Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Scrap Book - CELEBRATE LIFE

Celebrate Life !!


MUMBAI That’s where I really appreciated what celebrating life means .


Oh no .. I am not talking about the scintillating celebrities adorning that dream city and their celebrations. What touched me deeeep inside was the commoner’s attitude to celebrate life in the midst of …. a million problems and adversities. It is here that I also learnt how to change an adversity into an opportunity, in a real sense; how to embrace the golden moments of small, small pleasures of life, instead of whining about the wantings or constantly remaining apprehensive of the bigger problems awaiting us ( there were many at any time ). As is said, if life gives you a lemon, make a lemonade out of it – instead of cribing why it was not an apple( does not, however, mean that you should not aim for the apple. Do everything to get the apple, but do enjoy the lemonade all the same !! )

Local trains .. the lifeline of Mumbai. Driving down daily to office by personal car or taxi is simply out of question for people like us – both because we can not afford and time would not permit – unless you are really rich or you live near Nariman point. Most of the offices are located in that locality – approachable via Churchgate or VT and most of the residential localities are down town – so you need to travel a lot .. daily AND your only option is the local trains – faithfully showing up almost every 3 minutes. Minutes matter here. We got to know that right after reaching Mumbai. Point was how to brave the ordeal daily?

The ordeal seemed all the more enormous, because of our initial couple of encounters with it, while we were settling down during the first week, before joining office …First time, when we were totally fagged out getting the guest accommodation cleaned ( where we were to stay till we got our staff quarters) and were returning, we just boarded whatever coach stopped in our front without knowing, ( that was 1st class & we were holding second class tickets and the only distinguishing feature, as we learnt later, between different classes of coach was the colour of stripes on the body of the boggey !!) . I need not elaborately describe how embarrassed we felt when the TT checked our tickets and made us realise what grave crime we had committed. Of course, after showing all documentary evidence to convince him that we were new to the city, he was kind enough to let us go with payment of balance value of the 1st class tickets with fine only. We learnt our first lesson( Know the different boggey from stripes - always stand near the boggey you are supposed to catch – they always stop at particular places) the hard way, but the advantage was we NEVER ever committed this mistake ( ha, ha!) and, yes, we used to caution our friends when they were to travel the first time by local train, lest they get into such horrible situation!!

Second time, it was tuly serious – I still shudder at the thought of what could have happened . All of us were to board the train. It was very crowded ( as usual) and we were yet to have those monthly/quarterly tickets, so had to travel by ordinary class. The train started by the time three of us managed to board the train and my elder daughter started running to catch the train. Some lady on the platform from among the ones who could not board, thought this child is risking herself ( she did not realise that we were there and I was actually clutching on to her hand & pulling her up to get into the train .. it was all happening in fraction of second !!) . That lady started pulling my daughter back ( to save her, of course ), while I was pulling her onto the train. God, anything could have happened – just saved by a whisker, as others on board also joined me in shouting for that lady – leave the child , leave the child – and she could be literally dragged onto the running train, before it gathered speed. Second lesson – again learnt the hard way – do not attempt to get some one into the train after the train starts - better to come back from the next station, if that other person can not board on her own.

One look at the crowd – no , the sea of human beings - at the railway stations waiting at platforms, running and jumping on to almost running trains ( irrespective of age, size or shape), alighting from almost running trains ….. and a new comer is sure to give up even before trying! But, when you are left with no options, you eventually summon the courage to face the only option you have. That is actually the biggest plus point of not having options.

So, despite our horrible experience during the first week, we had to start taking the local trains for office. So, my ordeal with trains began .. from Goregaon( West) to Churchgate.

