Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Mumbai: The City That Never Sleeps

Mumbai has always boasted that it is the City That Never Sleeps. The city has been a witness of torrential rains, terrorist attacks, bomb-blasts etc. and none of these have succeeded in deterring the brave spirits of the Mumbaikars and their never-say-die attitude.

Having lived in Kolkata and Bangalore for seventeen years and three years respectively, where everything shuts before 1:00 a.m. and the roads are absolutely desolated with no one in sight, Mumbai was a welcome change as being a city buzzing with activity even late at night past 2:30 a.m. I think I am one of the fortunate ones who has never been chased by the police for being present at Marine Drive in the dark hours of the night.

Every time I am out at night, the ink-coloured skies of the city seem to be sparkling with the painted dreams of the people it inhabits. No matter how late it is, I have never found myself alone in the city - people are always present, be it taxi-drivers, food-vendors or people, like me, just strolling around.

Saturday was the first time I experienced the city shutting down owing to the death of Shiv Sena visionary, Bal Thackeray. It took my friend, Sanika, and I almost 2 hours to reach home. We had to resort to walking on foot since taxis and autos refused passengers. One auto-wala who did agree to drop us to the nearest station gave up half-way when other auto-drivers coming from the opposite direction approached us with their shattered windows and warned us that autos carrying passengers were being pelted with stones and the drivers were being charged with sticks. Trains were relatively empty, mainly because people had no means of reaching the station. While the passing away of a great political leader is indeed a tragic loss for many, it is not right, in my opinion, to force people to mourn his death by bringing the entire city to a stand-still. The city witnessed an eerie silence on the day of his funeral with thousands of his followers gathered at Shivaji Park while the rest of the Mumbaikars were stuck indoors on a weekend. Shops were closed. Restaurants were shut. Even chemists were not open. I was one of the more unfortunate ones: having just returned from Kolkata, my house was not stocked with any groceries and to make matters worse, my building ran out of water supply on Sunday. So, I was subjected to be under house-arrest with no food and no water just because the person who people claim had made Mumbai safe for women and everyone else was gone; and therefore it was not safe to venture out of the house for anyone! Am I the only one who sees the irony of this? In spite of all this, one cannot say that the city was entirely shut with trains still functioning normally.

Although it is the 'City That Never Sleeps', according to me, Mumbaikars are always in a state of perpetual slumber. Have you ever gone even one night without sleep? If yes, you will agree with me when I say that whenever you are sleep-deprived, you tend to be very indifferent the next day. You feel cranky. You do not wish to really talk to anyone. You just want to get done with your work and you want people to leave you alone. If someone is talking to you about their woes, you do not desire to listen to them; you keep wishing that they go away. This is how I normally act when I have not had my beauty sleep and I like to believe that everyone behaves the same way...It is because of this I say that while Mumbai is full of people who never sleep, it hardly has people who are wide awake...People in Mumbai are always on the move, desperate to reach their destination without caring much about fellow-travellers. I have a friend who always claims that in Mumbai you can do anything you like, wear whatever you want - people, here, will not stare at you! There are times when I find myself wondering if that is really a good thing...People in Mumbai do not have time for even giving another person a second glance - they are too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives...The people, here, are just disconnected from one another and from the other person's reality. They are just interested in ensuring that their life moves forward...My friends often accuse me of being rather sensitive and advice me to be wary of strangers but unfortunately (or fortunately), I just cannot become a Mumbaikar in that aspect despite my love for the city.

People from Kolkata may be termed as 'nosy' or 'interfering' if you wish to see them through those eyes but by their very nature, people in Kolkata are helpful. Several cars sped past us on the Saturday we were stranded on the roads...If it was Kolkata, many cars (I am not saying all of them) would have stopped and offered a lift to some of the people on the roads. When I suggested that we ask someone for a lift, my friend found even that suggestion preposterous!

Death is a natural event. What surprised me is that the natural death of an important figure brought the city to a complete halt when the untimely deaths of several commoners could do nothing to stop the city from bustling with activity! The city of Mumbai finally fell asleep this weekend; unfortunately, the amount of sleep it needs to compensate for being up since several decades was, most probably, not enough.

On Monday, everything seemed to be going back to normal. Even Dadar, the hot-spot of the Shiv Sainiks, returned to its state of regular functioning. This is Mumbai. This is the City of Dreams. There are times when people may occasionally doze away but Mumbaikars will only rest when they sleep in eternal peace. After all, they are living in the City That Never Sleeps...

Friday, 9 November 2012


It's 9:15 p.m. when my flight finally lands in Kolkata. As I am getting off the plane, I find myself heaving a sigh of relief as I breathe in the cool, pleasant air that is all around me - it feels such a welcome change not just from the claustrophobic air-conditioned space of the airplane but also from the humid breeze usually that greets me when I get off the plane at Kolkata. "The air-hostess was right when she announced it was just 23 degrees Celsius," I think in my head.

As I collect my luggage from the conveyor belt, I find my mother waiting for me at the gate. I can't help but smile...
It's been more than 5 years since I left Kolkata but in all these years, there hasn't been even one time when my mother has not come to the airport to pick me. While there are times when I would prefer a quiet drive home to her non-stop chatter, this was a time when I actually experienced a feeling of happiness as I sat with her in the car, listening to random updates about things, people, and life, in general.

