It was perhaps a sign of our times or a gentle reminder that life isn't anything like the movies. To the strains of a moving background score, I should have been framed in the bus window forlornly staring at the turn for Bandra as we crossed Sion subway on Tuesday morning. A selection of memory-images from my previous workplace should have flashed before my eyes, followed by a sigh & an apprehensive look to the heavens.
None of that happened because I was fast asleep. Getting up early (anything prior to 8 am is early) and catching the 6 am bus to Bombay has its price, you see. So, when the literal & figurative fork in the road between my old and new job showed up, I was snoozing. I did feel slightly melancholic later but like many times before, it was because I was bidding goodbye to the familiar. Also drowsy. The depth of feeling on Tuesday was akin to a wisp of cloud passing over the sun.
On Thursday morning, the enormity of the change caught up with me. I was performing a delicate set of callisthenics to ensure that my feet did not step into a basket of fresh coriander and that my face did not get anywhere near the chap next to me. See, when you are in a train, you're supposed to hang on to the hand-hold. This requires you to raise your arm. The common Mumbai man is obviously not buying into the earnest marketing gimmicks of those Axe deodorant fellows. And is also not a big believer in the morning bath, soap, talcum powder and anything else that could interfere with the pungency of his body odour. Contrast this scene to my old work travel pattern where I'd get into a bus confident that a seat had my name on it, read a book & calmly be transported to work. To say that my equanimity had taken a severe beating by Thursday was putting it mildly.
As the poet once said, things have changed. For the past week, I have steeled myself before hurtling into the poor man in front of me at the platform as the train halts. I have then had numerous gents step on my shoes, ankles and whathaveyou and held my breath for epic lengths to avoid inhaling what passes for air in those bogies. Then I've hurtled into the man in front of me to get out of the train at my stop. Repeat process in the evening.
Here, let me clarify once and for all that there is no such thing as a reverse direction-lack of crowd on train effect. There may have been one on the first day the trains operated in Mumbai, but no more. No, I say. Nothing of the sort. I invite you to try getting on the train at Santacruz for the 9:15 slow to Borivali. Thanks to a delightful quirk in the schedules, a slow arrives at Santacruz at 9.10. The next one arrives at 9.25, allowing for a 15 minute build-up on the platform. To see brave souls from a crowd 5-people deep hurl themselves at the train when it eventually does arrive suggests that the Red & White Gallantry awards people should come to Mumbai during rush hour every now and then.
As for me, I am getting myself a 1st-class pass on Monday. It is completely worth the considerable outlay and besides, deodorant is heard of in those bogies, or so I've been told. Heaven knows, I wouldn't want my shoes reeking of coriander either.
Song for the moment: Baba O'Riley - The Who