Asia | India | Maharashtra | Mumbai (Bombay) – How to Get Off the Train
Bombay. Gorgeous. Brilliant. Better than Delhi. I think the pace made me feel right at home. You know how Atlanta is The City Too Busy to Hate? I think Bombay is The City Too Busy Too Stare. Everyone’s already got something to do, and is quite content to let you do what you’ve got to do too. Like New York, it’s the sort of town where nearly everyone living here is here on purpose, and that changes everything.
I didn’t go into Bombay expecting much. Every foreigner I’d met who’d been here went on and on about how hectic and noisy and dirty it was, but I barely even noticed. The pace is comforting, really, and the stuff that might bug others made me feel at home. I’d gotten so used to swivelling my head back and forth nine times in four seconds while crossing a street in Manhattan that being required to do it here gave me a sense of belonging I haven’t gotten anywhere else in the country. It’s probably very telling that a city bus blaring its horn and missing me by two or three inches at 50 kph disturbs me a lot less than a petulant kid asking for a school pen.
All this zips by under the gaze of block after block of magnificent English Gothic facades, offset by palm trees and an infinity of street stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine. There are a few stalls near the Jehangir Art Gallery piled high with nothing but blinding white long-sleeved mens’ dress shirts (lots of bleach, considering all the pollution here), and ‘Fashion Street’ is a stretch of Mahatma Gandhi Road lined with stalls selling the cheapest knock-offs of the latest Bollywood-inspired styles.
Kunal, one of the guys from the Goa train a few days before, picked me up around 2pm and took me shopping. I’d already bought $20 worth of CDs and $25 of silver, but he dragged me to a posh little suburban shop with a few racks of clothes by hip young Bombay designers. I ended up buying a post-modern looking slate-blue T-shirt which I promptly lost by leaving it at a cyber-cafe on my way to the airport.
The crush on the commuter train to the airport was way beyond anything I’d every seen, even at 9pm. Riders don’t complain here though, or gripe, they just deal with it, with a sense of humor you really have to admire. When a station approaches and a big fraction of a truly crammed car realizes they all have to get off there, voices start to raise, Hindi exclamations that feel like ‘You guys ready?’ and ‘OK, here we go!’
Then the train slows down, and about 5 seconds before it actually comes to a stop, men start gushing out the doors (women have their own compartments). A few giggles and cackles escape the crowd, then excited shouts, and rank after rank of commuter gets launched onto the platform, shoved by the men behind in order to get them out fast enough to keep the platform-standers from climbing on yet. Everyone’s careful to avoid the steel pole that divides the always-open doorway. The pole is there so that the last few riders have something to hang onto as they dangle out over the track.
The point is, it’s a horrible situation, and it could be hellish, but instead it’s kind of fun. As we were approaching Andheri, my stop, I asked the guy next to me which side I’d have to exit on. He pointed to the left, and when the shoving and launching started, made sure my backpack and tote bad stayed with me until I was free of the flurry. That’s my summary of Bombay: it could be awful, but actually it’s kind of fun.
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Observations in London:
–It is very very cold, and New York will be even worse.
–I saw someone reading a paper and thought ‘Hey, I should pick one up when I get a chance. I wonder if I can find a place that sells papers in English….’
–A cup of coffe costs GBP1.40 = US$2.00 = ONE HUNDRED RUPEES! Holy shit.
–Hairstyles are varied and elaborate here.
–I am not nearly as phased by the re-entry as I’d thought.
–It is very, very quiet on the tube. Nobody says anything.
–A girl across from me in the train was crying completely by herself. What if that happened in Bombay?