fantasies that I would have to give up. Butter muffins, mutton kebabs, walnut cookies, milkshakes, French fries….I convulse with the pain clawing at my heart [and more importantly my tummy!]

I look at my reflection in the mirror. I do not really see a reason for mother’s sudden emergency for me to lose weight. Yeah, I am a little on the wrong side of the ideal weight scale, but it is not that bad as to cause a mad furore. I have always had a wide-framed body structure which will never actually make me look skinny and I do have a questionable liking for loose, ill-fitted and comfortable clothes. But hey! That is a style statement in its own sense. People always see me as a friendly, harmless creature who is always available to get bear hugs from when they are sad. Every time I climb on the weighing machine on mother’s insistence and it unceremoniously announces that I have gained another few kilos, I console myself by thinking that there is “More of me to love now”. But my folks do not seem to understand that. And having a sister, who looks like a walking skeleton with a layer of skin added as an after-thought, does nothing to salve the situation. My tightest dress fits her like a flowing robe and she makes sure I am continuously reminded of that.

I am not averse to physical activity. I walk a lot and dancing is my second favourite thing in the world – after food obviously. I have always been a foodie. Going to different places, trying out new cuisines, making exciting dishes from mother’s old recipe book – handed to her by her mother is so much fun. Safe to say, I am considered a chef’s delight as well as a delighting chef. Whether it was a gourmet speciality at a classy restaurant, the inviting smell from a not-so-inviting roadside Chinese stall or the wafting smell of bacon rashers being cooked at home – it never fails to reinvigorate me.

How in the world would I, or anyone else for that matter, sign off from all this and eat food that is absolutely in opposition to what is defined as a meal? And chocolate – fittingly described as the ‘Food of Gods’ – is something I can go on waxing eloquent about. How would it be possible to give it all up? It is not the question of will power, it is the question of injustice inflicted on food lovers such as me.

And the diet plan sounds like food meant for patients. No oil, no ghee, no butter, no masala – where is the fun in all this. And no desserts! What about the perfectly round gulab jamuns that mother is making right now? I can smell them all the way through the closed door of my room as I imagine the golden-brown dumplings being soaked in clear rose-flavoured sweetened syrup and I almost choke at the thought of depriving myself of these rotund pleasures. It is not fair to judge people on the basis of what they eat while people like my anorexic sister are allowed to roam freely on the streets.

I do not think I will ever be able to go on a diet. Even if I starve myself for a month, I would probably never be able to achieve the much-favoured size zero. And even if I did, would it ensure that I was happy? Or would it mean a lifelong race in favour of starvation to maintain an hour-glass figure? I believe that a person is genuinely happy when his tummy is truly satiated. Insipid food is not exactly my idea of attaining nirvana. I would rather prefer to be round, happy and loved than stick-thin, unhappy and envied [like my sister].

The borborygmus going on in my tummy is a sign that neither of us [i.e. my tummy and me – yes I regard my tummy as a separate entity with a mind of its own] is ready for this kind of change. The diet plan proves to be my own personal nemesis – a battle that I willingly wish to lose. Probably there may dawn a day when I sit down, face reality and adapt to change. And I still do have some room to fill in my sweater!

But until then, I may not die-eating…but I am definitely not die-ting!!!

God Of Small Things

Ever walked on a deserted and barren road to suddenly look down and notice life in a small clump of bright flowers stare happily at you? Or felt the gratefulness of that one familiar face when lost in a throng of unknown entities? Ever experienced utter loneliness which is suddenly made redundant by the mere smile of a loved one?

These things may not seem important as we run through our busy schedule. It is at trying times when the presences of these tiny fortunes truly light our lives. Here we see- the God Of Small Things bless us with his magic!!

We are all caught in a rat race. But one never realizes that even if he comes first in the rat race, he still remains a rat.

Take time out to stop and smell the flowers blossoming in the garden, the wondrous patterns that the clouds make in the sky, the sweet chirping of the birds that sounds like music to the ears. (Of course most of the times it sounds like a cacophony or an orchestra gone wrong-especially when it’s the crows who are the musicians!)

They say that you should count your blessings daily. But then unfortunately most of us don’t recognize a blessing even when it stares straight into our faces. It need not be a physical item or commodity that you can touch and see. How about being thankful that you have lived to see yet another day which presents new opportunities and hopes? Or being grateful that all your loved ones are safe and sound and enjoy good health? But in this dog- eat- dog world, the first thing we think about in the morning is about the fight with parents, or how badly we performed in tests.

All the little packets of joy, happiness, beauty, satisfaction are laid out in the open for us to see, probably we don’t look in the right sort of places. As children, a visit to the park or a stick of candy was enough to satisfy us. But now, even when our parents try to satisfy our demands, we remain largely unsatisfied. Material possessions mark our position in the society and we swear by this rule of nature- latest cars, cell phones, gizmos, branded clothes- these remain our priority. But don’t you think that our mind would probably be a little more restful if at some point we achieved that level of satisfaction required for mental peace?

Even physical appearance is often a debatable topic- the nose is not at the right angle, the mouth slightly turns upwards, hair is too curly, hands are short, legs are long- the list is endless. Ask the worth of eyesight to a blind man, of hands and feet to a paraplegic, of ears to a deaf man- and you’ll see how lucky you are to be borne whole. We crib about homework and assignments.. think about the several thousand kids who’ve never even stepped onto the threshold of a school. We complain about how difficult parents are- think about those homeless, abandoned and orphaned kids who don’t even know the names of their parents.

