Friday, November 20, 2009

9:38 F - C.S.T

For those of you who’ve never been in war, suffered from gastroenteritis, been trapped in an old phone booth with four others and for some godforsaken reason decide you want to know what it feels like, get into the Women’s Compartment of a Mumbai local. Feeling reckless? I’d recommend a Fast to CST.

I don’t know about you, but before I venture into unchartered masochistic-candy store territories, I like to go on the net and look for advice. Like say, if I were holidaying in Kabul. Or Rawalpindi. Or just visiting parents. There’s tons of stuff you’ll find on the kinds of people you’ll meet, the experiences you can expect on great travel sites, but there’s nothing there for someone experimenting with getting into a Mumbai Local.

Just for you, in the name of humanity, science and adventure tourism, here’s a comprehensive list of what and who you’ll find in a Fast local to CST. Provided you manage to get in.


1) The Train:
See the monstrous trail of red and white steel approaching your platform nonchalantly? That’s your train. Hopefully you’re standing at the right spot and you’ll catch the right compartment. If you’re a man, you can’t get into the women’s. If you’re poor, you can’t get into the rich’s. If you’re a woman and you’re rich, you can get in anywhere. But you won’t like it.

2) The Compartment:
Your typical compartment will be green in colour. Lime, enamel painted with and divided into two parts. The first part is for unfortunate commuters who couldn’t grab a seat and have to stand through the journey, and the other, the part with the seats.

This first part is designed to house an average of fifty healthy women standing shoulder to shoulder like a marching army. But that’s under standard test conditions. On an everyday basis, it houses about 125 women standing together, shoulder to armpit, nose to cleavage, eye to hair like the army broke into war. There’s seating for an average of 14 women, but don’t be fooled. At least 20 will squeeze in together and will occasionally butt jiggle to generate more space.

3) The Luxuries:
Four fans. Three won’t work. One will be redundant because you’ll have hot air blowing at your face from the doors.
Light sockets. The lights have been stolen.
A bag rack. Redundant again, because unless they’re carrying an inconveniently heavy bag, the women won’t want to part with them.

NOTE: Sometimes, the space the bag occupies can accommodate another person altogether. But don’t try explaining that to her unless you’ve taken your tetanus shot.


1) The Wannabe Pole Dancer (A.K.A Chhat pe Baal Sukhhane Waali):
This kind of commuter stands by the door of the train, holding onto the supporting rod in the middle of the doorway. The WPD will hold onto the rod for dear life, for two reasons. Either she is sticking her head out to catch fresh air as the train zooms past stations or she’s drying her hair. The WPD is ferociously aggressive about her position in the train and if you take her place when she moves aside to let someone alight or board (which she rarely does), she just might topple you down.
DANGER *****

NOTE: If your platform’s crowded and you see a WPD at the door as your train approaches, you will not be able to get in unless you find a way to squirm in through her blocking the doorway, or blindly push and climb in yourself. WPDs don’t like large women and won’t fight back if you growl and yell back when they turn to abuse you.

2) The Gibraltars / Water Buffaloes in a Sari:
Of all the commuters on a Fast Local, the Gibraltars are pretty safe. These are women who will get into a train in a burst of energy, and once in, will freeze to the spot. If you’re behind one, and are close to the door, a Gibraltar can be a pain in the backside because you can’t move ahead, nor can you take a step back. But if the Gibraltor is behind you, you’re pretty sorted for the rest of the journey because no one’s going to be able to push and shove at you. Mostly sari clad, early 40s with a minimum of three bags that will inevitably land on your foot. DANGER: *****

3) The Ultrasonic Princess from ‘The Princess and the Pea’:

The UPFPP is the most irritating, yet the safest commuter on board the Fast Train to CST. Just like in the story, she is as delicate and fragile as a quitting smoker’s willpower. Just looking at her can hurt her, making it easy to spot one. But be warned, through all the UPFPP’s weaknesses, she possesses a glass-shattering scream that she is not afraid to use. Trip on her toes? Almost trip on her toes? Think you’d trip on her toes if it weren’t for the sea of people between you? Duck and cover your ears before your brain cells shut shop and call a strike. She going to scream and whine and yell and cry and call an ambulance and keep at it till you desert her line of vision. DANGER: *****

4) The Seat Scavenger:
Ever seen a hungry cougar chasing a leg of lamb in its own thought bubble? Neither have I. I have seen the Seat Scavenger though, and that’s about all I can take. She’ll enter the train in a hurry and before she can stop walking, piling on, pushing and shoving her way in, she’ll point at random seated people and demand to know where they’re getting off. Assuming they’re getting off not a while from now, she’ll ‘book’ the seat. But she won’t stop there. She’ll book at least 5 other seats and finally catch one. When she’s finally got a seat, she call on other seated people and ask where they’re getting off. She’ll keep jumping, like Mario in the game, till she eventually gets off. Occasionally, you could confuse her for being a Gibraltar because she’ll refuse to move from in front of her reserved seats, restricting movement for the others. Owing to this trait, she can sometimes be solely responsible for your not being able to get off. DANGER: *****

5) The Premature Line-Uppers: (A.K.A Station Autophobics)

Say you get into the train at Point A and your destination is Point Z (which isn’t an exaggeration). I would get up, or start moving towards the door after Station Y passed me, so I’d be at the door when Z came. But that’s just me. I’ve seen some people stand at the door before Point Y, some when Point X brushed past us. That’s not the case with the premature Line-Uppers. They crowd the doorway by Station K. Like crowd it up so whoever is getting off at K is forced to climb atop them and get off with a ripped blouse. I call it paranoia. They call it being in time.

