The daily commute in Mumbai’s local trains is also a great way of sensing the pulse of the masses. When it gets overcrowded and all you have is the train’s footboard to rest your feet on, all that talk about unity in diversity seems to become obsolete.
Deep rooted prejudices come to the surface and we turn into people with tempers similar to a volcano waiting to erupt. Some taunts I’ve received in the recent past prove this…
Like this man sitting next to me who got disgusted because he heard me speaking English on the phone. In chaste Marathi he asked me, “Beta, you're wearing a YouTube t-shirt, your bag has a Warner Bros. logo, and you're reading The Wall Street Journal (sic). Why are you traveling by second class? Go to the US, you’ll have a comfortable journey there.”
Like a Raj Thackeray look-alike from Dombivli, who was reading Saamna and borrowed my copy of HT Café only to tell me 20 minutes later, that he has thrown it off the train. “You should not be reading such stuff. How dare they publish articles on live-in relationships? It’s against our culture.”
Like this pan-chewing, pot-bellied man from Karjat who slept till Thane arrived and even though he saw me standing next to him, he refused to offer me his seat, because I did not appear Maharashtrian. “Thaamb re, baba. Pahile aaplya lokaanna basu dya!” (Implying, "Keep standing, let the Marathi manoos have a seat first.)
Like this Neral-bound smarty pants who threatened a sleepy-eyed Muslim gentleman to vacate his seat half an hour before the latter’s station arrived or else, “We'll do something serious about this! You've sat enough. You work in our city, use our resources and then you turn lazy when it comes to offering a seat to the sons of the soil?!”
Or like this group of overtly loud, talkative men from Badlapur who asked me to shoo off to Kolkata because I asked them to turn off the loudspeakers of their mobile phones, blaring loud Marathi folk music. (By the way, some of them own two mobile phones - one with the cheapest call tariffs, and the other one with the loudest speakers.)
I think deep down, we’re a deeply frustrated city. Our insecurities pop out occasionally in instances like these and that’s when you hear people mumbling: “Pata nahin kahaan kahaan se chale aate hain”.
Some lucky ones get to vent it out in a column like this, while the rest go blah reading it with a cuppa on a Saturday morning.