Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Spirit of Mumbai - First Encounter

This article is written by Nivedita. She is the Co-Author at this blog. She can be reached at

I completed 5 years of living in this city last month. I've thought about writing something about this place so many times but was just short of words.  Its really difficult to sum up everything about this city. Here is a little bit of something...

Why do they call it the city of dreams? Because decades ago this was the city people came to looking for jobs to provide for their families, start a business or become a part of the great Bollywood in some way or another.  There are so many things on this city about this city that you just won't forget the Nariman Point / Marine Drive is first to flash in my mind.  Whatever you might have read about it - none of it is overrated.  Below is a picture I had clicked when i had been there for the first time.  Don't what it is but I like it. These are marking they made along the pavement.

The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus is a close close second... Nah, i think it would have to be a tie.  Looking at this station gives me the 'I'm in Mumbai' feeling and I love it!  If you notice, this is such a classic picture.  There is a hand drawn cart and a sedan on the road, everyone's invited :) You must visit this place when in Mumbai.

Click to enlarge

There is a lot said about the Spirit of Mumbai and how life never stops.  It's not that people don't care about each other (it may feel like they don't many times) but when its the need of the hour every one comes together - That's the spirit of Mumbai.  If you are lost you will always get help.  The first time I experienced this was on 11 July 2006 (it had been 2 months since I first arrived).  The first time I felt so close to a terrorist attack.  In about 11 minutes series of seven bomb blasts had taken place in the Western line of the Mumbai local. 

It was past 6 in the evening and I was returning home from work.  As I entered the station a train halted at the platform.  It was platform number 2 which meant I would have to cross the bridge to get it in time.  So I ran making way through the public thinking how slow the oncoming crowd was moving and hoping I am able to board the train.  Just as I made it to the platform train was already in motion and I thought to myself 'Damn, just missed it!'  The next train arrived in about 10 minutes I was able to get in and it was jam packed I couldn't wait to get off.  The train was somewhere midway between the next station and the one I boarded when it stopped.  

Now trains sometimes stop for crossing and we thought it was normal.  It was more than 10 minutes and  it had still not moved.  A couple girls in the compartment received calls that there had been blasts and their relatives were calling to check if they were fine.  No one believed it could be true, we were still waiting for the train to move but nothing happened.  It was more than 15 minutes and we were still stranded when we saw people walking on the tracks they were returning from the opposite direction.  I was standing near the door and did not understand what was happening.  They did not have any expression on their faces.  Seeing the oncoming hoard of public, people in the trains started to disembark. Since there was no platform we had to jump off on to the ground.  We had no idea what was happening we were just following the crowd aimlessly. There were people getting calls about some blasts but it felt like a rumor.  We walked towards the road and tried hailing auto-rickshaws none of them were agreeing to go the direction we were asking about, it seemed weird.  After walking for about 35 minutes we reached somewhere near the next station where we hoped to get a taxi. 

There were hoards of people and seemed like chaos on the streets.  I was scared and very much worried as I was far away from home and had absolutely no idea about the roads in this city.  I had recently gotten comfortable with the train schedule and now here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere.  There were ambulances zooming past us and I thought may be it was true after all.  The bomb blast had actually happened and it was so close, the train I had just missed was at that station where the incident happened. It was spine chilling to imagine anything more. Walking a little further we saw a group of men asking people where they were headed.  They were making some richskaws and taxis stop and getting them to drop people to where they wanted to go.  One person had stopped a rickshaw and was shouting out the name of the station I wanted to go to.  I rushed there and he helped me get in. The rickshaws usually carry 3 passengers but that day we were 5 of us we all somehow managed it and the we started to taxi.  It was only then that I felt a little hopeful of reaching  back to my place.  I tried calling home and letting them know what was happening but the network was not available.   

There was lots of traffic on the road and we were moving very very slowly.  There were people on the street directing the vehicles and trying to streamline the traffic and making way for the ambulances.  This is when I first thought - is this the spirit of Mumbai?  People for people - They were helping out each other.  I didn't know the person who helped me or those who I shared the ride with but we were all in the same boat and we were all supportive of each other.  I remember saying to the lady next to me after hopelessly trying to call home if I could use her phone to call home.  She agreed but only to realised she also had the same problem.  In fact all networks were down that day even the landlines were not working.  The government's idea of shutting down network to avoid panic actually caused more panic - people were worried about their kin who had not reached home.  

Generally it would take me about 30 minutes to get home but that day it took me three and a half hours to get back.  The rickshaw driver turned out to be a very honest man, despite knowing the situation and place when he could demand more money than usual.  He just stuck to his standard meter fare!  When I got to my rented accommodation, the flat owners were watching the news of the seven train blasts that happened that day.  I just stood there for a while listening to the tragedy that had befallen this city.  I was grateful to God for keeping me intact and reaching me home without a scratch, that night I really prayed and thanked God.  

This is Mumbai where people stand up for each other and you will never feel you are among strangers.  That day through that ordeal I felt like I was a part of this city - another Mumbaikar.

To read about this tragedy go to This Wiki Link