The Thing about Mumbai Locals

Every morning I wake up at 8 am. I get dressed, wear my expensive tie and shiny watch. Then I roll my sleeves and walk to the railway station. In the evening, while leaving office I take off my tie and put it in my bag before boarding the train. I do it because one, let us face it, ties are uncomfortable and stupid, and two, I feel a little ashamed of people staring at my tie, as if I’m a cheap CEO.

Once at home my wife and I talk  about how we spent the day.  Sometimes she asks me why I don’t take a cab to office. She argues that there’s no use in having money if we don’t use to buy some comforts.  I can see that she’s disgusted with my ‘stinginess’.  I try to explain myself, even though I know that she may not understand. She doesn’t know what I get by travelling in locals.

I cannot explain to her the contentment I feel while walking to the station every day. I sweat, I jog, I skip over potholes, I rush through  traffic lights. I try to reach my office as soon as possible, so that the sweat gets evaporated. I do this every day. But so does all the people who travel to work.  I’m not special. What I get is a feeling of oneness with all the others like me, like we’re one nation, part of the same whole. It makes me feel safe, more hopeful. And this is the closest to patriotism that I have ever felt.

The best thing about being a traveller is that you can choose not to confirm to social obligations. You can potentially be the person you want to be,  not need to be. You can be a happy Joe one day and a tough guy the other; young one day, old the other.

Everyday in locals I see many kinds of personalities, not the usual white shirt black pant wearing corporate people,  who find more happiness in inanimate objects than living ones.  In locals, I meet blind beggars, unashamed eunuchs, timid school kids, bashful college  boys and girls.

I see an old man with a frowning face, perhaps he was a ‘nobody’ in his lifetime and before he knew it old age came knocking, and now he looks around, hoping for someone to notice him, respect him,  even though  he’s aware of the futility of his thoughts.  I see men addicted to card games, who, once they reach office, keep a sharp eye on the watch, waiting for the day to get over,  so that they can get back to their game, to spend an hour without any thoughts or cares.  And then I see folks like me, attired in formal wear,  always worrying, fidgeting, moving their lips and  fingers,  thinking about their family or career, always wondering if and when their moment under the sun will arrive, never allowing themselves to feel satisfied.

And when I get bored with the canvas of life inside the train, I look outside the window.  At the endless sky and small homes, dusty roads and rusty warehouses, bright mornings and dark nights, squatting men with their dirty bottles,  trains running on parallel tracks.  It intrigues me and in a weird way, satisfies my creative urges. I  see myself getting lost in the shifting landscape.

All this changes me. It humbles me, helps me to relax.  It amuses me, but more importantly teaches me a lesson that  I cannot get anywhere else:  one about human nature. That we may be different outside, yet we’re all the same, deep inside.

Time is merciless, it keeps ticking, keeps running. We need to stop living as if we have forever; else one day in the  near future, you’ll find yourself  old and tired, looking around  and realizing that the answers were always there, only you weren’t asking the right questions.