I must have shouted for the umpteenth time at the yellow and black vehicle that zoomed past me. Helpless, I stood, holding my briefcase in one hand and clutching my umbrella in the other. I was just contemplating whether it was the right thing to let my wife take the car for her shopping sprees that popped up almost every month or two. She persuaded me so easily to hand over the keys to her, although I was the one who was in a more urgent position to utilize the private transportation. Being gullible and according to her, a ‘charming husband’ I managed to convince myself that it did not matter whether or not I had the car that day.
I decided to try or rather brave the train service that morning. Hearing all the horrific stories in the newspapers, I had always dissuaded myself to stay as far away from trains as possible. Yet they were the fastest means of transport in the city and to get to work on time, you will show a transient sympathy towards the events related in the papers and once again find yourself on the platform, watching the estimated time of arrival on the clock, which is always running late and displaying three minutes since the last five minutes. God knows why!
Being 11 A.M the influx of people at the station was huge, and the station sure presented itself in a tumultuous way. In the distance, I could see the train approaching. I stood patiently, waiting for the aged, unsafe beast to halt, but the people on board disembarked hurriedly, having mastered the ability to use the momentum of the train to leap off and save themselves 5 seconds of their so called invaluable life. I dodged them making my way to the compartment. But alas I banged into one of those leaping individuals. Other competitors were already jostling in the compartment, squirming and salvaging whatever space was left inside. I heard the horn go off the rail car began its acceleration. I dashed at breakneck speed, heart thumping, adrenaline pumping and with one hand firmly grasped around the pole in the bogey, I made a gracious leap to glory.
I had to manage my balance on the footboard as I caught my breath. It was quite a feat I had attained. The experience of a risk-reaping victory is addictive, but on the other hand I was upset to have become an indifferent Mumbaikar. I used to curse those railway announcements which advised us not run after a train or stand on footboards. After all, I don’t need to be reminded every 2 minutes for the next 30 minutes of my journey to not do those things. The sight inside was also one worthy of introspection. Everyone including me was on the mobile device. No, it is not a bad thing, but just kind of weird. At the next station, I found some space to stand away from the open doors of doom. Five more stations passed. Legs were aching, sweat dripping from my face. It was as if we were slaves being transported in bulk to our destinations. I would give the Western Railway credit for not introducing closed doors. Open doors do risk few lives, but keeping them closed means lack of ventilation, leading to suffocation, the desperation to breathe fresh air, which is the overall causation for the death of everyone on board. While I framed this silly line, there was a sudden halt. A guy tugged me backward as he tried to maintain his balance. And I to maintain mine grasped whatever was within reach. Unfortunately, my bright mind conked off as I pulled the red chain stuck to the wall of the compartment. I was successful in remaining upright, but the crisp money bills in my wallet drooped as I folded them and handed them to the railway guard whom I failed to convince that it was a genuine mistake. All I could do was reduce the fine by 300 which would also not make much of a difference in some time. He took me to the station master and let me off with a warning.
Commuters were muttering as I had caused a 10-minute bonus delay. Everyone alighted at the last station and made their way across the subway towards the light which shone at the other end. But there was a troop of ticket collectors all queued up, handpicking a few commuters at the end of the subway. I was not bothered by this. I approached them with confidence and when they asked for my ticket, I reached out into my shirt pocket, ready to show that I was a dignified citizen but what followed was my face becoming pale, eyes fixated at the TC, hands digging into each and every pocket. Checking my briefcase was simply for stalling the TC from removing his notebook and fining me. But, what could I do after that? A dignified Mumbaikar would run toward the other interconnecting subway but I was standing there wondering ‘where was the ticket?’ The most fitting conclusion was that I had lost it when I collided with the ‘leaping man’ I was taken to the station master who was taken aback when he saw me. I was sharing the exact same response! I attempted to explain the situation but his expression symbolized my futility at convincing him. “Well, well, you are quite the escapist, eh? You again have such a fitting story as an excuse. I should detain you for a few hours, I think.” He said.
I pleaded him to be more broad minded rather than a sadist. This I did by offering him another 2000. He agreed to the offer and I stepped out walking up the staircase of the subway, happy to be welcomed by the roadways and moving away from the railways.
