Monday, 20 April 2015

Bombay Chronicles #1 – Taking on Trains, Taxis & Traffic with Tequila

At first sight, the city appears to be nothing but a mass of humanity running in various directions with myriad purposes and at varying speeds. There is a sort of slow motion scene where everything slows down when you notice something beautiful and the next moment you are pushed back into reality and into the same throng of people you noticed as you stepped foot into economic powerhouse of an island.

The people, the lights, the noise, the smell… it all feels unrealistic and in a vague sort of way, a bit like what it would be like living inside the world of ‘The Matrix’. But here, people are controlled traffic lights, trains signals and numbers that go up and down at the Bombay Stock Exchange.
In Bombay for a week, probably half of my trip was spent travelling, thanks to the vast size of the city and the distance between places. Here is how the three T’s convinced me that the only way I’m ever going to Bombay again is as a tourist and nothing more.

Trains

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

The sheer number of people at any local train station startled the wits out of me and I’ve hung on to the side of a public transport bus many a times in Ahmedabad, where buses are tilted by the sheer weight of people hanging out the door. So you can imagine when I say I’m not easily overwhelmed by crowds. Of course I’d heard stories of Bombay’s population and its load of transportation but living it was more than I bargained for when I said ‘Aaj kuch toofaani karte hai’.

Added to the general discomfort of having to smell other people’s armpits and a whole collection of perfumes, the menace of having to deal with eunuchs is an ever present threat while on a train in the city. Of course, then there is the fear of getting thrown off the train or finding that your wallet has been picked off while you were trying to hang on for dear life while simultaneously avoid throwing up on people who will probably actually throw you off the train for doing that.

But, the trains do get you where you where you need to go. The problem is not the destination, but the journey.

Taxis

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

I don’t mean to generalize here but taxi drivers are everywhere have the tendency of doubling up as tourist guides and showing outsiders the sights of the city even if it takes them out of the most direct way to your destination. The difference is that in other places you might not have to pay as much as say… the railway ticket from Gujarat to Goa to go from Bandra to Andheri.

While I was there, it was imperative that there was a functioning GPS in at least one phone to make sure that we reached the destination without having to write out a cheque instead of searching for loose change to pay the driver.

The good thing however is that taxi drivers actually follow the rules and don’t seat more than four people in the vehicle but that’s probably because the traffic police take their jobs very seriously there. And yes, taxi drivers will not always turn down the meter when you tell them your destination. They will first think about it and then they can and probably will refuse to take you there after much deliberation, leaving you stranded with on the road with the knowledge that three other taxis already passed you while the driver was making up his mind.

Traffic

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

For those of you who live in a city not as big as Bombay, you have to see the traffic to believe what I’ve experienced. I’ve seen traffic jams as long as half a kilometre or more but the situation in this city is altogether on another level. Lack of sleep and excitement at wanting to explore the city meant that I slept more hours in a taxi than I did in a bed in the span of one week. Unbelievable? Believe it!

And this is just the situation on normal days. Weekends and matches at the Wankhede stadium take this madness to extremity. God help you if you are loathe to walk, because there is absolutely no point travelling by any sort of automobile when Bombay gears up for the weekend. I’m sure that an aerial photograph of any intersection or Chowpatty beach on a weekend will show up as an ants nest, it’s that bad.

And yeah, good luck getting anywhere on time. Not going to happen.

But unlike Gujarat, where everything needs to be done with a straight head; in Bombay, tequila is happy to help. Yeah, that said, ‘Don’t drink and drive’.