Boarding locals at Goregaon is a tough act – as these trains originate from Borivili and wiser commuters go back to Borivilli and catch an originating train ( for getting a seat from start till end is a luxury, worth spending some more time involved in this strategy ). We came to know that later. So, choiceless, we started taking the locals from Goregaon and believe me, for about 15 days … it was HELL, I swear. I tore about three sarees in first week itself , and gradually learnt how to manage your saree while getting up or down ! My specs, hair .., shoes ….handbag… well, well, it was a virtual adventure everyday just to reach back home in one piece !! My husband literally fell down while getting down and hurt himself badly... lost his watch ( just slipped off his hand .. you know, once you get inside and are standing in the crowd ( even in first class),you won’t even know where your limbs are – your hand can get stuck somewhere, your foot can get stuck somewhere, you may have to struggle even to keep your head straight .. yak !! And all this in a so called 1st class coach during the rush office hours. As I realised later, the only difference between a first class coach and rest during the rush hours is the variety of perfumes you get to smell – in first class, u find a class in these smells - in 2nd class, it could be a mixture of smell of sweat to fish or .. godknowswhat !!

But .. it does pay to try and in a few days, one eventually learns the tricks of catching a train just as it slows down just as hundreds of others do everyday !! Personally, I had my moments of triumph ( privately of course !!) when I could do this, at times by giving an elbow push to someone else ( bitchy ??) and started feeling happy. So, I also can !

Conquer one problem ( getting into the train), the second one starts looking bigger ! Managing a seat ! Like eagles, you eye all those who are seated, ask them where each would get off and stand near that seat – inside. Standing inside is a real skill, as there is no support to hold on – and my hands could never reach the sides. That was a real price to pay for the probable seat. But still … courageous as I am ( ha, ha ) – for some days, I tried that also .

Those were the beginning days …days of woes and worries.. and difficulties not less than fighting a battle each day ! Then, I used to think of the Mumbaikars and pity them virtually .. poor things, day in and day out, they are facing this !!

But as I said, that was only the beginning. It was not very long before I honestly started loving and looking forward to my local train journeys to office and back. It was in course of my stay there when I got local friends that I could understand and appreciate what a beautiful life they are leading, by choosing to be happy, come what may, which could otherwise have been a life of miseries !! Hats off to Mumbaikars. Rightly said, it is all in the mind !!!

How this paradigm shift in me ??

Well, ever been in any function, i.e. celebration and yet not felt uplifted ? Usually, the spirit of celebration is contagious – it is bound to impact others around… positively, even though the others may not be in a particularly good mood. And if you let go of yourself for a while, sooner or later, you will find yourself as a part of the celebration. That is actually what happened to me once I started seeingnot just looking around. There was so much of vivacity, so much of enthusiasm about everything in this so called mundane world, so much of life …..among the people at Mumbai, that you simply start seeing the silver line in every dark cloud.

Have you not heard … A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition ! (William Arthur Ward said it.)

It did not take me long to observe something extremely special …and lovely in these local trains! There used to be groups of daily commuters, catching the same train everyday and boarding the same coach. I guess, they knew each other since ages - most likely through these trains, as eventually they were getting off at separate destinations. Everyday, something or other will be celebrated by the groups .. someone’s birthday, someone took a new house, someone got a promotion, someone’s child passed with good percentage, someone been to a tourist place, someone wearing a new saree … etc.. etc.. As if they wanted to celebrate, and hence, there was always a reason! Mode of celebration was also very special – in the sense that it was invariably simple - distribute some sweets at the most ( sweets are very costly in Mumbai ) ; otherwise, some simple snack made at home or bada pav treat or whatever is being sold in the train ( especially in evenings ).

What was important to them was their celebration, not the means of celebration - their sense of appreciation ( you would always find one saying “changla” ( means – very good or tasty), their joy in sharing ( not what is being shared ). In fact, later on when I attended many of their social functions, I was profoundly impressed to see how people took it important to attend and socialise – giving least importance to food or gifts. Simplicity … that was it, something to emulate really. [ In most of the places elsewhere, when one calls for a get together, very soon the enjoyment of socialising ( the basic purpose of any social meet) tends to become a tension for the host and the guests alike, as the menu, gift and other incidentals start assuming more importance.] In Mumbai, it is different, as every commoner is in a deep sea and each has a heart to appreciate the position of the other ( fellow-feeling?) .

