For anyone who wants to know the real Bombay (or Mumbai as some wise men throw a ruckus if we don't call our beloved city by this name) you cant just limit yourself a visit to the Gateway of India and Juhu beach, I suggest that you spare some time and take a few rides in the local train. It is not for nothing that it is called the lifeline of the city.
Although I must confess that even after having lived in this city for six years, I am simply in awe of those who can board a running train deftly and dart to the window seat in the wink of an eye... I belong to the hopeless few who can just about cross the foot board and cling on to a railing for dear life while some brave souls stand on the foot board enjoying the breeze on their faces!
Yet it is in these first class ladies compartments of local trains that I have had the most humbling experiences..experiences that have taught me to count my blessings every single day of my life!
One such incident occurred only yesterday. I was on a Churchgate bound local at around 2 pm from the suburbs , a journey that takes approximately 45 minutes. For the benefit of those who have no idea about the Mumbai locals, the trains are comfortable to travel in for about two to three hours in the afternoon when the office goers are busy at their desks and late teens are supposed to be attending lectures in colleges. This is the time when the housewives decide to take a ride in the train, sometimes for work that they have reserved for the post lunch hours or the visits they have not made in some time.
A motley group housewives boarded the same train that I was in. Even before I saw them, I knew there was a Bengali among them (the accent and the sheer effort being made to speak in Hindi was unmistakable!) Just as they boarded the train they made a big fuss to get the youngest among them seated ...while the older women stood patiently till they got a seat. However the wait was not too long, as they were soon seated comfortably and chatting away to glory...the thread of the conversation was hard to decipher as the women were deftly fleeting from one topic to the other.
At one moment Ghosh didi (as the Bengali lady was being addressed by the rest of the group ) was waxing eloquent about a new recipe she had just tried out and the very next Parulben was discussing the stock market with insights that would put sock broker to shame. In 40 minutes odd they had discussed everything from a saas-bahu soap to the state of the Indian economy.
The quietest among the bunch was Lata --the youngest among these ladies who were grandmothers while Lata had school going children. It was evident that everyone was trying to include Lata in the conversations, while all Lata could manage was a smile when the others were trying to make light of the mood. As their destination was approaching, and the ladies were preparing to alight Lata fianally spoke..."Darr lag raha hai (I am scared) ..she said softly nearly choking "Pehli chemo hai (first chemotherapy)......as she clutched on to Ghosh didi's arm.
Dont worry one of the ladies said as she put an arm around Lata ...bhagwan sab theek kar dega (have faith in God. Everything will be fine). At this point I could not help stare at Lata's face, this seemingly hale and hearty woman who was a cancer patient. I stared in awe of her companions who were evidently no blood relatives but were thick enough to stand by her in her moment of greatest fear, to give her the strength to carry on!
Such is the solidarity of womankind I thought to myself and such is life in this city I call home. This is the wool and warp of life in this cosmopiltan where one's neighbourts and friends are the ones that stick by you through thick and thin....this is what makes you salute the spirit of Mumbai and not the spirit that people talk about when unsuspecting passengers are blown to bits in bomb blasts!
I pray for Lata and all those seemingly simple women who are making Lata's pain a little easy to bear....