After spending more than a week in Mumbai, it was time to go home. I was accompanied by my two friends. We had served our purpose of visiting Mumbai and were now making preparations to go back. After lunch, we took an auto to the main road. From there, we hired a cab to the V.T station. Excitement filled our minds every time we thought of going back home to our friends waiting for us. All we were carrying back was our luggage, almost empty wallets but memories worth cherishing. After a heavy bargaining with the cab driver, we sat in and left. We had visited almost all the places in Mumbai that were worth seeing except one: the Worli sea-link. So I told the cab driver to use the Western Express Highway route which would take us to the sea-link. After a slight argument, he agreed. And then the journey began…
The cab driver started asking us about our whereabouts. He asked,”Babuji, where are you from”? Now this was a question I was already prepared for! With a steady voice, I prompted,”Delhi”.
C.D(cab driver): All three of you?
Me: Yes, of course!
F1(1st friend): Actually, Uncle-ji, we are from….
Me: Hey, look outside! What a beautiful view!
Everybody looked outside.
I signaled to my friend to shut his encyclopedia & keep quiet. The reason why I interrupted him was because I did not want him to tell the cab driver that I was from Kashmir. I was afraid, not for my friends, but for myself. Because the word ‘Kashmiri’ is understood to be an antonym of a militant,a terrorist, a Pakistani, an anti-national, a stone-pelter etc in the rest of the country. Hence, I lied.
As the cab covered a kilometer after another, the driver started making small talk. First, he spoke about his kids. He had two sons. One of them was working in Patni Computers after a B.Tech from a random college in Maharashtra. His second son was a sophomore, in another college of Pune. He had a backlog about which his father was very curious, because, he couldn’t understand what did a 'suppli’, the short form of backlog, meant. We assured him that it was a very common term in engineering & there was nothing to worry. Infact, engineers carry it as a 'badge-of-honor' till their final years in colleges. The second topic he talked about was his 25-year old car, a Fiat make, which he was going to replace with a Santro. He praised his cab in every possible way & almost made us believe it to be equal to a Mercedes!
By now, we had reached a place called Byculla. The driver pointed out the temporary road-side houses which were not more high than 5 feet. But the interesting thing about these houses was that all of them were double storeyed. Some even had a hall over the 2nd storey. I wondered how a normal person could even stand in any floor. Then the cab driver told me,”babuji, in logo ka kya hai. Raat ko sadak pe so jaate hain. Sab aas-pados waale ek saath. Isiliye to ye ghani aabadi wala ilaaka hai”. And I understood what he meant. Poverty, lack of jobs and the vast difference between the rich and poor class of Mumbaikars had taken a toll on their daily lives. Lack of awareness about over-population and standard of living had turned their kids into street beggars. The double storeys, as he further told, were to save them & their belongings from the rain as Mumbai had already tasted its fury. Government, he exclaimed, had been busy in a power tussle with the centre and people regarded most of the civic bodies corrupt. Although the same party had been in power for a long time, it had failed to improve the condition of roads, drainage system and other public necessities. In a heavy muffled voice, he made sad remarks about how they always play a communal card to win the elections.
I also saw the Godrej plant there. It was like a piece of heaven had fell into a slum. The cab driver kept updating us about people & places as we passed the sky-scrapers of his 'Aamchi' state. He also talked about the Tsunami, the heavy rain, Bollywood, the terrorist-attack on hotel Ashoka, etc. But the one topic he showed his all caricature & mimicry on was women. He remembered of one anecdote when a bearded mullahji(meaning a muslim who had grown a beard) and his wife sat in his cab. The mullahji had asked the cab driver to drop him to some big hotel. As the couple sat, the mullahji’s wife starting talking to her husband and quarreling over some petty household issues. To change the mood, the cab driver had started talking about traffic jams. But the couple sitting at the back of his car seemed to be busy quarrelling . By now, the topic had shifted to money. The wife was asking for a 500-rupee note from her husband. But he was refusing; saying that he had no money. Hearing this, the cab driver had started feeling nostalgic about his taxi fare.
After a little argument, the husband had agreed to pay the fare when the cab driver dropped her at her destination. Next, the mullahji had told the cab driver to take him to a hotel. On reaching there, the mullahji had got off the cab and went into the hotel without paying any fare. The cab driver shouted from behind but the mullahji had ignored. The cab driver ran after him shouting when all of a sudden, a man approached the cab driver and took him to a corner of the hotel reception area. He told him not to shout at the man as he was a very big business man with a high reputation. He had come to the hotel casino as a part of his daily routine. Apparently, the man who had grabbed the cab-driver turned out to be the manager & this mullahji some close aide of the infamous Haji-Mastaan, the self-proclaimed under-world don of Mumbai. He paid the cab driver double the fare and asked him to leave with a warning of not to come there again. The cab driver concluded, “Babuji, ajkal to kisi pe bharosa krna apne paon pe kulhadi marne jaisa hai!”(meaning, trusting somebody these days is like putting yourself into trouble deliberately).
Whilst this conversation was going on, we had reached the Worli sea-link .
The sight of the sea-link was a feast for the eyes. One of its own kind, it provided a beautiful picturesque of human engineering over the vast sea. It made me feel a bit proud of my cousin in Kashmir who was pursuing the civil branch of engineering. It also reminded me of how great and extreme technology can be. At least, one proud moment of being an engineer! As the cab moved on, I took my head out of the window to enjoy the cool sea breeze. The little drops dancing on the cool-breeze kissed my face and I chuckled! My friends sitting on the back seat of the cab scolded me for this childish act but the cab driver, a happy fellow, interrupted them with a hearty laugh; saying “babuji usko in-joi karne dijiye. Pata nahi fir Mumbai kab aane ka”. I even managed to make a small video of the tides clashing against the bridge & the smoothly gliding traffic on the sea-link. Meanwhile, we reached the last portion of our journey. The V.T station was a couple of kilometres away now. We crossed many old buildings, people living on roadside, crowded streets etc. I was both surprised & sad to see the plight of the people & the way the manage it & still live-on. And then came the V.T Station. We left the cab there, paid him 550 rupees, gathered our luggage and marched towards the station. I decided to check the time table on the chart while the other two friends went to buy some food & water. The train was running late by one or two hours. So we decided to go shopping. One of the friends said he wanted to buy a dress for his girl-friend & requested me to accompany him. The other one had already bought a shirt which he didn’t like at all. So he refused to go to the market again. We decided to meet at the waiting room in the V.T station after one hour.
We went deeper into the market exploring unusual shops selling some weird stuff. We found a shop where we could find the dresses for his girlfriend. After 10 minutes of going through the dresses & finding nothing worth buying, he turned to me & said,” Chal yaar mei apne liye hi kuch khareed leta hu. Bechari ki kismat acchi nai hai”. I looked at him for a moment. And then, we had a hearty laugh. He bought a couple of tees for himself & we left.
We reached the station & found the other friend dozing in the waiting hall. He had finished eating all the food stuff that we had bought for the travel & found a cozy corner on the waiting-hall chairs.
We bought some more food, found the train we had to board & hurried ourselves through the multiple platforms we had to cross to get to the train. The train started moving slowly as we boarded and blew horns announcing its departure. As the train ran on the iron tracks, I recollected all the thoughts, fun & adventure that we had in this voyage. The bottom-line was : “Life hides in it, hundreds of adventures & experiences. And traveling is the best way to explore them.”