NOTE: Never call a PLU home for dinner. They’ll probably land up by breakfast and watch you eat in preparation for the evening. DANGER: *****

Then there are the non-dangerous types like the Sleepy Droolers , the Possessive Handle Holders, the Over Shoulder Readers – all self explanatory. There are also the iPod and Phone Radio variety besides the Open Mouth-Stare into Space commuters.

There’s my list for now. Now that you’re all equipped with information, hop on. If you find yourself with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, give me a buzz and I’ll drop you a couple of numbers.

NOTE: Stay away from the Moody Xena Elbow Puncher. And don’t call me Aunty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chronicle of the Mysterious Son's Mother's Death

Yes, I have been reading Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes lately. No, I haven’t yet bought a pipe.

I always have something to say after I’m back from visiting home. No different this time. If my parents realized how eventful their lives were compared to mine, they’d probably call me ten times lesser than they normally do – in a day, that is. Which would still make it 90 calls, but I’d be grateful.

That Saturday morning, the phone woke us up at about 6:30 a.m. For some reason that makes sense on Mars, my mother won’t let me close my bedroom door at night. So when that irritatingly long, shrill ring began outside in the hall, I had no option but wake up.

My mother walked into my room looking like a million dollars, sleepwalking, fumbling steps, hair in her mouth. She lay down beside me grumbling to herself. From the familiarly long and loud “Hellooooooooooooooo?’ outside, I figured my father had received the phone.

“Salaaaaam Alaikoooooom!”

My mother sighed. I pulled a pillow over my head. But nothing could drown my dad’s excited voice.
When he goes “Salaam Alaikum”, we know there’s a louder, longer, high-pitched conversation following.

“I’ll bet you someone’s dead.” My mom muttered.


“Someone’s dead. Probably conked off last night in his sleep.” She explained.

“Eeks! Really?!”

“Why else would anyone call this early?” she reasoned.

We both went quiet, trying to make sense of the conversation outside. Not that it took much effort, considering my father was by now unconsciously challenging Pavarotti for a duel.

“Ho? Ho? Phir? Haan…

haan… haan….

Hmm…. Hmm…





My mom turned around and pulled her pillow over head too.

“Told you.” She said.

When my dad dropped the phone, it was close to 7 a.m. Mom got down to making us breakfast and I sat reading the paper in the kitchen.

Outside, we could hear my dad’s fast approaching footsteps. I pulled my paper closer trying hard to look like nothing was important to me right now than the state of affairs in Waziristan.

“Rae! Come on! Come on! Get ready!” he yelled.

“Where to?” my mother volunteered.

“Qasi’s mother died!”

“Who?” she asked again.

“Qasi’s mother!!!!!!!!!”

Some quiet followed as everyone paused to contemplate the situation.

“But who is Qasi?”

My dad shifted balance, patted his own head for a moment and squinted like he normally does in deep thought. I looked over the edge of my paper to see what was happening. My mother was looking at him confusedly, my father, just looking confused.

“You don’t know him.” He said, after some deliberation.

Needless to say, I was dragged into the affair of the mysterious man’s mother’s funeral.

Once there, we ran into a bunch of relatives hovering around the place making small talk. My father’s younger brother was running around with a tray of refreshments for the guests/attendees/audience. On the ride to the venue, I was told that he was the one who had called my dad in the morning. And everyone else who landed up there. Seemed like something he enjoyed doing. The Official Announcer of Funerals.

“Chacha, who is Qasi?”, I gingerly asked, picking a paper cup from his tray.

He looked around like he was about to cross a road. Then, he gestured in the direction of an old gentleman sitting at the head of the large dining table, surrounded by friends and family.


“No, no… I mean.. how are we related to him?”

“How means what?”

That’s one question that doesn’t make sense, forget having an answer to it.

I wandered back to my father. He was talking to another random person I couldn’t recognize. They were discussing the deceased woman’s painful life, her young days and how she loved Qasi a lot. Someone suggested Qasi didn’t do much for her aging mother and hence she died of grief and ill health. Of course, her being ninety three years of age had nothing to do with it.



"Is she your aunt?”


“The woman who… expired.”

“Oh.. Qasi’s mother?”



“So we’re not related to them?”

“No, no, we are.. they stay here.. I used to stay there… 5 minutes away.”

“So you were neighbours?”

“No, no, more than neighbours.”


“No re! Relatives!”


“Arrey! How means what?”

If I ever find myself making the same statement, I’m going to sue my genes.