"Home is where the heart is."
This quote has never made sense to me! I feel my heart is always in a million places - I feel I give a piece of my heart to any person I become close to or any place that I start to like...I definitely do not feel at home in all these places with all these people...Feeling at ease, feeling good, feeling comfortable - all this is not really the same as 'feeling at home' somewhere, don't you think?

I am very happy living in Bombay. I like the fast-paced nature of the city...I like the way the city just lets you be...It is the place where I get to deal with things my way! I am not dependent on anyone to get things done...It is the city where I am responsible for my own self. The past few weeks, however, have not been easy. My life is in a constant flux of changes and while almost all of them have been for the good, there are times when I feel myself grappling for some moments of peace. Even my mind is getting attuned to the fast-paced life of the 'City of Dreams' and seems to be working over-time without resting for even a moment...There are times I have found myself commanding my mind to just stop functioning and let me rest but it seems to be turning a deaf ear to all my pleas!

The funny part is that from the moment I have landed in Kolkata, I feel that my entire baggage of worries have been dumped behind in Mumbai itself. Here, there is nothing going on in my mind. I can sleep as long as I want to without worrying about any chores. I do not need to worry about the clothes that need to get washed or the food that needs to be ordered or cooked - here, all these errands get taken care of. In Kolkata, I can just laze around, watching my favourite television shows or movies, catching up with friends, and while I enjoy working, sometimes it feels good to just be totally free with nothing to do! Kolkata is the place where I experience 'joy' in each and every moment...

Today, I think I know what 'family' and 'home' mean to me...Family accepts you for what you are and loves you, with no strings attached. While there may be occasional complaints that you do not spend enough time with them or that you do not share much about your life the way you used to, the family does come around in the end and continues to keep hoping for what is best for you...My family has never given up on me even when there have been times that I have felt that there is nothing in life for me to look forward to! Home, according to me, is the place where you are allowed to act the way you want to act - it's ok if I am 23 years old but still want to feel like a baby, snuggling up to my mother; I am allowed to do that at home! While I may not be a 'Bengali' in the true sense of the term, I feel I can identify more with the culture of Kolkata than that of my roots of origin in Bihar...Kolkata is my home because it is the place where my family resides...Each and every time I feel lost, I feel that I discover myself in the 'City of Joy'. My family and my home are my stability-zones in life - while life can keep hurtling me with several changes, these are the few things that are going to remain the same, no matter what...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Your Turn Now!

I am a person who, forever, wears a smile on her face. I smile at people I know. I smile at strangers. I smile at, practically, everyone. A few of my friends find this rather odd but based on my personal experience, I have seen that every time I have smiled at anybody on the street, the smile has always been returned - it does not matter if the person was someone known to me or a stranger. The moment a person starts to smile, his or her mood automatically becomes happy. Even when I have been down in the dumps - and believe me - there have been many such times - I have experienced instant moments of happiness each and every time someone succeeded in causing my face to break into a smile.

A couple of months ago, I had heard about the Your Turn Now! initiative from a colleague of mine. I was told that in this initiative, people are issued 'Your Turn Now!' cards.  Whenever this card-holder does a deed of kindness, he or she passes on the card to the person who is grateful of the kindness so that the person can remember that he or she must do a good deed ahead, and the chain continues with the card getting passed on from one kind act to the next. I found this concept to be rather fascinating. If people actually become a part of this chain, there will be kindness, joy, and contentment everywhere because the entire city will be bustling with people who are on the look-out of doing good deeds for someone.

A week ago, my colleague and I received our stack of cards. I got a chance to pass on my card to someone the very next day! I was returning home from class, travelling in an unpleasantly crowded local train. A superfluity of nuns were also on the train. Most of them seemed middle-aged though a few of them looked quite old. They were all carrying heavy bags. As the destination neared, there was an entire swarm of women waiting to get inside so much so that it was difficult for the people to even get down. One of the nuns was just stuck and she looked petrified! I had got off the train safely and her reaction did not surprise me - the Mumbai locals can daunt the strongest of spirits if they are not used to travel and she appeared to be a hapless, old woman. I was reminded of my initial days of travelling and how uncomfortable it used to be on days when there were huge crowds...I somehow managed to break through the crowd and help the woman get down with her bags. As soon as she got down, she was surrounded by the other nuns who were comforting her. They all thanked me for helping her get down. Usually I would have shrugged it off and merely dismissed it as being a very small thing but I was, suddenly, reminded of the card in my wallet. I just handed 1 card to the nun saying, "Don't thank me. Just keep this card until you have done a good deed and then pass it on." The nun merely smiled. She thanked me again and blessed me.

As I walked back home from the station, I couldn't help smiling. Although I had helped someone else, I was the one who was feeling high on life! It is indeed true when people say that if you want your day to be bright, just go ahead and try to brighten up somebody else's! We all are extremely busy in our daily lives but all it takes is one moment to make a positive difference in somebody else's universe.

If you feel that this post has brought a smile on your face or inspired you in any way to pitch in for a good cause, do become a part of the Your Turn Now! movement and spread smiles everywhere! These cards are free of cost and can be ordered on their website: http://yourturnnow.in. You can also text your postal address at +919029602897 or email rushabh@yourturnnow.in to get your cards.