Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Friday, July 13, 2007


If controlling breath is ‘Pranayama’, any Mumbai man practices it daily, as very often suffocation slows down his breath. If twisting the limbs, towards unintended direction is Yoga, every Mumbaikar is a Yogi incarnate. If being insensitive to or inability to respond to the onslaught of sensuous objects (having been rendered immune due to constant exposures), is following the teachings of Gita, every Mumbaikar is a Geeta follower and is governed by its tenets. It is the daily travel in the local trains, the lifeline of Mumbai, as the oft repeated trite goes, which makes an average man a Yogi, a true follower of Gita and a Pranayama practitioner.

It is said that an average Mumbay man, if he is not found in his home or his workplace, can be effortlessly traced in the local train, between Churchgate and Virar or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Karjat, solving the crossword puzzle or Sudoku in Midday or Mumbai Mirror or intently reading the bold lettered Hanuman Chalisa or animatedly discussing with an unknown neighbour in the fourth seat, asto why Sachin had slowed down after his tennis elbow or Ganguli pretended to have one.

The suburban trains never sleep, save, two hours a day. In the early morning trains, one could see, yawning vegetable vendors struggling to sit, as they are not yet out of sleep, or the somnambulists changing seats or those with hangovers, snoring triumphantly or at times inching up from their outstretched postures, oblivious of the surroundings or the devote ones, with besmeared foreheads, bending through or repeating Vishnu Sahasharanama as a morning ritual or for salvation or simply meditating away from this mundane world.

The first shift battalions, from Dombivli or Borivli, would glance through their half-opened eyes, the day’s news from Times of India or Maharashtra Times with an expressionless face. An hour passes and one could hear a Sankara Narayana Iyer or a Shrikant Sawant, singing Saibaba Bhajans in ‘full throated ease’, to the accompaniment of rhythmic beating of the benches or window-panes. A group of Palghat Iyers would be playing 56 even while talking about Bhagwat Sevai at Brindavan Society on Saturday night. Yuppies of ICICI Bank or Merryl Lynch, with folded ties in their pockets, immersed in economic times, or ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ for a change, would occasionally respond to their distant cousins, on cell phones, pulled out of their shirt pockets. College students, with bent backs, loaded bags and rolled back Jeans, would talk about John Abraham’s jaunts, Dhoni’s drives, how difficult ‘Mechanics’ is or why Leena was on leave the day before. .

At 10.30 the Masjid/Marine Lines market groups would enter with a boisterous noise, recalling their tete-a-tete with Harshad Mehta or Ketan Parikh years ago. These market- driven forces would talk only about Market and its health. Whether Satyam has slowed down or Infosys still reigns supreme and HDFC’s plans alone would be the focussed topic. These Gujubhais are constantly haunted by other two great bhais – one built the Reliance empire from the scratch and whom they adore as their role model and the other deprive the monied ones of their sleep through constant threats.

While the trains, bulging and almost breaking at the seam, are on the move, enthusiastic young boys, inspired by girls in the trains on the next track, would summon all their adventurous spirits, stretch their legs precariously, holding on to the handle of the doors or run on the roof top, risking their limbs, lives and the girls in their mind. If these juvenile jaunts take one’s breathe away, through mere stench and the threats of staining the shirts by oozing out liquids, the fish vendors, carrying their Sassoon Docks catch, would manoeuvre their way and mock at the swarming multitudes.

8.33 and 5.37 are significant numbers for an average office goer. These are train timings for the onward and return journeys. If one misses the train, it would be considered a cardinal sin and the Heavens would certainly fall and the evil effect no amount of confessions can mitigate. The afternoon trains are less privileged ones, carrying only housewives visiting their dear ones or on a shopping spree for the ‘seconds’, college girls returning home from classes, or men in their early seventies, visiting the city for pension related matters, or a look in the library for a book and also for a little nap, denied at home or just to exchange pleasantries with colleagues of yesteryears.

In the evening, the tired looking groups would recall their day’s adventure and eagerly look forward for the TV serials or tournaments and plan for the morrow. Topic of the day like Mike Tyson’s mighty fall or Ronaldinho’s mightier goal would be analysed threadbare till they reach their destination. If it is tiffin boxes and ‘Times” in the morning, now it would be a bag full of brinjals bought at Bora Bazar Street at bargain prices. Ladies from SBI and RBI, with cello tapes and Cello Pens, selected on the way, for their sixth standard sons, would share their experience in the Six O clock Ladies’ Special. After seven, the Kutchies of Ghatkopar and Mulund, Malad and Kandivli would try to corner the group seats, by returning back from Masjid or Marine Lines to play a game of cards or just to gossip away their time punctuated with savoring hot Samosas. After ten, it is the time of the tipsy, who would carass each other with cared for affection or would offer advices in high- pitched tones, unasked for, like a preacher on the pulpit, on the evils of drinking.

The man who jumps into the train first, before it commences its journey, is the ‘Monarch of all he surveys’ and would strive to stumble upon the window seat, and should he succeed, would feel elated as if he has won Wimbledon. Even though the travellers vie with one another for a vantage seat, the travel itself has uncodified regulations. If the capacity is three passengers per unit, atleast in the second class the fourth one would be accommodated, irrespective of size, age and look – a gesture too generous for the stiff upper lip first class category that are constantly conscious of the fact that they pay four times more.

Even while they profusely sweat, with all means of fresh air entering the compartment blocked by the swarming crowd, yet the ‘milk of human kindness’ flows freely during the journey. Watering down the hiccups, fanning the fatigues, providing room for the sick to stretch, caring for the aged, being chivalrous to the ladies, offering lollipops, if not singing lullaby, to the infants, one can find aplenty. Travel in the Mumbai local trains signify that life moves on.