The funeral ended, but I wasn’t allowed to see Qasi’s mother and Qasi was too busy for me to go upto him and give him my condolences. So I gave them to his wife instead who took them with a quizzical smile which told me she was wondering who the hell I was.

Event done, tired mother, bewildered me and excited father drove back home. As we got home, I asked my dad a question I could rid myself off.

“Dad? What was Qasi’s mother’s name?”


“That’s his wife’s name.”

“Oh.” He said, and embarrassed, whipped out his phone.


RIP, Qasi’s mother.

I have no clue who you are, but God keep your soul well.

I’m sure she’s up there going, “Thanks. But who the hell are you?”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Friday Night

Outside my window, it is a Friday night. It’s a deep blue night, with little lit squares in the skyline. From up here, the road is an electric snake, a carnival of cars moving along the stretch in unison. I can see little people walking on the pavement, some hand in hand, some distanced, some in a great rush to get somewhere. It is a Friday night, and Friday nights are never dull.

For the strangest of reasons, I find myself suddenly feeling very small. Not just in person, but in dimensions of space as well. Kind of like I’m collapsing into myself. The familiar feeling of nonsensical sadness sweeps over me and I walk over to the balcony aimlessly. I know I’m searching for something, but I can’t tell what it is. I take a deep breath, take the city into my lungs. It smells of exhaust fumes and fine cement, dust and fatigue.

Two years ago, this is how I built my familiarity with Mumbai. In her smell.
She smells like a fake bride, I remember thinking, though I still don’t know what that really means. I got off the plane, collected my baggage and walked out into the city, excited, nervous, upset.

A friend had arranged a home for me in Mumbai. I was told it was impossible for a single woman to land a good place, unless it was in one of the flashier suburbs. Nonetheless, he found me a nice place that fit my budget. It overlooked a hill and was in a pleasant neighbourhood. There was an ATM five minutes away, and a share-rickshaw stand just outside the building. You could only share a rickshaw with others if you were riding to the Central Station. It cost only Rs.4 per passenger. That’s a mere Rs.120 a month. From there, I’d take the train to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an hour away. That would cost Rs.520 a month. So together, that’s Rs.640 to get to office. Plus Rs.900 a month to get back to the station and take the train home.

I have no idea why I’m thinking of this right now.

I look down my balcony again. The vegetable vendor I buy my groceries from is still there, outside the gates. The cigarette guy I frequent is also around, looking down at the street. I wonder if he and I are seeing the same thing.
Of course we are, I think. Nothing has changed from the last time I looked around consciously. Cars are still flowing like a lit waterfall down the road, the skyline is still ablaze with yellow white lights. People are still rushing to get someplace in a hurry.

I jump.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Build me a Vlilage and Call me a Geek.

It took me ages to come out with it. I am finally ready to confess.

I am a geek.

But before you judge me, I have to make my stand clear. Out here, in the world of flesh, blood, bank balance, terrace homes and 8’o clock news, I’m an everybody. I’m someone who believed I had an identity owing to my unique DNA and hair do. I have dreams, and I believe I will one day achieve them, and the world will watch as I levitate up the ladder of personal success. Just like every other unique idiot around me.

But in the virtual world, I am secretly a warrior. A brave warrior of three founding villages and an average population of 650 in each settlement. I wisely chose to hone defense over crop/lumber/clay production and then blindly raided and plundered every other villager in sight to feed my army. I am a Hittite. A Genghis Khan of cyber space strategy gaming portals. The Angulimaal of the virtual wars. My name brings shudders to people’s servers and they beg for my non-existent mercy over mails and portal chats.

Warrior Rae.
Founder of the villages Warrior Monks, Saints of Gaiah and Armorica.

Warrior Rae.

“Name yourself!”
“Warrior Rae!”

“Name your Alliance!”
“N16 and the Guardians back Warrior Rae! Withdraw your troops immediately!”


“Never! The Saints of Gaiah and her 3500 Phalanxes will never submit! Remember, Warrior Monks and Armorica have a large army, too!”

“No, you idiot! The final ad! Submit it!”

*Blink* *Blink*

“Oh. The ad?”


“Can I send you crop instead?”

I have just deleted my account. Clicking on ‘delete account’ took me back in time to the time I had to say goodbye to my best friend at the airport thirteen years ago. I knew I would never see her again, but I told myself reality was never as important as hope.

This hurt more.

So I sat down to mail everyone I attacked, traded with and befriended - my fellow warriors, soldiers and generals of multiple villages, like myself. It hurt to say goodbye, but it is the code of a true warrior. It is honourable and courageous to quit when you know you have given the battle all you have, to step down and gracefully exit when your time has finally come to……

“…. In deep gratitude, I remain…?”

My collegue was reading over my shoulder. I grinned before he could call everyone around to check my screen. Yeah. That’s your laugh for the day. Suckers.

“Warrior Rae of Saints of Gaiah…?”

He looked me in the eye, like he found this scarier than funny.

“Are you serious? Like Gaiah.. the Earth….? Like in God of War II? The Titan God chick who helps Kratos get back at Zeus?”

I smiled. What a geek.