We should learn to appreciate what is given to us; otherwise in the bid of continuously craving for more, we get past the stuff that might actually do us some good.

Most of us miss out on life’s big prizes. The Nobels. The Oscars. The Pulitzers – But we are all eligible for life’s small pleasures- A pat on the back. A full moon. A great meal . A glorious sunset. A lovely walk. A hot soup… Don’t fret about copping life’s grand awards, enjoy its tiny delights.

Rendezvous With The Railways ..

Travelling by train always seems to be an exciting adventure. Not so exciting for people who travel by this favoured mode of transport to places far and near everyday without missing a beat. But for infrequent travelers, trains never seem to lose their paan – stained, rusted, chug-chugging charm.

The first flirt with the Mumbai local train is always an affair to remember. Each person has a story to tell, the matter being more or less similar. In a city where many lives are wound around the railway timetable, I was confident I would find a corner seat of my own. So here I am, with my own story to tell about my first rendezvous with the railways.

On a bright sunny morning, I approach the ticket counter full of hope and dreams but am immediately dejected by the long queue snaking its way into oblivion. People jostle, yell and elbow or knee each other [whichever suits the situation] to move faster [as if that was going to be of any help]. I indulge myself in retrospection while standing at the railway ticket counter in what seems to be the slowest moving queue ever. When I finally manage to get to the finish line I involuntarily throw a rather patronizing smile at the poor soul standing last in the queue [who seems to be atleast a mile away] for being triumphant in my efforts to get to the favourable end of the queue before him. What follows is a not-so-friendly banter with the person across the ticket counter for not rendering the exact change for my fare of from Dadar to Churchgate. After audible grunts and not – so – audible swearing I am finally given my ticket and I skip in the general direction of platform number 2 on the western side of the station to catch the 8.46 am slow local.

Possessing a ticket leads to an entry into the area proudly reserved for ‘bonafide’ passengers only. But when I actually enter the platform and see the number of people who do not look as if they ever possessed a ticket in their life, I begin to question whether the ticket was worth the wait of over 25 minutes. But then there’s a flash of memory of the time my sister was unlucky enough to get caught for not having a ticket and ended coughing up two hundred rupees – and I continue heading towards the second class ladies compartment, swearing at all the nonchalant ticketless souls.

This gives me exactly four minutes to figure out where to position myself strategically in order to minimize the incidence of stampede and hop aboard without much ado. Three minutes later I am ready to board the train – feet firmly planted into the ground to enable the lunge into the compartment, handbag tightly clutched in one hand, laptop hung on the other shoulder and earphones tucked away in the bag to avoid entanglement of any sort. The train arrives with fanfare as the cursing, jostling, yelling begins again. People standing at the door are mercilessly thrown out. It is a situation of ‘Who Dares Wins’ as each one tries to get in. The train coming from Borivali, already over pregnant with people, yet again gracefully pushes its capacity of housing some more. Fifteen seconds later, I am thankfully in the train – without a lost sandal or a broken jaw.

Thus begins a seemingly long and really sweaty journey to south Mumbai. The train is so crowded that it gets difficult at times to figure out which limb belongs to which body. Everyone is extremely edgy and a slight mistake on your part may cost you a minute or two of your life where you face the brunt from a random woman in the train. So I stand as quiet as a mouse and allow the uncomfortable human proximity to torture me. I apologize to the fellow passengers for getting a laptop which occupies one human space in the train and thus annoy many. I pride myself with having a fairly decent sense of detachment from a given situation and wander off in my mind – thinking about open fields and sweet smelling lilies. However, this proves to be an extremely daunting task as it is almost impossible to ignore the varied smell of armpits, hair oils and feet.

A saleswoman wriggles [and at times forces] her way through the throng of women carrying a box full of colourful hair and wrist accessories. She gives many women the much needed chance to unleash their frustration as they launch into a rather loud discussion about how she is bothering everyone in the train. A potential customer in me is lost as I do not wish to go against the mob and invite the scorn of many by engaging in even browsing through the wares.

Attention is diverted from the saleswoman to a heated argument coming from our end of the compartment. A lady mistakenly [or purposely…..I would never know] stamps the fingers of a fellow passenger squatting on the floor of the compartment near the entrance. What follows is a volley of ill words thrown in opposite directions, remembering each others’ sisters, mothers and, from what I understand, even anatomical parts. It is certainly amusing to witness such an event, especially when you are only an innocent spectator and not a direct participant.

Bombay Central arrives with its own share of worries. Any traveler of Mumbai locals would vouch that it is a mini warzone itself. It is funny how it seems that double the number of people always enter the train than the number exiting. As the train pulls out of the station, two women are heard screaming about not being able to alight due to the squatters. A mini squabble ensues, but is soon lost to me as I try to concentrate on the musical genius of the Eagles crying out for attention through my earphones. In the midst of all this, I continuously try to dodge the drops of stinking water falling from the basket that the fisherwoman next to me holds over her head.

As Churchgate approaches, I ready myself for the much awaited freedom. A search for a hairbrush in my bag reveals that my ticket is missing. A frantic hunt for the ticket finally results in it being found in my pocket. Silly me! Combing the hair before alighting is as about effective as asking a death metal fan to listen to Mozart – absolutely ineffective! I carry out a quick check to ensure that my belongings still belong to me. I am glad that this ordeal is almost over.

Twenty minutes later I emerge from the train – nauseated, carrying sweat and germs which do not necessarily belong to me, aching all over..but still whole…and not looking forward to the return journey at all.