Coming back to local trains …you would also find many groups enjoying antaksharies or simple chit-chats with those sitting/standing nearby, known or unknown ( relating to fellow human beings ) and if not anything else, then enjoying plain and simple dozing off ( those most enjoyable moments of tension-free travel naps !!). Then, there would be some commuters totally enjoying reading, as if nothing is affecting them- the crowd, the problems, the noise ! And all this – when crowds are moving in and out at every station almost every 2/3 minutes !!

At the extreme, you would also find ladies sewing or knitting or peeling peas or doing the veggies ( yes-inside the local ) !! But once they board a train, you would never find these commuters worrying – about whether the train would reach in time, what if it breaks down in the middle etc. etc. Why worry about something which is not in your control ?

Yes, not a single moment can go wasted – either you use it gainfully or you enjoy it, but don’t let it slip out of unnecessary worry !! I salute this spirit of Mumbai !

I have also seen their concern for others – although, they themselves are in much inconveniences and nobody virtually has any time to spare! I really used to feel very scared about the pregnant ladies travelling in local trains. But my trust in humanity used to get re-affirmed as I have seen ladies getting up and offering seats to pregnant ladies, old and sick. It did call for a sense of sacrifice. Once, we saw someone fainting in the compartment – I thought, poor thing .. everyone is in a hurry, who would help ? No, some of the commuters did stop on the next station, helped her alight, gave her water, asked the police to help and boarded another train to office only after ensuring the basic help. Are not these the unsung heroins? I had seen plenty of them. Everytime, I see these ordinary ladies conduct themselves so extra-ordinarily through the trials of Mumbai life, my respect for them grows and my faith in humanity grows.

As days passed off, the Mumbai spirit started pervading me. Gradually, I realised that if only I accept that I am to travel standing, I can be actually better off, I would be spared the pain of waiting for a seat and gain time for reading. Soon I firmed up my strategy – after boarding the train, I perched myself at the corner of the entrance ( that was easier ) having my back rested on the sidewall of the coach – facing opposite to the direction in which the train is moving . This way, you don’t fall forward and you don’t have to hold on to any support in the moving train. Then, I would take out my newspaper - the middle page, which ordinarily contains the editorials plus many other diverse articles), fold it to the size of one article - so that it does not touch any other person, although I can read it without much problem – even at times holding with one hand. This discovery was actually the turning point in my life. Honestly, instead of hating it, I actually started liking the train journey ( oops !!) . Now, I had no problem at all in standing ( because I had accepted this mentally in preference to trying for a seat). I felt genuinely happy that I could now read the newspaper for which I had no time otherwise. It was only a matter of time when local trains actually became my reading room and thanks to Mumbai & those travels , I could read scores of fabulous books. I can bet I could not have read all those, had it not been for Mumbai & local trains. And you know what profound impact can good books have on the way you look at life !! That was virtually a huge treasure of knowledge and wisdom lying unzipped before me !! Thanks, Mumbai.

At Office also, I had lot many things to observe and learn how to celebrate life. Initially, I used to wonder, how come all ladies looked so fresh and vivacious even after commuting by crowded trains, walking to office and all that ? Soon I found out that all these ladies carry their small make-up stuff and after reaching office,the first thing they do is to freshen up. Ordinarily, this would attract a very satirical reaction from the colleagues – these ladies .. why do they come to office… to do their make up ?? No , you won’t have this in the air .. there at Mumbai. Just imagine, what a vast difference it makes to their spirit ( and obviously to productivity, too) by spending 5 minutes to refresh themselves – to shrug off all that tiredness, untidiness from commuting !! Minus this 5 minutes of freshening up – the entire day you would have carried the burden of yourself .