I blended into the hustle and bustle adding to the asynchronous taps of footwear on the cement blasted pavement. Since the crossing was too packed, I improvised the time factor by crossing via a slight gap in between the raised dividers. By now the sky was obscured by the nimbus clouds who had assumed the reigns from the sun. There was yet another queue to be dealt with patiently. This one was for the ‘sharer’ cabs. The name fulfils the purpose. Two to Four people with similar destinations all hop in a cab service, sometimes chat a wee bit and happily split the bill. It’s what I call a win-win system. No bearing the full cost of the taxi and the driver also receives his minimum tariff from per person irrespective of the distance traversed.
Since the monsoons had already commenced they had undoubtedly targeted the feeble roads of our city. The once smooth asphalt was reeling with potholes and indentations. We all know whom to blame for this but somehow people always tend to point at the rain’s vicious spell. I think they miss out on the real culprits. But this is no diplomatic and manipulative debate as to whose fault it was. So, moving on or rather staying still because we were 200 metres from the station and had barely moved a car’s length further since the last 5 minutes. The honk-honk was incessant but no one can digest the traffic jam of the peak hour. The flashing rear lights almost pushed me to the borderline of epilepsy.
I could imagine the ramifications of reaching late for work especially when you are a newly hired youth under the scrutiny of a not so chilled out boss. These companies that hire proletariats like us often have stocked thousands of substitutes waiting to take over the plebeian tasks we were employed for. I did not want a bad impression among those who were higher than me in the work pyramid. So, this thought was the ignition for an adrenaline rush.
The athlete in me awakened, leg muscles were contracting. I had decided to run the one kilometre that stood as an obstacle today to the testament of my punctuality. I threw my share of the money in the driver’s lap and reached for the door handle with zeal. The hinges moved outward but before I could even commence my dash for glory, a motorbike rider driving breezily through the tight spaces between the cars, crashed into the open door of the cab. His slender body flew through the open window in a superman posture and after two somersaults on the road he came to a scraping halt. The bike collapsed right there without her master and caused a few unlucky followers to bang into each other as they came to a halt. The window frame of the taxi was stained with a little blood. I was to go on a streak of cussing but the most unlikely word was whispered from my mouth and that was ‘oops.’ I stepped down and showed my face to the onlookers that had gathered. By then the victim was hoisted by few men from the gas station right next to us. He brushed himself and took off his helmet, revealing his fuming expression. He almost flung the helmet at my face had not one of the men stopped him. He launched a wave of profane dialogues the details of which are eliminated but the gist of what he was trying to say was “Can’t you see before opening the door, Stupid man!” The crowd riled him up by supporting him. I knew my position was vulnerable. I did not like the prospect of settling the case in the police station. So, again, I sadly reached for my wallet and offered him a compensation for his bike and his physical state. Seeing my liberal payment, the taxi driver harangued me to pay up for damages which I did. I picked up the briefcase and escaped the tirade of abuse and embarrassment.
Once again, my priority became running to the touchdown. I was hardly fifty metres out when the Gods must have started crying, as if sympathizing for my horrific day. I got to say that the I appreciate the sentiment but the time makes the whole purpose ironic. The downpour and thundering made me voice my indignation with full force. I ran for cover in a store which turned out to be a supermarket. It took a while for me to see the silver lining. I rushed inside into the rainwear section. In two minutes I exited with a jet-black umbrella. Yet It would not save me from the showering and thundering voice of my supervisor.
The next five hours are too drab to describe except for the coffee break with my office pals. I had to work overtime for at least an hour to complete the day’s goal and because procrastination is not a great idea in the work field. The office was almost empty except for the night guard and the janitor so the option of hitching a ride home with someone was also out of the equation. The rain showed some signs of abatement. I walked to the train station and approached the ticket window exhausted. The lady at the counter told me that all trains had been cancelled due to adverse weather conditions and line failures. Guess my frustration then.
I was out on the streets waving my hand for a cab. I must have shouted for the umpteenth time at the yellow and black vehicle that zoomed past me but all I received was the splash of muddy water across my trousers. Then a pair of full beam lights flashed at me. The car went slightly ahead and came to an unexpected halt. “Hmm, some good soul resides in that vehicle!” I thought to myself. I walked towards the front door. The window was pulled down and I let out a startled cry. Honey! My wife appeared equally shocked. I sat inside and she pulled the car away. “Before I get started, tell me about your day”, I said. Well I had a blast! I really shopped a lot. I was supposed to be home much earlier but since it was raining too heavily, I stayed back at the mall for a while longer. I even saw a new movie today. I shouldn’t ask but how about your day? “Well, I too spent a substantial amount of cash, though it was directed towards a different avenue than I would have liked but I know one thing for certain, my love. “What is it?” she asked inquisitively. “We need another car.” I replied.