Mumbai is a city for those who know the way. There aren’t many resourceful signages (almost none at the local train stations) and yet everyone simply strides towards their respective destinations. The lean physique of most natives is a testament to their daily exertions in transit and the brisk pace with which they lead their lives. Sure, you could ask them for the way. But will you dare stop someone in their hot pursuit of jobs, dreams or the next Local? And even if you miraculously do manage to stop someone and hear the query of your ignorant self, they might point the direction to you but they’ll more probably feign ignorance and snap at you for stopping them, heavily questioning the audacity of your uninformed guts.
The contrast may seem even more jarring if you have been spoiled by the Delhi Metro and its well-lit and air conditioned stations and coaches, and most of all its ample signs and guide maps (they even have the way marked to change lines in colour coded footprints). And before the Bombaikars(/Mumbaikars?) scoff at the privileges the residents of the nation’s capital enjoy, the Delhi Metro is just as crowded, although only cleaner (someone is even responsible for scraping the pigeon shit off the platform floors). Yet, for all the world’s daredevils bungee jumping and skydiving, it is only in Mumbai that one sees people hanging out of trains, day in and day out, casually.
Mumbai too has the Metro now (and Delhi the popular patissiere, bakery and chocolatier, Theobroma). But its introduction has been too recent for it to incorporate itself in the sea-blue-rain-drenched fabric of the city (and by extension these musings). However, like the threads of the fabric that with time and wear draw loose, the tracks of the tramlines too have been uprooted. Those who remember the good ol’ days when the trams sufficed for the cities cosmopolitan needs, would recall them as simply being the BEST, quite literally. Bombay Electric Supply and Tramway Company (BEST) began the era of the electric tramways (they were horse drawn before then) and also that of the double-deck tram service. The last tram ride took place on 31 March 1964 and culminated at Khodadad tram terminus (now Dadar T.T.) along with a 90 year old tradition.
Just as traits of the long extinct dinosaurs live on in the reptiles of today, the double-deck characteristic of the tram finds expression in the double decker red buses of the city which give a nod to a loving imagery when referred to as ‘laal dabba’. The other chromatic reference is bagged by the black and yellow taxis colloquially hailed as ‘kaali-peeli’. While the sunny-yellow Ambassador taxis of Kolkata are reminiscent of the childhood of our parents, the kaali-peelis beckon to the nostalgia of the post-millenials who slept at the backseat of the Hyundai Santro growing up.
Nostalgia is bitter-sweet. The denizens of Delhi-NCR also find themselves in a similar state. For they may have attained the pleasures of the many brownies of Theobroma, the sweet contentment of travelling in autos and taxis that run by the meter continues to elude them! The honest drivers of these vehicular services in Mumbai first point out the meter reading before starting the journey and at it’s completion charge what is fair, saving both themselves and their passengers the gruelling games of haggling and cajoling.
But once the crash and fall of the rains is upon the city, all the Locals, autos, taxis, double-decker buses and even ferries, stand marooned and paralysed, and only the flood waters unleashed by the relentless and disruptive rains bear silty momentum. The rain washes away all locomotory efficiency of the city and brings it to an annoyed standstill. It douses the city, impedes locals and halts traffic. It is only then that the city that never stops, stops, inhaling the salty, humid air of the sea from which it was carved.