24 Hours With The Spirit of Mumbai
It’s one past midnight. So why is there a sweaty boy running across the highway in front of Anand Vihar Bus Station? To catch a bus, of course. The boy in question is yours truly and to understand why I am frantically running across a busy highway, we’ll have to go back about some 60 odd hours.
I went from my hometown in Lucknow to Delhi, Mumbai and back in a time span that was… short, to say the least. This started back in my house in Lucknow, entirely sure that I wasn’t going to go to college. But in 48 hours, I traveled through three states and completed a trip which I could only describe as life-changing, at least for a young man.
Back when I still had two years until college, I developed this weird obsession with Mumbai. In the beginning, it was just a thought of studying in Mumbai. But that thought stuck. Soon, I started Googling stuff about Mumbai. First, it was things like, “Hey Google, what’s the weather in Mumbai?” But soon I was looking for flats in Vile Parle West. I was sold. I couldn’t imagine going anywhere but Mumbai.
Two years later, I get selected in Mithibai College and had to go pay my tuition fees which are when things took a terrible turn. My father got involved in an accident and our financial situation got bad to the point where I couldn’t even take a flight. Due to an admission system that’s quite frankly a little shitty, I had just 14 hours to make it to college, pay the fees to register myself as a student, failure to do so would cost me my seat. It was 7 in the evening already and I hadn’t even booked a flight ticket. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t devastated. It felt so — weird. Wrong.
Anyway, I couldn’t do anything at this point but then two things happened. First, I broke down and started crying (even though I tried really hard not to) and then I got a call from my aunt who says “You’re going to Mumbai, young man.”
The call ends, she transfers the money and the most intense 48 hours of my life begin.
13 HOURS LEFT
I pack my bags and make a run for the train station to catch a train to Delhi from where I’d fly to Mumbai in the morning. I reach the station but no trains. After an hour, I realize I wasn’t going anywhere on a train so I went to the bus station. What would you guess? No busses, either. Not giving up, I get to another station and finally find a bus to Delhi. As I make myself comfortable, the reality of what just happened sets in. A few hours ago I was going to lose my college seat and now I am on my way to my dream city. I buy a plane ticket to Mumbai on the bus and catch some shut-eye since I had a 7 am a flight to catch (woo-hoo!)
5 HOURS LEFT
I wake up in Delhi the next morning at 6. The bus is running late, so no room for mistakes now. I catch the Delhi Metro to reach the airport with little time to brush my teeth, change my clothes and head to the terminal. All done.
Wheels up, baby!
“Holy shit, I am actually going to Mumbai” is what I kept saying to myself.
2 HOURS LEFT
I land in Mumbai and with 2 hours left, I meet my uncle who took the day off to show me around. I go to the college and do all the paperwork. My admission was complete. We decided to get something to eat since I hadn’t eaten anything since I left home more than 12 hours ago. I ate medu vadas for the first time and they were absolutely amazing, by the way.
My uncle showed me around the city as we went around Vile Parle in an autorickshaw and it was literally everything I hoped it would be (lol). A little warmer but I am not complaining, not at all.
We rode Mumbai Metro but it was in the local train where I saw something that’s… well, hard to express in words. But I’ll try to make you feel the way I did. We were going to Nala Supara as my uncle had to meet someone. In the local train, I saw an elderly couple. They must have been in their fifties if not more. The woman’s head was resting on his shoulder. They must have been so tired that they fell asleep. It was so quiet. The wind noise and the sound that the train makes against the tracks was all you could hear. I feel even the PA system had gone silent at this point. We got off the train and ran all our errands but I just couldn’t get those two people out of my head. My uncle asked me if I liked the local train, I said, “Yes, but it was quite crowded. Is it always that crowded?” He said yes, on that particular local, people would get on the first station and get off on the last. From work to home and vice versa. He said all the people who had seats must have boarded on the first station.
It’s a 1 hour 50 minutes train ride from the first to the last station.
The elderly couple immediately came to mind. They were sitting there for more than an hour and would continue to do so for another. They probably did this every single day.
That couple is what Mumbai is. They are the spirit of Mumbai for me. I am not crazy or overly dramatic but I realized from a young age that you need to work really hard to get anywhere in life and by the time I was an adult, I knew that I had to, even wanted to work harder than everyone else in the room. I wanted to go to Mumbai because I wanted to work as much as I can. Don’t get me wrong, there are people in every city who are just trying to make ends meet, put two meals on the table and survive but they say Mumbai doesn’t sleep for a reason. The work ethic of people in Mumbai, their persistence and endurance are all exceptional. All qualities that I strive to inculcate in myself — which is kind of why I find it so appealing.
Next day Monsoon started. I booked a flight for Delhi and was all ready to leave but it had already started raining (It didn’t stop for the next three days.) Upon reaching the airport, I realized I still had time to kill and could probably get something to eat. I found a shop outside the airport but everything was just so damn expensive. I figured I might as well travel a little and find something half decent to eat.
Boy, was I wrong.
I had to travel for half an hour and all I could find was a shop selling samosas and vada pavs. And… I ATE SAMOSA! All my life, I’ve eaten samosas — fucking samosas. And the first chance I get to try something so Mumbai-like , I chose samosa. In my defense, I was too stressed about getting caught up in traffic and missing my flight that my brain stopped working.
Thankfully, I wasn’t late. I made it to the airport on time and landed back in Delhi just before midnight.
BACK IN DELHI
The next two hours were atrocious.
Metros had started closing so to get to the bus station, I had to get a cab, which I got thirty minutes past midnight, after waiting for twenty minutes.
I get to the bus station and this guy looks at me and said (more like shouted) “LUCKNOW?!… LUCKNOW?! LUCKNOW?!”, startled, I shouted back, “YES!” and he told me to follow him as the bus was getting refueled and was about to leave. So here I am, running behind a stranger on a very wide highway in a state of confusion but absolute determination to go back home. We catch up to the bus, I buy the ticket and I just fell asleep in a terrible, terrible seat.
The journey was finally coming to an end. It was crazy. I witnessed a fight in the local train, was almost run over by a car in Vile Parle, had an epiphany, and chose a samosa over a vada pav.
I felt like this was an experience that a lot of people have shared, not just people from Mumbai and figured you guys might relate and would enjoy reading it. Hope you did.
P.S. Remember the two-hour train ride? Yeah… I ended up on that same route, 2 hours of the train, 4 hours of foot/autorickshaws every day for more than a week — 6 hours of travel just to get to college. AND I FUCKING LOVED IT.