Not only that, I have seen ladies, really decked up at times while leaving office, with party wear ( they carry that stuff while coming to office on these occasions). Hey, what is this ? I soon got to know. Time is so precious and unaffordable at Mumbai that, everyone becomes a natural expert in time management. The great thing about Mumbaikars is that they do not let paucity of time or resources get in their way of living every moment or celebrating life !! In such tight situations, we usually stop socialising – which means stopping sharing and caring for others !! Hats off to the people at Mumbai, nothing deters them in celebrating life. Ordinarily, it is not feasible to go back from office, get refreshed and come back to attend functions – distances are just too much. So, people are used to attending ceremonies at others’ places straight from office and no compromise on party look either !! You and I would shy away from risking our good clothes in yet another commutation ( for attending a function also, you have to travel ..by train mostly !) . But, what is the purpose of such nice clothes, if we do not wear it on occasions for which these are saved !)

Each festival … there will be celebration at office too, in small ways at least, without hurting the official decorum ( like distributing til gud laddus on Makar sankranti , with wishings “ gud gud khao, gud gud jhalo” meaning eat sweet & stay sweet ( Sorry, I know I have messed up the Marathi expression) . I used to love the wishes in Marathi. So, here also, the laddu was not important, it was the spirit, the best wishes with which it was being distributed. That was like spreading happiness through small gestures !! [ My friend still couriers me a small packet of til gud laddus every Makar sankranti . So sweet of her !! ]

I have been to some of the residences. Some are very small – area wise- but the hearts of the people living there are large enough ! At times, I did wonder, how even extended families fit into these one bedroom or two bedroom flats !! But they do . They understand the need of each other and the constraints of a metro like Mumbai and do their own space management in most innovative manner and stay together, sharing and caring for one another – that last bit is important ( sharing and caring !!). On top of that, you would always find people coming from outside and putting up with these families. Small space may be .. but large hearts, I swear !!

At the end, when I reflect and ask me what was it that made the Mumbaikars celebrate life shrugging off all the adversities, the answer that I get is “ ENTHUSIASM ” .


It is enthusiasm that makes all the difference in life. With enthusiasm, you will celebrate life’s each insignificant and significant thrill; without enthusiasm, you will only have alibi for not being happy and even the greatest thrill would fall flat on you. This applies to both personal and professional life. Think about it .


“ If you can give your son or daughter only one gift, let it be enthusiasm .”

– Bruce Barton


“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the colour shall be .”

– John Homer Miller

I would like to conclude with something, my friend Manasi had collected from Internet & shared with me :

Make it a Great Day
I woke up early today, excited over all I get to do before the day ends. I have responsibilities to fulfill today, I am important. My job is to choose what kind of a day I am going to have.


Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or ….

I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free .

Today I can grumble about my health or …..

I can rejoice that I am alive.

Today I can mourn my lack of friends or …..

I can excitedly embark upon a quest to discover new relationships.

Today I can whine because I have to go to work or ….

I can shout for joy because I have a job to do .

Today I can murmur dejectedly because I have to do housework or ….

I can feel honoured because Life has provided shelter for my mind, body and soul .

Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped. And here I am, the sculptor who gets to do the shaping .


What today will be like is upto me . I get to choose what kind of day I will have !

Why not make it a great day !!!

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have never stayed at Mumbai for more than a week. I suppose I don't have the credentials to make any comment on the city and its people. However I have some experiences of the City and what an experience! I will like to share it. I had been to mumbai on some official work ad stayed at a hotel not to trouble my friends who are staying there being acutely aware of the small accommodations. When I rang up one of my friends to meet him i have to take a barrage of invectives for not staying with him. He came to receive me, took me around to other friends with whom we had a great time. When i was about to return at three in the morning {it was not so policed then) he said how do you think families stay in one/two room quarters ? it is not the space in the quarter but the space in heart that matters. i would have liked you to stay with us. There was no anger in his tone, just plain strait talking. I felt so embarrassed ! I appologiged sincerely and promised to ammend next time around. Hats off to mumbaikar.

snigdha said...

Oh great ! - you need not eat the whole pudding to know the taste - one spoonful is enough ! I swear, they are such great "friends" with huge hearts!

B said...

That was a very interesting post on life in the Mumbai trains. You have captured each and every nuance of what happens in there..very cool.

There is a lot of warmth and happiness radiating from this place..You become a part of this city forever!

snigdha said...

Oh thanks a lot, Beryl! I saw your blog - wonderful .